Takketale Ytringsfrihetsprisen

Ytringfrihetsprisen 2023 ble tildelt Salman Rushdie og den avdøde ukrainske forfatteren Victoria Amelina. Den ukrainske oversetteren, og venn av familien, Yaryna Grusha, mottok prisen på årsmøtet 9. mars. Her kan du lese hennes takketale.

On behalf of Victoria’s family and friends, I would like to thank The Norwegian Authors’ Union for this award. This award is called “Freedom of expression” and Victoria was fighting for freedom to be a Ukrainian author in a free and independent Ukraine.  Even after a Russian rocket killed Victoria, her words continue to fight for Ukraine and its freedom. Her words definitely will stay with us and we will do everything possible to one day make her words part of the big trial on war crimes Russia committed in Ukraine, just as the crime that killed Victoria.

Freedom for Ukrainians means living in a peaceful country where your neighbour doesn’t want to kill you every moment. Freedom for Ukrainians means to have the possibility to choose, whatever they will choose. Victoria chose to be an author but she didn’t choose to be a war crimes researcher. She just did it because it was necessary for our freedom.

Freedom in Ukraine is under attack, not only in the last ten years since Russia started its ruthless war with the occupation of Crimea in 2014, but also during the last few centuries. In her works, Victoria always tried linking the Ukrainian past and present to show that the unpunished crimes and the silence about them would return to kill again and again.

At the beginning of the war in one of her essays Victoria wrote “I feel myself inside of Executed Renaissance”, another tragic page in Ukrainian history telling of hundreds artists, writers, poets, and painters killed by the Soviet regime in the late thirties after the deportation to the labor camp in Siberia. Being a writer in Ukraine and living every day with the chance of losing one’s friends because Russia could kill them, means living in another Executed Renaissance, Victoria wrote. She repeated the same sentence in her introduction for Volodymyr Vakulenko’s diary, the diary of a Ukrainian children’s author, killed by the Russian soldiers in the spring 2022. Victoria found his diary buried in his garden and swore to his family that she would tell Volodymyr’s story to the whole world. It was so much like her, helping people by telling their stories. When she felt betrayed by words, she deferred to actions. She wrote her first novel in 2014, telling the story of the Ukrainian revolution of dignity. The second one she wrote in 2017; it was an attempt to tell a complicated history of her native city, Lviv. She started to write the third one but stopped because the words felt useless. Russia invaded Eastern Ukraine, the front line was near the native city of her husband, and the world didn’t want to listen, the world decided to trade with Russia, turning a blind eye to the war crimes that big gas pump was committing.

So Victoria deferred to action and she founded the Literature festival just near the frontline in the little Ukrainian town of New York, she brought Ukrainian authors and poets there in order to support local people. In May 2023, a Russian rocket destroyed the main venue of the festival. After the full-scale invasion started in 2022, Victoria came back to Ukraine immediately from a vacation in Egypt where she had gone with her ten-year-old son. She felt again that the words were useless so she started volunteering using her excellent English to bring medicine to Ukraine from abroad.

But she wanted to help more. The writer trained as a war crime researcher. Talking to victims, she finally felt the power of words again. During that period, she also transformed from a novelist into a poet. In one of her war crimes field missions, she dug out the diary of Volodymyr Vakulenko. In May 2023, she came to Lillehammer in Norway to receive the prize “International Publishers Association’s Prix Voltaire” instead of Volodymyr. One month later, Victoria was wounded in the Russian missile strike on Kramatorsk. Her heart stopped beating on the first of July, precisely on Volodymyr Vakulenko’s birthday. Victoria found herself inside the Executed Renaissance she had written about.

We inherited Victoria’s words and call to action, so it’s our duty to continue her work, because those who are still alive must tell about those who are not just as Victoria did for Volodymyr.

And if freedom means the possibility to choose, Ukrainians choose our free country, free from the Russian aggression, Ukrainians choose the future. We choose to live in spite of the constant threat of death. And I would like to finish this speech with the words from one of Victoria’s poems:

The future is what we ask each other about in the moments of silence: do you see it? can you see it?