“There is only one solution to the war against Ukraine, and that is to kill Putin,” Andrei Kurkov said.
There is a serious writer sitting in front of us at the coffee table in Oslo. His gaze is dark, he wears black clothes and believes that the only people who can stop Putin are his people.
Andrei Kurkov was at home in Kyiv when Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24. The night before, he and his wife Elizabeth had stayed at home in a spacious apartment in the historic part of town. They served homemade Ukrainian borscht and red wine, and at the table sat an ambassador, opera singer and journalist from the English The Guardian.
– It was a nice party, but there was seriousness upon us when we parted at night, he says.
A few hours later, Kurkov, his wife and son, woke up to the roar of plane alarms and explosions. The war is real.
– I woke up with a jerk and understood that now everything would change.
– How did you react?
– With shock and disbelief. I realized that Ukraine was under attack, at the same time it was completely unrealistic.
He looked tired, had bags under his eyes, and asked for a coffee with milk and sugar.
I try to keep my spirits high, and for me writing and communicating is the only way to do that.
Andrei Kurkov has slept an average of four hours a night since the attacks began. The working day begins at five each morning with a writing session lasting until nine, about what is happening at home in Ukraine. The texts will become the “Kyiv Notes” that will hit Norwegian book shelves in the fall. It is close and personal, describing what is happening in his homeland.
Kurkov is one of Ukraine’s most prominent authors, his books have been translated into more than thirty languages. After Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, the author took a new turn, and now spends his time writing reports and analyzes for foreign media.
Kurkov was born in Saint Petersburg, his mother was a doctor, and his father was a test pilot at the factory of the famous aircraft designer Oleg Antonov. The family settled in Kyiv when Andrei Kurkov was two years old.
Growing up in the Soviet Union was subject to strict control.
– That was the only truth we knew, says the author.
To avoid serving in the KGB when he became a conscript, he served in the army as a prison guard in a prison in Odessa. During this period he began writing.
– It was my duty to write reports for the communist parties, and thus I had access to an office with a typewriter, a Kalashnikov, an electric coffeepot and a lot of military newspapers.
He was writing reports by cutting out newspapers, and the rest of his time he spent writing children’s books. His accomplishments as a writer came in 1996, with Death and the Penguin being translated into 21 languages, including Norwegian.
Kurkov is currently the president of Ukraine’s PEN, the world’s largest writer and freedom of expression organization, and is responsible for protecting Ukrainian journalists and writers. After the outbreak of the war, he became known as a prominent voice in the struggle for a free Ukraine.
On February 24, it became clear that staying in Kyiv is very dangerous.
Together with his wife and son, he packs what he can put in the old family carriage, and decides to travel to the cabin a few miles outside of Kyiv. The family soon realizes that it is very dangerous, and they have to move to Lviv, where the two oldest children, who are twenty-four years old, reside. The flight takes 22 hours, and the queues seem endless.
Along the way, they see wrecks of abandoned cars, Ukrainian military vehicles, cannons and armored vehicles. They see Russian planes flying overhead and the situation is tense and unclear.
I got into a bubble, focused only on progress and blocked out all other ideas, says Kurkov. He is in Oslo to talk about the situation back home.
When they finally reach Lviv, the family gathers. Mother, father, three older children. They hold each other.
Kurkov displays family photos on the phone.
– It was good to be together.
– How did you feel as a father?
I felt so desperate when I saw how sad and confused my children were. There were strong feelings about knowing we had to leave.
He was not allowed to sleep that night.
– I was worried and worried, and I wandered about beautiful Lviv. All I could think about was that if all of this was going to be destroyed, shattered by our democracy and our way of life.
At dawn, he passes an arms dealer and sees a queue of boys and girls waiting for the store to open. He was amazed at how young they looked.
Navigate through an image on the phone. The queue outside the gun store is long for people who want to defend their homeland.
Freedom is more important than stability and money for us Ukrainians, because money and stability for Russians are more important than freedom. That’s the difference, and it’s something worth fighting for.
plan to come back
Empty a cup of coffee. The phone rings and beeps constantly. Since the start of the war, his articles have been published in a large number of foreign newspapers, including Norwegian ones.
In Lviv, the family of five spends a few hours together before traveling to the Carpathians, the mountain range bordering Ukraine. He will not reveal exactly where the rest of the family is staying now, but the plan is to return to Ukraine in the coming weeks.
– It was heartbreaking to break up. We have no idea when we will be reunited.
He shows pictures of children, taken through the windows of the train with his mobile phone. Kurkov documents as much as he can what is happening.
The younger son insisted on returning directly to Kyiv, despite the warnings.
– It was impossible to stop him. For him, staying anywhere other than his hometown was not an option.
You must be terrified that something might happen to him?
– Yes. It is an unstable position and difficult to stand in.
So far, the son is fine and the apartment was not injured during the attacks. The family has created a joint chat group where everyone has a daily reporting duty. He also downloaded an app that alerts air strikes. He is constantly woken up in the middle of the night, and is not at peace until he knows the family is safe.
Putin does not care about death
Andrei Kurkov does not believe in any imminent solution in Ukraine.
– I think the war will be protracted, with great casualties and massive destruction. Putin doesn’t care how many people have to die for him to win, neither by the Russians nor by the Ukrainians.
The author believes that everyone should familiarize themselves with what is happening in Ukraine.
Most people are well acquainted with Russian history, but there is little knowledge about the history of Ukraine, and how developments after the fall of the Soviet Union led to the present situation.
Out in the spring sun that shines over Oslo.
Many sympathize with us and with the great humanitarian crisis, but it does not matter much if people do not understand the political conflict affecting an entire world, including Norway.
Andrei Kurkov has no idea what will happen to him when he returns to Kyiv, but he knows that Ukrainians will not give up fighting for a free country.
We will fight for our freedom until the last minute.
Kurkov looks at his watch, it’s too late for the next appointment. He uses every minute of the day to spread information about what is going on in his home country.
Our freedom has cost us so much, and that’s why we don’t give it up.
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