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Visual Stories Ukraine

© Roman Zakrevsky (l) Liza Vlasenko (r)

"Visual Stories from Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine" is a creative comic book project, portraying and sharing the experiences of three women writers with the war. For the Ukraine, writer and journalist Vira Kuryko and artist Sofia Pokorchak are working together. In the interview, they talk about their motivation to join the project, about visual storytelling in war - how a bomber jet can resemble a giant raven, for instance - and they make demands towards the international culture industry. 


Vira (VK), tell us more about the project. How did it come to be, and how did you become involved?

I have been working for many years in a genre of reportage that is closer to documentary literature than to classical journalism. 

Since 2022, I have not only been the daughter of a military officer but also the wife of one. I thus give careful thought to my role in this war that Russia is waging against Ukraine, as well as the roles that other women, friends, and coworkers play in it. I collect donations for my husband and father and help my brothers and friends who are in the army. At the same time, I write about what happened in my hometown of Chernihiv in March 2022 when the Russians surrounded the city. Most often, I write about women. It wasn't really a decision I made. It's their painful experiences that I come across more often when I visit different de-occupied regions. 

When Komora Publishing House offered me to participate in the project and create a story for a comic book that would share women's experiences of war, I hesitated at first. Because it is so different, I was afraid to speak about Ukrainian women and their experiences on my own behalf. But eventually, I agreed, realizing that I am one in five, one in three, and one in one. I am a woman. And I have my own little experience that resonates with a large portion of Ukrainian women. I am the wife of a soldier. I am the daughter of a soldier. 

I remember how in 2014, when my father went to the front, I found myself as a young girl in a country where there is a war, but not everywhere, just somewhere out there. And as long as you live in a bubble, people outside do not feel the same fear as you do. Now it's a different war. And I am not alone, not that alone. I see understanding in the eyes of every woman on the streets of cities far from the front.

Sofia (SP), how and why did you become involved?

I applied for the contest on the Komora Publishing House website. I decided to take part because I think it is very important to talk about and tell the story of the war using our capabilities and tools as authors, publishers, and illustrators. And illustration is my storytelling tool. 

Why was the comic genre chosen and what do you both appreciate about it as a storytelling format?

VK: I write literary reportages rather than ordinary journalistic texts because, in this way, I can show the reader the small details that hold this world together. A comic book is also an opportunity to feel colour, character, and movement, to step away from a literal story. Where else but in a comic book could I explain how much the bomber jet over Chernihiv resembles a giant raven that covers the city with its wing and blows out all the lights in the windows? This is what I appreciate in graphic stories. It seems to me that for such stories, the comic book version, the graphic novel, is a space for a deep explanation of feelings.

SP: Comics usually tell a short story, but images and art can tell a lot of things that cannot be expressed in text. The comic book format helps to capture emotions and keeps the reader engaged in the story.

Can you reveal a bit more about the final product and the message you hope it will convey?

VK: This will be a story about a woman who goes to the front for the first time to see her husband after three months of being apart. This is a story about her journey and those who meet her during the journey. This is a story about what love is worth—in fact, everything.

Hundreds of women board the train we call "Kyiv-War" every day, which arrives at the last station before the front. Hundreds of women go to their husbands and back every day, just to stay with them on the platform for a while. I am not impressed by the act of a woman or a man. I am talking about the fact that it's a story about strong love that has survived the end of the world.

SP: It is important to me that the story is based on the real story of Vira, because such stories convey in detail the moments that we lived through during the war.

Allow me to finish with a personal question: As a Ukrainian writer and artist, what support do you expect from the international cultural industry?

VK: I expect solidarity. I expect the international cultural industry to treat us the way they would want to be treated if they were attacked. I want people to understand that for the last 300 years, Ukraine has been trying with all its might to prove to an aggressive neighbour that it is not a part of it. I wish I didn't have to explain that for us, there is no art outside of politics. There is nothing outside of politics as long as tyranny, dictatorship, and authoritarianism continue. I would like artists to keep their eyes on us and stand up for us as they would stand up for themselves. I would like them to see in the country that attacked us the same thing they would see if they were attacked by it.

SP: The issue of culture is often raised in discussions about Russia's war against Ukraine. Russia, as a state with imperialist ambitions, pays great attention to cultural expansion. And when we talk about culture, we often hear the pro-Russian opinion that Ukrainian culture is not different from Russian culture. That's why it's so important to talk about Ukraine as a separate and unique country in the cultural community, to be visible, and to be able to tell our stories from our point of view. It is therefore important that Ukrainian voices are heard.

Thank you for the interview, Vira and Sofia!



Background Information:

"Visual Stories from Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine" is a novel creative project dedicated to, as the name suggests, promote visual or graphic storytelling formats within the respective countries. At its core, the project brings together three pairs of female writers and illustrators from Armenia (Ani Asatryan and Astghik Harutyunyan), Georgia (Ekaterine Togonidze and Luka Lashkhi) and Ukraine (Vira Kuryko and Sofia Pokorchak), each pair creating part of a collective comic book, edited by Mikheil Tsikhelashvili, about women’s experiences with war. In addition to the work of the teams in creating a final comic book product, the project offers a capacity building block made up of training sessions and webinars with experts for a wider group of aspiring professionals in the relevant creative and publishing sectors. 

The institutions implementing the project are the ARI Literature Foundation from Armenia, the Literature Initiative Georgia (LIG) from Georgia and Komora Publishing House from Ukraine. Beyond making female voices heard, the project partners hope to bring about a longer lasting change in the field of visual stories in their countries by facilitating the emergence of authors and illustrators from Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine and creating a lasting network with professionals across Europe. Frankfurter Buchmesse is a supporting partner of the project.


Please find the full bios of the contributing teams and more information about the partners involved in the project under the following links:


Interviewed by: Grace Steinmark