Ukranian writer and poet Victoria Amelina died on July 1 from injuries suffered in the Russian bombing of RIA Lounge, a restaurant in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, just eight months after speaking to a classroom of Colgate students for an Arts and Humanities Colloquium.
Victoria had been documenting Russian war crimes in de-occupied territories in the eastern, southern, and northern parts of Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s invasion. She was working on her first nonfiction book in English, War and Justice Diary: Looking at Women Looking at War, and was also an activist working in many countries advocating foreign support of Ukraine against Russian aggression.
On Nov. 1, 2022, Victoria and fellow writer Volodymyr Yermolenko spoke at Colgate via Zoom from Kiev, along with Ukrainian-American writer Askold Melnyczuk, who was in Golden Auditorium for the colloquium “Don’t Look Away: Discussions from Ground Zero in Ukraine.” Colgate professors Peter Balakian, Carolyn Guile, and Naomi Rood organized the event, hosted by Colgate’s Division of Arts and Humanities, peace and conflict studies, Slavic studies, the Department of History, the Center for Freedom and Western Civilization, and the Department of the Classics.
“Victoria’s death brings Russia’s barbaric war on Ukraine closer to many of us in the literary community around the world; her intelligence, grace, and courage were palpable in her words and actions, and even spending a couple hours with her on Zoom you felt her depth,” Balakian said.
A fiction writer and member of PEN Ukraine, which has been documenting Russian war crimes with the human rights initiative Truth Hounds, Victoria was in Kramatorsk with a delegation of Colombian writers and journalists at the time of the shelling.
Born on Jan. 1, 1986, in Lviv, Victoria lived with her father in Canada for a short time as a child before returning to Ukraine. She received her master’s degree in computer technology cum laude from Lviv Polytechnic University. In 2014, she published her first novel, The November Syndrome, or Homo Compatiens, listed as one of the top 10 prose books on LitAktsent. In 2016, she published her first children’s book, Somebody, or Waterheart, and another, Storie-e-es of Eka the Excavator, in 2021.
Her novel Dom’s Dream Kingdom (Dim dlya Doma) was published in 2017 and was shortlisted for both national and international awards: LitAktsent Prize, UNESCO City of Literature Prize, and the European Union Prize for Literature. Her work has been translated into Polish, Czech, German, Dutch, Spanish, and English. In 2021, Victoria received the Joseph Conrad-Korzeniowski literature prize and founded the New York Literature Festival in the town of New York in the Bakhmut region of Eastern Ukraine.
Colgate students were deeply affected by Victoria’s presentation, as Grace Schmelzinger ’26 said, “The way in which Victoria courageously spoke about her story and efforts to keep herself and the people of Ukraine safe and heard is not only inspiring, but also shows the strength of the Ukrainian people in times of suppression, violence, and uncertainty.”
Guile, who co-hosted the November event at Colgate, reflected on Victoria’s life. “Victoria should have had a long and productive life ahead of her. Now she is gone,” she said. “She touched so many of us with her profound capacity for empathy and observation, giving them form through her unique gifts for listening and writing. I will miss her.
“For its great courage and significance, her difficult work in this realm brings to my mind the acts of resistance figures like Jan Karski and Witold Pilecki, who similarly took great risks to collect and convey information about Nazi German crimes to the Western Allies during the Second World War.”
Victoria was beloved by her friends and colleagues for her writing, her courageous witness, her pursuit of truth, and the documentation of human rights crimes. She is survived by her husband and son. We at Colgate were honored to have had her voice among us.