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Introduction by Claire Tang

"16.02.22" by Frantsysk Rizdvianskyi


Empathy is paramount to creating a shared humanity and mitigating crisis. Please consider exercising empathy by making a donation that will help us to support Ukrainian students and refugees. One third of donations will go to Polyphony Lit, to promote literacy worldwide; one third to Teen Side, to provide publishing opportunities to Ukrainian writers; and one third to Reflect Empathy, to create scholarships for Ukrainian students.

Art by Claire Lin


On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, setting off a roaring, brutal war bloodied by the innocent lives of thousands. In the midst of detonated villages, charred hospitals, and bullet-filled chaos, it’s hard to find familiar signs of life as it was before it was eclipsed by the calamity of violence. So, what did life look like for the people of Ukraine in the days leading up to the full-scale war? Before 24.02.22? 

“16.02.22” by Frantsysk Rizdvianskyi captures a snapshot of a restless Ukrainian town as it teetered quietly on the edge of war, the apocalyptic calm before the storm. For Rizdvianskyi, his piece is the last written memory of his people, his city, and his country as they were before February 24, 2022. Simple and genuine, his poem brings the reader on an oscillating journey of unities and separations, suspenses and resolutions. We read about a myriad of characters who would otherwise be divided — a hunter and a goose, an executioner and prisoners in jail, a butcher and his boar — all united by the anxious insomnia of a collective threat. 

While political and societal conflicts continue to divide us, Rizdvianskyi’s piece seems to nudge us, reminding us that community unification can be found even in the dark, snarling face of war. It serves the message of how sadness can connect us because we are not the only ones in pain. With this, Rizdvianskyi seals the sleepless unity of his piece with an optimistic vision, a sweet dream of a world where war is not found at all.



They weren’t sleeping. No one slept.

And every task aside was swept

The butcher with the boar beside

Both didn’t sleep on this cold night.

They weren’t sleeping. No one slept.

The pharmacist locked up his wares.

The leerie left the lights alone,

Stars were the only ones who shone.

They weren’t sleeping. No one slept.

Down came the carnie tent by hands

Of a ventriloquist, a mage

And jester, all full of despair.

No lawyer slept and slept no judge.

The executioner, the guard,

And even prisoners in jail —

all lucid for the past few days.

Through night, the usurer counts copper

To try and stay awake for longer.

The casket hides the undertaker,

Where he too isn’t sleeping lately.

The beggar doesn’t sleep, the drunkard

So does the belfry and the tower.

The home of Lutherans, the mosque

All try to block the slumber’s blow.

The parks and gardens are awake.

The sleep does not have any trace.

No sleep for roofs, and none for walls,

And roofs do not bear sleeping birds.

No slumber citywide. No home

In here is sleeping. And beyond

Awake are suburbs and each village,

No one is sleeping in the villas.

No place for it around! No sleep

For trout out in the rivers’ deep.

The hunters with a wild goose stand

Sharp at attention, wing in hand.

Awake are doves up in the skies,

And every forest bear so does.

There are no candles to be found,

And not an open eye around.

Awake are younglings and the aged,

Awake are cemetery dead.

And even up above, the moon

Won’t hit the hay anytime soon.

They lie in wait. All are prepared

For open fire. But straight away

A word is sent throughout the night,

Reverberating with all might.

May be an angel of the heavens,

Awaited eagerly by beggars.

May be a thing, when said out loud,

Disintegrates, not to be found.

But it’s a message that is clear

For those who got a chance to hear:

Oh lucky us, a bird of steel

Won’t rob us of a sky to see;

A missile wouldn’t touch us here,

Nor will a metal bombycid.

For every stitch, oh lucky us,

Is proof that we have walked the path.

Those who’d not wander, lucky us

Just did not look for a way out.

But morning light, as always, comes.

It was, it will. It simply does.

So sleep. A synod of the highest type

Sweet slumber for you all divines.

Minerva does foresee a dream

Where war is nowhere to be seen.

Translators: Julia Murashova

Content Editor : Claire Tang


Interview with Frantsysk Rizdvianskyi


Image Credits

Artwork by Claire Lin.

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