Cover Image for By the Sea 

By the Sea 

trans. by Daisy Gibbons
Issue Two

The runner-up of the Ukrainian Literature in Translation Prize (2021) is Daisy Gibbons who submitted excerpts from Lesia Ukrainka’s tale ‘By the Sea’ (written in 1898, published in 1901). The tale is based on the author’s experience of staying in Crimean health resorts where she crossed paths with Russian tourists and patients. The heroine’s subdued frustration with one of them is in contrast with her contemplative connection to nature. ‘By the Sea’ raises the questions of imperialist chauvinism, national identity, and political solidarity.

Often, when I would lie by the loneliest of seas beneath the overhanging rock face, looking at the crests of the waves, at the clear horizon, I felt as though I had found myself in a country where people had never been or were now long gone. I must admit that this dream was rather enchanting. Misanthropy is not in my nature, but sometimes I like to escape people for a little while in order not to start hating them. I heard the expression somewhere that nature by itself, the landscape by itself, without people, is like a frame without a picture; yet I tend to think of it as a picture without blemish.

Looking on from afar, even the town that spilled out over the plain above the sea never seemed to me like the work of human hand, but merely a part of the landscape. In the evenings, when only the town’s lights were visible and the houses were concealed in the darkness, I was reminded of fairy tales about a magic mountain full of red gold and precious gems, which, upon hearing the magic words, would open itself up before the brave traveller. Truly, the mountains that darkened all around the bay became almost transparent, like hundreds of bright little open windows through which shone living gold. On the mountain peaks far, far away blazed the fires of shepherds, and sometimes I could not make out whether it was a star rising from behind the mountain or the gleam of a watchman’s beacon.

The sea would roar; the little pebbles seized by the surf would rattle almost in rebuke of the fickle water that never gave them respite. The seagulls would flock above the water and whine greedily, in good or bad weather, by day or by night. The venerable Crimean trees stood quietly by – only a great storm could make them rustle like our oak groves. The rocks and cliffs above the shore seemed even more motionless against the ever-living, ever-moving sea, which changed its visage with each passing cloud, each change in sky’s colour, yet without ever ruining the harmony of the picture.

It was only when the sharp, brass sound of a military orchestra, a fragment of an army song from the Livadia barracks, or the whistle of a steamer floated over from the city; it was only when an enraged wave spewed up corks, peelings, old shoes and all sorts of human cast-offs on the shore – only then when would the harmony suddenly rupture, and the dream of an uninhabited country vanished.

People are everywhere! an offended thought would say, frightened by its encounter with filth, poverty, and all of human misery, but I suppressed it with various sayings, old and new, with memories, and with pictures of people that were without blemish.

Forced by my own impotence, I came to live in the same town that from far away had seemed to me like a part of the unpeopled landscape. There had been people there always and everywhere. Even when I sat alone in my lonely room, I could hear them moving from behind the wall, or above the ceiling, or below my house. There were people, but alongside them were work and my thoughts, and these new thoughts drowned out the old thoughts which were hostile to other people. The things which from a long-range perspective appeared to be a blemish or a sign of disharmony were not so offensive up close. That often happens. When I was a child, I was made uncomfortable by the great oil paintings at exhibitions full of ruthless realist art, such as Ilya Repin’s paintings, for instance: in order to break up this dour illusion I would go right up close to the painting; there I would see it no more. Before me were only the streaks of paint through which shone the coarse threads of canvas, and it seemed almost miraculous that they had so appalled me from afar.

Now, when the streaks have once again merged to form a distant picture, I want to put this picture on paper and once again look at it more closely, for it already has captured too much of my attention and begun to oppress me.


After tea she returned to the matter.

‘They say I’m an égoïste… True, I’m only up to doing what amuses me. Only sometimes I don’t even know what amuses me exactly. I would like to know if everyone sometimes feels as bored and as horrid as I do… You must think me fickle! You know what I am referring to… Though even without all that happening I sometimes think like this. I also think about just how frustrated with myself I am: I acted like a silly little girl, and he probably thinks that I am suffering because of him, whereas I couldn’t care less!’

That was her first outburst for that evening.

‘Alla Mikhailivna’, I interrupted her. ‘I think talking too much won’t do you any good; perhaps we’d better read something instead?’

‘Well, all right’, she agreed. ‘A new novel by Gyp is on the table there. I recently bought it and haven’t read it yet’.

I picked up the book: L’amour moderne, it appeared. It was a small copy, a beautiful edition with little drawings; on the cover were some figures coloured in red, barely covered by a thin gauze, holding twisted poses and with wild expressions as if about to run off amuck somewhere or writhe to St Vitus’ Dance.

I started to read the book out loud. Puns in French, short dialogues, eccentric aphorisms, descriptions full of subtly debauched thoughts and fantasies clung to each other like links in a chain made of coloured paper. During one of the more risqué scenes, I looked at Alla Mikhailivna: she was no longer lying down with her eyes closed like before; she was propped up on her elbows, looking up at me passionately with wide eyes, holding her breath, grasping each of the novel’s words with a greedy curiosity.

‘Why have you stopped?’ she questioned, indignantly, when I paused.

‘I think that’s enough for today’, I said, closing the book.

‘Oh, no! Keep reading, it’s so interesting! How are you not ashamed? You stopped at the most interesting part of the book!’

