Nuclear Anxiety in a Poem

Ukraine is a multicultural nation. In this sense, it has never been a monolithic one, and any attempts to accuse it of being nationalistic just make no sense. More than 120 ethnic minorities live in modern-day Ukraine — just think about it!

The country’s cultural heritage, in particular, literary, is just that — multilingual. For my PhD thesis, I have been working on the poetry of Rose Ausländer, a poet of Jewish origin who wrote in German and also in English in exile after World War II. She represents an “island” of literature written in German in the city of Chernivtsi, also known as Czernowitz, in the southwest of Ukraine.

When analyzing or translating poetry, you go very deep into every single word. It is a plunge into the emotional cocoon created by the poet with their words. One day, long before the full-scale war, I found myself sobbing while working on my thesis. I was engulfed in the cocoon of this poem by Rose Ausländer I am citing below. As Rose herself later commented on it, this was one of the most gloomy poems she had ever written. It is a post-Holocaust poem where she connects the tragedy of the Jewish people with another human-caused catastrophe: the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombing.

During recent months, I have kept coming back to this poem in my thoughts way too often. Unfortunately, the blood-freezing reality has become more imaginative than the poetical imagination. Two catastrophes are looming over my country at once: genocide and the nuclear threat. Sometimes, it feels like we are living in a premonition, which should have never even come into question anymore.


Nobody was prepared when it came.

Everyone hurried to look for his name

under the ashes.

Dead mothers washed their eyes

to recognize

the dust of their children.

But all children were blended.

Gases from firmament to firmament

spirits from the Old and New Testament

assembled at the spaceless cemetery.

Exploding stars smeared

the oily surface of the seven


Pretty silvercrisp angels

were annoyed

at their singing lesson of HOSANNA

and retreated into deeper nothingness.

Mary washed her eyes to see clear

the Resurrection beneath the smear.

But her sin

had undergone

a strange


His delicate Bones

His Love His Blessing


With the ashes of all children.

His whole

Immortal Soul


with the immaterial


Mary wept.

Her tears blended

with the tears of all mothers.

An ashen soldier kept

vigil and slept.

Nuclear Anxiety in a Poem-2

Author: Iryna Vikyrchak, Ukrainian writer

Literary Editor: Hanna Leliv

Illustrator: Victoria Boyko

Content Editor: Maryna Korchaka

Program Directors: Julia Ovcharenko and Demyan Om Dyakiv Slavitski