Ukraine at the 54th Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 

Oksana Stomina – a strong poetic voice from Mariupol

This week, from June 6 to 9, the largest poetry festival in the country took place in the Netherlands – the 54th Poetry International Festival Rotterdam. Oksana Stomina, a Ukrainian poet from Mariupol, was invited to the festival.

Oksana performed at two venues of the festival – the Theater Zuidplein and the Verhalenhuis Belvédère. Through her poetry and personal history, she spoke about the crimes committed by the Russians in Mariupol. The poet supported her story with videos she managed to take on her phone (which she managed to safely transport to the Ukrainian controlled territory in her sock!) – showing her own destroyed house in Mariupol, a completely destroyed city, and the corpses of murdered Ukrainians lying in the streets.

“What happened in Mariupol is genocide against Ukrainians, it is a brutal destruction of Ukrainians. I saw it with my own eyes, and I am ready to confirm and tell this again and again. I watched as the Russians shot at a person, caught up with him, and finished him off. This is not a war for territory; this is a war for the destruction of the Ukrainian people,Oksana said in the evening.

Oksana Stomina always saw her life only in her native Mariupol. She grew up there, raised her children, and built her life. So, with the start of the full-scale invasion in February 2022, she made a conscious decision to stay with her city no matter what and share its fate. Oksana became a volunteer helping those in need, while her husband, not being a soldier, nevertheless went to defend Mariupol from invaders. For almost the entire time, which was 21 days, Oksana stayed in the bomb shelter of her house and was the only person who went outside to get medicine and food for people. The building was located near the opera house, and Oksana, with volunteer help, came to the people who were hiding from shelling there – “there were 1,200 people, including 400 children,” she said. On the eve of the day when the Russians dropped a bomb on the opera house, Oksana visited those people with a volunteer team. Only because the bomb shelter of her own house was 10 metres underground Oksana was able to survive when the theatre was destroyed. It happened on the same day that her husband insisted she try to leave Mariupol. He himself remained to defend his city to the last. At the moment, for the second year in a row, Oksana’s husband is among the captured defenders of Azovstal. His condition is unknown, and there is no contact with him.

Needless to say, the audience was stunned by what they heard. Oksana Stomina’s personal story impressed even those visitors who had seen the Oscar-winning film “20 Days in Mariupol” by Mstyslav Chernov. The poetess’s presence at the festival was all the more valuable and important.

At the poetry evening at the Verhalenhuis Belvédère, Anastasia Khudaverdyan, the sister of Maksym Kryvtsov, a warrior and poet killed in winter of 2024 by Russians, spoke about her brother and read his poems to the audience.

Also, Daria Lysenko, a poet and refugee in the Netherlands, presented her several selected poems from the upcoming book about the experience of a Ukrainian refugee: “I heard that you are in the Netherlands…“.

It is important to add that members of VATAHA and the Ukrainian community in the Netherlands were involved in the organisation process of the event at all stages: Daria Lysenko in organising the program at Verhalenhuis Belvédère, Uliana Bun in preparing the Ukrainian dinner, and Maria Klembo in translating Oksana Stomina’s speech into Dutch, among others. We thank the Poetry International Festival for bringing Oksana Stomina to Rotterdam and making these events possible. We also thank everyone who was involved in the organisation, attended the events, or supported the event by reposting it on social networks.

We believe that we can achieve justice by sharing our stories with the global audience all around the world.

Among the countries invited to the 54th Poetry International Festival Rotterdam, in addition to Ukraine, were the USA, Canada, Norway, Belgium, Germany, Portugal, Cape Verde, South Africa, Palestine, North Macedonia, Hong Kong, Iceland, Algeria, and Jamaica.

Special thanks to Verhalenhuis Belvédère, who hosted the main Ukrainian event of the Poetry International Festival.

Text: Daria Lysenko