Defender’s Diary: Artem Chekh

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Artem Chekh, 37, is an award-winning Ukrainian author, whose books and works have been translated into German, English, Polish, Czech and Russian. He defended Ukraine in 2015-16, and returned to the ranks of the Armed Forces after Russia resumed its invasion of Ukraine on a much fuller scale.

In a recent column for The New York Times, Artem Chekh wrote: "I'm a Ukrainian soldier, and I've accepted my death… Let us, the people of Ukraine, wish ourselves a good death — in our own beds, for example, when the time comes. And not when a Russian missile hits our house at dawn." 

Close up of Artem

The writer shares his life stories from the front lines on his Facebook page: 

*** 

Woke up at three. I poured some coffee, ate two boiled eggs and a handful of cookies, listened to M. Ward's "Post-War” album, and then went to take my post. 

I had dreamt of kissing again. For the second night in a row. That's because I had been reading Kundera before falling asleep. There was kissing there too. And there was sex. And everyone was in pain, men and women both. I last read Kundera in 2008, but then I had the sudden urge to read him again. But I've also read Vaclav Havel's speeches and essays. And today I will read…  well, I can read anything I want. Because I live in a library, where it smells of cats and old books. There are very few new books here, but there are plenty of Ukrainian classics. 

I live in a library. I haven't lived in a library yet; I've lived in a TV tower, at a thermal power plant, in a Writer's House (that's what my fellow soldiers called it, just because I lived there), in a restaurant, at a boat station, in village homes, in tents… but never in a library. Now, I live in a library. An old village library, which smells of cats, puffy books and Victoria's Secret perfume. 

Behind the book case, behind the camouflage awning, there lies a mattress covered with a blanket and a sheet. There is a sleeping bag and a pillow, shelves full of junk, and quiet comfort. I have never lived in such a cozy place. It wasn't even this cozy in the Writer's House. It wasn't even this cozy when I lived in a remote village house and slept on a wide woman's bed. No, it was never as good as it is now. It's almost a separate room, and if you put earplugs in your ears, it becomes a separate universe, inhabited only by me, Kundera and Havel. And music, of course, if you pull out the earplugs and stuff in the AirPods. 

The library has interesting editions by Tyutyunnyk, Kobylyanska, Stefanyk, and various poetry. And quite a selection of Lenin's lectures. There, in the stacks, where I can't reach, lies the modern Ukrainian literature. I was able to spy a few names: Zabuzhko, Lyubka, Dashvar, Shklyar, Zhadan. I do not rule out that Chekh may also be there, somewhere, under the weight of all the literary names. Numbered and with a library sticker on the endpaper. 

I had the hooligan of an idea to sign the books on behalf of their various authors. "To the readers of Library X from Andrii Kokotyukha,” or, "Dopamine and serotonin, love and victories. Andriy Lyubka,” or, "Sincerely, O.Z.” Or, simply the classic "ZHADAN". 

But then I changed my mind. Laziness. 

I live in a library, among books and army gear. One pair of army boots, another pair of boots, sneakers, crocs, a peacoat, jacket, travel bag, ninety-liter backpack, thirty-six-liter backpack, and my weapons. Out of habit, I only put my vitamins, medicines, tablet, headphones, and toiletries out on the shelves. The rest stays in the backpacks and bags. 

The downside of living in a library is that I know my stay here won't last forever. One day, Officer Beard will come by and tell me that it's time for us to leave. Then, an hour later, I will be in a new village, at a new post, and under a different roof. And I will no longer live in a library. 

 But I will still wake up at one, three, and six all the same, pour coffee, eat boiled eggs, and go to take my post. And I will finish reading Kundera on the tablet. The dreams that come after reading Kundera are good. 

Married couple fighting for Ukraine

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