I was greatly impressed by the youth, energy and intelligence of Victoria Amelina whom I met in October 2022 during a few intense days that I spent at the Lviv Bookforum. From the Hay Festival we had decided to digitally support this festival, connecting Ukrainian writers with writers from all over the world, and to audiences everywhere digitally, but several international war journalists and authors, knowledgeable about the region, decided to go to Lviv in person to meet their Ukrainian counterparts, thus giving another dimension to the festival.
They were days of intense conversations and the creation of friendships that are forged faster than ever due to the context and the need, and great projects also emerged from there. There we meet among others with Victoria Amelina, Diana Berg, Volodymyr Yermolenko or Nataliya Gumenyuk and with Jon Lee Anderson, Misha Glenny, the British journalists Emma Graham Harrison and Charlotte Higgins, the latter since then decided to learn Ukrainian and report on cultural issues in the region, or the neurosurgeon Henry Marsh and Dr. Rachel Clarke who, as a result of this visit, created the NGO ‘Hospice Ukraine’ dedicated to supporting healthcare professionals in Ukraine to provide dignity and palliative care to all in need at the end of life.
(Also read: Journey to the heart of Hay-on-Wye, where the Hay Festival was born)
Victoria participated in a discussion about women and war together with Janine de Giovanni and Lydia Cacho. I remember her words, she was hoping that Ukraine would win this war, because Ukraine, unlike Russia, is a liberal democracy and among other things, this meant that women played a crucial role in society and according to her this is one of the decisive factors for victory. She then told us about her book in the works Diary of war injustices: looking at women who look at war. The first profile was of Yevgenia Zakrevska who was and still is a lawyer who fought for justice for the victims murdered during the Dignity Revolution in 2014.
At another table with the lawyer and writer Philippe Sands, he commented that it was essential to create international tribunals for the crime of aggression, and that Russian leaders be punished for this war. For that he tirelessly documented all these war crimes, for the future of his country.
I remember his words, he hoped that Ukraine would win this war, because Ukraine, unlike Russia, is a liberal democracy.
I saw him again at our Hay Festival in Cartagena de Indias in January 2023 where we invited him along with Andrei Kurkov and Oleksandra Matviichuk, director of Civil Liberties, organization that won the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize, with whom Victoria also collaborated, to talk about their work and activism.
There one night, on the walls of Cartagena, she, Sofia Cheliak, the programming director of the LvivBookforum, and I talked about how to restore literary festivals and ideas in a future Ukraine. Victoria had created the New York Literature Festival a few years ago, which took place in a town called New York, in the Bakhmut area of Ukraine. A month later, he sent me via WhatsApp a photo of the festival venue completely destroyed by Russian attacks with a message that said I know you will understand better than anyone how I feel today.
(Also read: The harsh story of Héctor Abad Faciolince after surviving a missile attack in Ukraine)
During a dinner coinciding with the London Book Fair we made plans to promote her recent publication in Spanish of Un hogar para Dom at a Hispanic festival. We also spoke at length about her work as a field investigator of Russian war crimes in the territories liberated from eastern, southern and northern Ukraine, including Kapitolivka near Izium, where he found the diary of the writer Volodymyr Vakulenko, murdered by the Russians and managed to have it published as another document of Russian war crimes.
On June 27, 2023, Russia committed another war crime by sending a high-precision Iskander missile into the Ria Lounge restaurant in Kramatorsk, a city in eastern Ukraine. Her colleagues from her Truth Hounds NGO documenting war crimes, with whom she had worked so long, interviewed eyewitnesses to the attack who stated that there were no military objects that could have been a legal target for the attack that day. They also confirmed that it was an ordinary day in one of the most popular restaurants in the city: up to 40 people dined, divided into small groups. Truth Hounds investigators identified that the foreigners, whom Russian propaganda called mercenaries, were actually volunteers and journalists.
She was beautiful inside and out, but she carried it too lightly.
Among them was the Colombian peace commissioner Sergio Jaramillo who launched the support campaign from Latin America, Aguanta Ukraine, the Colombian writer Héctor Abad and the journalist Catalina Gómez, who has been covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine since its inception for France 24, and accompanied a critically injured Victoria Amelina in an evacuation ambulance to hospital.
Victoria ended up being part of one of the war crimes that she tirelessly documented.
(You may be interested: Victoria Amelina, a writer injured in a Russian attack, died: she was with three Colombians)
She was beautiful inside and out, but she carried it very lightly. It is up to us for her to continue documenting, to continue denouncing to make Ukraine a country where authors and the general public can meet without fear to imagine other possible worlds in a festival like hers, the one in New York, but in that New York of the area of Bakhmut in the Ukraine. Victoria Amelina, Rest in Peace.
CRISTINA FUENTES LA ROCHE
International Director Hay Festival (Courtesy Iberian Press)
Original Publisher: https://www.eltiempo.com/cultura/musica-y-libros/en-memoria-de-victoria-amelina-por-cristina-fuentes-laroche-782856