With his long hair and bristling moustache Vasyl Shkliar resembles a Cossack chieftain and looks as if he should be brandishing a sabre rather than a pen. He was born in Hanzhalivka, a small village deep in the countryside of central Ukraine, in 1951 in an area where Ukrainian Cossack fighters battled against Soviet forces well into the 1920s. When Vasyl was growing up, in what was then the Soviet Union, any mention of these warriors, one of whom was his deceased grandfather, was prohibited, though he will have known about them from stories told in secrecy among the villagers. The memory of the old pagan religion was still strong in central Ukraine and people knew the names of the old Gods and villages often had a “wise woman”.
Vasyl went to school in the nearby town of Zvenyhorodka and won a silver medal for his academic achievements before attending the philological faculty at Kyiv. Like all Soviet students he had to work during the summer break and is equally at home behind the wheel of a tractor or wrestling with the grammar of some intricate Armenian text. He completed his studies at Yerevan University before working as a journalist in various "hot spots".
After the Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev was assassinated, Shkliar covered the story of the operation to rescue the Chechen leader's family and was drinking coffee with the leader's wife, Alla Dudayeva, even as Russia's intelligence services were scouring the country for her. Shkliar would later use this experience in his novel Elemental (2001) which documents the flight of Dudayev's family.
He is currently the most popular writer working in Ukraine and has been named the 'Father of the Ukrainian Best Seller'. His novels have received the highest and most prestigious literary awards in Ukraine, it is almost as if he is collecting them to line them up on his mantelpiece. But despite this he astounded the entire country when he refused the highest accolade that can be awarded to a Ukrainian writer, the Taras Shevchenko Award, for his novel Raven, in protest against the policies of the present Ukrainian government. Some might say he was cutting of his nose to spite his face but in reality he is simply continuing the fight for freedom and democracy started by his grandfather and other young men in the forest so long ago, but this time hurling words instead of grenades.
His novels give a voice to the voiceless and reveal the “forbidden” passages of history about which official Ukrainian historiography maintains a “shameful” silence.
Vasyl lives in Kyiv with his wife but has a great love for his childhood village Khlypnivka. There, just near to his house, a river flows through the forest where he fishes and usually catches not only dinner but also the inspiration for his books.
His best-selling novel Raven has been published by Aventura and is available from major online ebookstores.
Translated from Ukrainian by Stephen Komarnyckyj and Susie Speight of Kalyna Language Press
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by Vasyl Shkliar
In 1921 after a 4 year war the Bolsheviks conquer Ukraine. Raven & Veremii hide in the forest with other Cossacks & continue their struggle. When Veremii dies in battle the communists secretly follow the burial party but when they dig up the coffin they find a cryptic note instead of a corpse. Raven thinks he is dead when a grenade blows him off his horse but wakes up in the witch Yevdosia's house
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