Daria Serenko, translated by Nina Murray

an excerpt from Girls and Institutions

A note from the editors: The following excerpt is extracted from Девочки и институции ("Girls and Institutions"), a feminist critique of the current Russian regime published by No Kidding Press in 2021. It has been expedited for publication over the course of a single week in view of Vladimir Putin's military invasion of Ukraine. We bear in mind the serious risk of arrest and imprisonment which Serenko presently faces. For more news about the work being done to support and protect writers in that part of the world, please visit the websites of PEN International and Pen Ukraine. Readers who are aware of other dissident or activist writers, in Russia or Ukraine, who would benefit from having an English-language platform for their work, are encouraged to reach out to us via email. To learn how to help, visit bit.ly/SaveLivesUkraine. -15 March 2022

On May 9th, the gallery was hot and empty.

When children in military uniforms marched past our windows, we did not speak out—because we were not the children in uniforms.

When tanks rolled past our windows, we did not speak out—we were not tanks.

When artillery shells flew past our windows, we did not speak out—we were not artillery shells.

When we, all the girls, went outside, we walked several times past our own windows—but no one saw us because there was no one left inside who could have seen us.

Our annual plan always includes an event about war and victory. But we can no longer organize events about war and victory. We are tired of fighting and winning, of watching in silence—we have long been wanting to pretend we are dead. We have nothing sacred left—so let us die. Or at least, give us a title to use for our event:

Only the old are left to fight.
We brought this day closer however we could.
Here, birds do not sing.
Arise, vast country.
Sunsets are quiet here.

We have done it all already. We, the girls, lay on the ground in blood-stained uniforms and Yulian Drunina braided St. George's ribbons into our dead hair. We had children recite poems from the stage. We had the veterans rise and leave.
When the immortal regiment marched past our windows, we did not speak out—we were not the immortal regiment. But one does not have to be a member of the immortal regiment to realize how many terribly and wonderful things remain immortal, how many girls would love to see their own hands covered with the blood of this regime, and how many events never get a name.

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Daria Serenko (Дарья Серенко) is a prominent activist, poet, and public artist. She studied at the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow, which was founding originally as the Evening University for Workers; following graduation, she created Quiet Picket (#тихийпикет), a grassroots action whose participants carried placards on Russia’s urban transit systems to spark conversation about relationship violence, political imprisonment, and related topics. Her work has appeared in numerous Russophone publications and in English in Los Angeles Review of Books and the anthology F Letter: New Russian Feminist Poetry (isolarii, 2020). Follow her on Instagram.

Nina Murray was born and raised in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. An American poet and translator, she is the author of the poetry collections Alcestis in the Underworld (Circling Rivers, 2019) and Minimize Considered (Finishing Line Press, 2018), and is the translator of Oksana Zabuzhko’s Museum of Abandoned Secrets (Amazon Crossing, 2013), and Peter Aleshkovsky’s Fish: A History of One Migration (Russian Life Books, 2010) and Stargorod (Russian Life Books, 2013). Connect with her via Instagram or her webpage.

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Published by Pen and Anvil Press


ISSN 2150-6795
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