‘I feel it might aggravate your nerves; you’re still weak. Don’t you have any other books?’

‘There’s some on the shelf, only they’re all old; I’ve read them’.

I looked over the books, yet more French ones. Demivierges, Contes jaunes, Pour lire au bain… There were also Leikin’s Stories in Russian, and Yasinsky’s novels…

‘Are these your books from home?’ I asked.

‘No, from here, in Yalta…’

I spotted a note on some of the books: Anatole V.

‘Won’t you read any more Gyp?’Alla Mikhailivna asked.

‘No, I will not. Would you let me bring you a different book tomorrow?’

‘A different one? Which?’

‘I don’t know yet, something calmer.’

‘I dislike ‘virtuous’ books pour les enfants sages!’ 

‘All right; we’ll choose something that doesn’t concern “virtue and vice”’.

‘Ah yes, classic hospital literature for consumptives. Well, that’s the thing for me, isn’t it?’

She had started to get short with me.

‘As you wish’, I said. ‘We’ll read Gyp, only not today. It’s late; you ought to sleep, and I’ll be too scared to go home any later. Good night!’

I put on my things, said goodbye, and made for the door. Anna Mikhailivna called me back.

‘Come here. Are you angry?’

‘I assure you; I am not’.

Quelle cachottière! Well, goodnight… Bring a book tomorrow, we shall read it’, she laughed, and weakly squeezed my hand.

When I came the next day, Anna Mikhailivna was still lying down, except not in bed, but on her chaise longue, dressed in a long, dove-grey peignoir. Her face was brighter, and she had a calm expression.

‘Did you bring a book then?’ was her greeting.

‘I did’.

‘Which one?’

‘One by Turgenev’.

‘Ah, Turgenev…’ she drawled apathetically.

‘Forgive me; I should have remembered, you must have re-read it recently.’

‘Re-read it? I haven’t read it, no. We only went through the classics up to Pushkin. True, there was something in our textbook, Bezhin Meadow, I think, I don’t recall any more… Yes, a children’s book… And this, what you’ve brought – is it interesting?’

‘I don’t know how you’ll find it.’

‘Well, read it then, we will see.’

I opened the book and read the epigraph:

Years of gladness, 

Days of joy, 

Like the torrents of spring,

They hurried away’. 

Alla Mikhailivna fluffed her pillow and lay more comfortably.

After reading the first two or three pages, I stopped to lower my voice and I heard Alla Mikhailivna’s audible, measured breathing. She was asleep, her hand tucked under her cheek, and a little wedge of the red cover of Amour moderne peeked out from beneath the pillow


Little kayaks roamed across the bay, and feluccas shone white in the distance like a bevy of swans floating tranquilly towards the horizon, almost melting. Suddenly, I wanted to follow them.

I hired a small sailboat.

‘Where to?’ said the oarsman.

‘Just that way.’ I pointed towards the horizon.

The sail swelled, the surf began to rush, and the boat soared swiftly on, like a seagull: flying over the bay, she passed the quay and rocked with a great lurch from side to side. It was here we broke out onto open water, as the sailors say. There was no need to steer the boat: the wind and waves drove us on themselves. The boat rose high on a crest and then swooped down low, making her soft and gentle way from wave to wave. I looked at the shore, at the town: it seemed to shimmer in the distance with every rock of the boat, as if waving us farewell. The sun also said its farewell: flickering ribbons of red cantered towards us from the shore, shivering like tongues of flame upon the dark-green waves. With them flickered the shadow of the cliff-face, as if trying to catch up to us…

I stayed a long while at sea. The twilight had already faded away and the dark night had thrown her awning over the sea.

‘Dark by night – seas will blaze tonight’, said the sailor.

Indeed, an azure strip of phosphorescence started flickering behind the rudder, and the fire dazzled on the oars. I cupped the water in my hands, tossing it into the air, and a fantastical fountain of cold fire flashed before me. There was the splash of dolphins, shaking up geysers of light on top of the black water. Shooting stars fell down into the sea. The shore could not be seen in the darkness, and the assembly of lights burned far, far away like the Pleiades. The vast sky seemed to utter fiery words unto the sea, and the sea sang its mighty, majestic, and eternal poem unto the solemn night.


Kyiv, 19 November 1898


Read in Ukrainian.


Image: Lesia Ukrainka’s letter to her brother Mykhailo and sisters Oksana and Isidora. 7.5.1902. Source:

Cover Image for Ukrainian Cassandras

Ukrainian Cassandras

Issue Two

Thirty-one years since Ukraine regained its independence, and six months to the day since Russia escalated its eight-year long war to engulf the entire country, it is high time to hear and believe ‘Ukrainian Cassandras’.

Olesya Khromeychuk and Sasha Dovzhyk
Cover Image for Cassandra


Issue Two

The winner of the Ukrainian Literature in Translation Prize run by the Ukrainian Institute London in 2021 is Nina Murray’s excerpt from Lesia Ukrainka’s poetic drama Cassandra (written in 1907). In this play, the author chooses to tell one of the keystone myths of western culture, the story of the siege of Troy, from the point of view of a woman, the Trojan princess and prophet Cassandra. For the translator, Lesia Ukrainka’s exploration of the credibility of a woman as a producer of knowledge remains ‘highly relevant and compelling’.

trans. by Nina Murray