Yevgenia Belorusets: Yevgenia Belorusets credit: Olga Tsybulska

Yevgenia Belorusets

Yevgenia Belorusets is a Ukrainian writer, photographer, and artist who lives between Kyiv and Berlin. Her photographic work of miners at the edge of the war zone in the Donbas was shown in the Ukrainian pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale. She is a member of the Hudrada curatorial collective and co-founder of Prostory, a journal for literature, art, and politics. Lucky Breaks, her first work of fiction, was given a 2020 Haus der Kulturen der Welt International Literature Award in Germany.

Lucky Breaks

Fiction by Yevgenia Belorusets

Translated from the Russian by Eugene Ostashevsky

Out of the impoverished Ukrainian coal regions known as the Donbass, where Russian secret military intervention mixes with banditry and insurgency, the women of Yevgenia Belorusets’s captivating collection of stories Lucky Breaks emerge from the ruins of an ongoing war. Through a series of unexpected encounters, we are pulled into the ordinary lives of these anonymous women: a florist, a cosmetologist, readers of horoscopes, the unemployed, cardplayers, a witch who catches newborns with a mitt.…
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Published in Ukraine in 2018, these surreal short stories by a noted photographer probe the experiences of women from the Donbas region, many of whom fled the separatist conflict that erupted in 2014 and now live as refugees in Kyiv. The stories, ethnographic in perspective but Gogolian in register, gravitate toward inexplicable disappearances, repressed memories, and phantasmagoria. Belorusets writes of “the deep penetration of traumatic historical events into the fantasies … of everyday life” and richly evokes the fatalistic humor of her marginalized characters, one of whom observes, “If you had the luck to be born here, you take things as they come.”
The New Yorker
Rarely do we get the details of what happened to these women in the Donbas; Belorusets smartly conveys the invisibility of their trauma by making it likewise invisible to readers….In these spellbinding stories, Belorusets is more interested in effect than cause. What’s the use of finding out how we got here when we know we’ll be back again?
—Jennifer Wilson, The New York Times
The heroes of “Lucky Breaks”, a beguiling book about war in Ukraine by Yevgenia Belorusets, do not conform to ideals of martial heroism. They do not engage in battle, except against the fear, displacement and loss that battles bring. Almost all are women, doing jobs generally seen as feminine: they are florists, manicurists, cosmetologists. They skirt the edges of historical events, rather than standing at their centres.
The Economist
These are tales, mostly about women, in which the stressful reality of living under the weight of an ongoing conflict mingles with magic.
—Gal Beckerman, The Atlantic
Lucky Breaks is filled with warmth and humour. Belorusets’ characters exhibit much the same mix of anxiety and resolve that can be seen in the people she meets today as she wanders the streets of Kyiv and compiles her journal…
Roughghosts
The balance of myth and mundanity alters from story to story. Some, like “The Woman Who Caught Babies into a Mitt,” evoke traditional folktale, while others, particularly the trio of stories that involve a character named Andrea, are rooted in the everyday. Most hover in between. The effect is rather as if Isaac Babel and the Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich had offspring.
—Claire Messud, Harper’s
This juxtaposition of the pedestrian and the cataclysmic lends the sketches their sense of irreality…Often, the writing turns tender and wistful. Some stories are about the sudden forging of close friendships, which the characters find just as unaccountable as war, but now unaccountably joyous. This, too, is the nature of a world defined by unpredictability.
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
[An] essential document of our latest European war
—John Domini, The Washington Post
Against the present and looming risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Belorusets produces an especially unsettling awareness of the myriad ways in which imagination walks hand in hand with violent reality.
—Bryan Karentnyk, Financial Times
In Yevgenia Belorusets’s collection of short stories, Lucky Breaks, the machine-gun is fired and the mortar explodes, but offstage. Her stories are about anonymous women who trace new existences or disappear in the fog and ruins of the frozen conflict.
—Julian Evans, TLS
Belorusets, a documentary photographer and activist, captures the extraordinary lives of ordinary Ukrainian women in her arresting fiction debut, a story collection. The brief entries survey lives upended by the political and military turmoil over the past two decades… Two of Belorusets’s photo series supplement her writing, but her words speak for themselves. The combination makes for a powerful exercise.
Publishers Weekly
Belorusets is interested in the histories of the defeated, of the unseen and unheard, and above all in the experiences of eastern Ukrainian women in wartime. [Her] willingness to exist between document and fiction is daring, even provocative. This is a moment when facts are both utterly compromised and vastly overvalued—asked to do all the work of politics, to justify whole worldviews with single data points. Belorusets, by contrast, is for plurality, subjectivity, a kind of narrative democracy. She wants us to remember that even documentary photographs and factual narratives are determined, and sometimes distorted, by the worldview that shaped them.”
—Sophie Pinkham, The Baffler
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