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Everything is black: Nadiia Telenchuk’s first and last war poem

On the day Russia invaded, Berlin based Ukrainian poet Nadiia Telenchuk wrote this poem.

Nadiia Telenchuk. Photo: Gianluca Quaranta.

“My tears have dried out. I’ve got none left,” says Nadiia Telenchuk. Three days before we spoke, the village where she was born and spent the first six years of her life was reduced to rubble. “It just got caught in the battle front near Kherson,” says the 31-year-old warming up her palms on a glass of fresh mint tea at a bustling cafe in Prenzlauer Berg. She’s poised and a little stiff – as if she’s caught a long breath and forgotten how to breathe out. “It was just a small sleepy village,” she reckons. “Now, there’s nothing left. Just vast fields filled with anti-tank mines.”

Her grandfather and dad left ahead of the attack, but many ran for their lives in slippers as the flames and rockets rained down on their beloved gardens. “My early childhood memory is the thrill when my nana, the warmest, dearest person in the entire world, would bring baby chicks in a box from the cold of the early spring. She let me tend to them.” Nana’s home was her retreat, her safe haven. Nadiia’s since gone a long way: moving to Kherson and studying at a prestigious Kyiv university before travelling Europe on a youth programme that would bring her to Berlin in 2014. But the memory of Nana’s village has never left her. It will remain a home she can go back to, if only in her poetry.

Nadiia’s been writing poetry since she was eight, mostly in Ukrainian. She’s a regular at spoken poetry gigs at Neukölln bar Das Gift, where she performs in Ukrainian and English. But now the war has taken over her life. When she wakes up in the morning, her first instinct is to grab her phone and check on her family. They are all in Kherson which has been under Russian siege since the invasion began. “It’s a scary thought that one could get used to war, but after so many weeks, I just can’t cry any more,” she explains. She says she hasn’t been able to write anymore either, since that Thursday, on March 24 when ‘Everything is Black’ spilled on the page – As if there there were no words left to express the war, the wounds, the worry.

Everything is black


when it’s way too late
when it’s way too close
both ears and eyes seem to fade
a mother a son
a cradle
exposed –
a viewfinder fixed in the shade –
and here’s the morning
despite the late winter
with daffodils yellow as spring
and here’s the sky in blue-colored splinters the sun spreading out its wings

explosions in darkness
and shatters are piling
bomb shelters to sleep in rows and everything’s black:
the sea and the island
the bridge over my Dnipro

and here are over a thousand miles
phone battery running low
a country all wounded and torn and beguiled and death with its thirsty claws
the news highly urgent
the bullets the gear
and blood streaming down from above mama how are you?
here’s faith here are tears
a simple display of love
both childhood and youth
in total ablation
with only the memory strong
here’s pride and here’s fear
of the dearest of nations
and winter which lasts for too long

when is it too late?
when is it too close?
and here is the black curse of war
my daffodils wither for time hasn’t frozen and God is elsewhere evermore



коли надто пізно
коли надто близько –
стихають і слух і зір
ось мати і син
ось ніч і колиска –
окреслює межі візир –
ось ранок ось надто весняний вже лютий
ось жовтих нарцисів цвіт
ось небо блакитне яке не забути де сонце – його зеніт

ось вибух о п’ятій
ось темрява острах безсонна ось ніч в метро все чорне все чорне:
ось море ось острів
ось міст над моїм Дніпром

ось майже дві тисячі кілометрів і швидко сідає екран
ось пазурі смерті
вчепились у нетрі

країни що сповнена ран ось екстрений меседж ось кулі в ефірі
ось долі пролита кров мамо ну як ви?

ось сльози і віра
з яких витікає любов ось пам’ять дитинства ось мрії юнацтва
а ось і в думках туман ось гордість і страх найріднішої з націй
і довга якась зима

коли – надто пізно?
коли – надто близько?
ось чорне прокляття війни
а в мене на кухні зів’яли нарциси бо Богу тепер не до них