The current piece of the dedication is an encouragement to read the second volume of “Bücher über die Ukraine”: Languages are not just tools. In my experience, they can be learned, used, employed, and even examined, viewed, and analysed – but above all, they are alive. They change and flow through generations and people. Languages contain many events of our history and our universe. Languages flourish at the source of their creation, their vitality: with the people who speak them and bring them to life. That’s why it’s hard, actually impossible, to imagine Poland without Polish, Denmark without Danish, or Germany without German. Countries and their languages are closely connected. We can say with reasonable certainty, for example, where Frankfurt an der Oder ends and where Slubice begins. Thanks to language, we can find this invisible border even without geographic or physical clues.
At the beginning of the widespread Russian invasion of Ukraine, many Ukrainian territories fell under the harsh hand of the Russians. The occupiers immediately began the destruction of Ukrainian identity and the Ukrainian language. Numerous statues were destroyed, museums were looted, and Ukrainian books were burned in the squares of the cities, as described in Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” This was and remains a traumatic experience for Ukraine, the Ukrainian people, and the Ukrainian language.
But many of my German friends were also impressed by the resilience and fighting spirit of the Ukrainian people. One question that friends repeatedly asked me concerned specific images, photos from the coverage. They all had a similar detail: houses, walls, statues, painted with the letter Ї – the I with the colon above it, which exists in Ukrainian, but not in many Slavic languages, especially not in Russian. My friends asked me: What does that mean? Why this strange letter Ї?
And the best explanation that came to my mind was a quote from the Ukrainian poem “Candle of the Letter Ї” by Ivan Malkovych: “Let it be a trifle,
yet you, my child, are chosen to protect the little flame on the Ї!
They say our language sounds like the song of a nightingale.
That sounds so good and beautiful.
But there may also come times when not even the smallest bird will be able to remember this language.
And so you must not rely only on the nightingales, my child!”
[translation from the Ukrainian original text]
This poem and these lines from it called out to me, without my searching for them, like an unmistakable memory from my childhood when I was taught this poem as well.
And as Ivan Malkovych warned in his poem – it is accomplished! It is happening! The Ukrainian letter Ї became and is becoming a nightmare for the bloody occupiers. It appears in the Ukrainian Crimea, in Donetsk, in Luhansk, in Mariupol… everywhere! People protect their identity with this simple, small but powerful letter Ї.
In this case, language proves to be a powerful tool of resistance, the struggle for self-determination, and the decision for freedom. In the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, it is forbidden to use any letters or signs that remind of Ukraine or its language. The punishment that threatens this is beyond our imagination. And yet the “Ї” with the colon above it is found everywhere. Where nightingales are, and also where they are not.
I encourage you, dear readers, to connect with the written Ukrainian word, to try to absorb the strength and courage through Ukrainian literature.
Allow yourself to get lost in all these strange and beautiful letters, these words, sentences, stories, narratives, and fates.
Open your heart to the Ukrainian language and literature so that the flame of the letter Ї never goes out.