Ukrainian novel about conflict in East won EU Prize for Literature

The Center for Fine Arts in Brussels, BOZAR, hosted the 2019 European Union Prize for Literature Ceremony. Among the winners was Behind the Back novel by the Ukrainian writer Haska Shyyan, who is originally from Lviv.

Besides her, another 13 authors from European countries, including Austria, Poland, Slovakia, Greece, Italy and others, became laureates of this prestigious award. Writers from Ukraine and Georgia participated in the Prize contest for the first time. The laureates received a cash prize of five thousand euros each.

Speaking at the award ceremony, Tibor Navracsics, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport said that the most important value of this prize is that the winning works will be translated into European languages and promoted in the EU’s book market with the support from the European Commission’s framework program, Creative Europe.


In Behind the Back, the main protagonist is 27-year-old Ukrainian woman Marta whose life has drastically changed after her boyfriend decided to enlist in the army to go and fight in the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine. Marta finds it hard to accept that she is no longer able to enjoy simple pleasures of life with a person she loved. Therefore, she refuses to accept the arguments about patriotism and national idea.

“My book is, first of all, about the search of security in today’s world, a place where harmony would reign, and about the new generation of emancipated Ukrainian women,” Haska Shyyan told UK. In her opinion, the Ukrainian society is dominated by clichés born by war, which put social pressure on women: “What a girl, the wife or widow of a hero should be, and also on men, demanding masculinity from them. Therefore, my book is about the struggle between these clichés and the heroine’s inner conflict related to them,” Haska Shyyan said.

Speaking at the award ceremony, Finnish writer Sofi Oksanen said that European publishers take little interest in works by authors from ex-Soviet states, “because nobody knows anything about these countries.” In her opinion, the interest of Western audience in the Euromaidan, and then in the events that took place in Crimea and the war in Donbas is unjustifiably low. “It is very hard for works by Ukrainian writers to find their way to European readers, because Europe has a lot of translators from Russian but only a few from Ukrainian. And writers from Ukraine usually do not have a literary agent,” Mrs. Oksanen stressed.


The European Union Prize for Literature, founded in 2009, is awarded annually to works of contemporary prose. It is intended to popularize works by young authors from European countries. Candidate works are chosen by national juries selected for each participating country.

According to the rules, 12 countries are selected to be part of the EU Prize for Literature award every year, based on a rotation principle. Until now, the eligible countries included 28 member states of the European Union, the three EEA countries Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, and also, candidate countries and potential candidate countries for accession to the EU. This year, writers from Georgia and Ukraine were invited to participate for the first time.

By Viktoria Vlasenko

Source: Uryadovy Kuryer