Olesya Khromeychuk

historian and writer 

My favourite place in the flat where I grew up was on a windowsill. It was also the favourite place of my cat. Together, we made ourselves warm and cosy there and watched the world go by. Our view was slightly restricted by the bars my dad had put on the window (ground floor flats being the primary targets for burglars). In spite of the bars, the view from our window in Lazneva Street, located in the heart of L’viv, was still pretty good: it opened onto a large square with a fountain that ‘danced’ to music and changing ‘disco’ lights. Across the road, also clearly visible from the window, was the Soviet hotel ‘L’viv’, built in the 1960s.

During my childhood, which coincided with the ‘childhood’ of my newly independent country, Ukraine, I could literally see history pass by our window: in the 1980s, I watched Victory Day parades moving past the hotel ‘L’viv’ on their way towards the famous fin-de-siècle Opera Theatre. My parents were not members of the Communist Party, so we didn’t have to attend those parades, although I sometimes envied the kids with colourful balloons who were walking alongside adults holding portraits of Soviet leaders and red flags. Even though it wasn't, it seemed like fun. In the 1990s, I got to join the marches, but they were of a different kind: the people who were passing the same hotel ‘L’viv’ on the way to the Opera Theatre were now waving blue-and-yellow flags. 

Years later, when I chose historical research as a profession and started to write, I suspected that seeing history pass by our window might have had something to do with my choice. Yet more influential, perhaps, was the desire to find out those bits of the past that I couldn’t see because they were no longer there and few wished to uncover them. My professional research examines some of the most contentious topics of East European history, including World War II collaboration and the gendered nature of militarisation and political violence. My theatre work focuses on the stories close to my heart: immigration, displacement, war. In my writing, I dig as deep as I can, exploring the impact of violent death, grief, and loss. I grew up in a building, city and region filled with untold stories. My desire to tell them fuels my search for the sort of storytelling that changes the writer and the reader one story at a time.  

(Image: Natalie Godec)

Dr Olesya Khromeychuk is a historian and writer. She received her PhD in History from University College London. She has taught the history of East-Central Europe at the University of Cambridge, University College London, the University of East Anglia, and King’s College London. She is author The Death of a Soldier Told by His Sister (2022) and ‘Undetermined’ Ukrainians. Post-War Narratives of the Waffen SS ‘Galicia’ Division (2013). She is currently the Director of the Ukrainian Institute London.


The Death of a Soldier Told by His Sister (Monoray, 2022) 
Killed in action as he served in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Olesya Khromeychuk’s brother Volodya Pavliv died on the frontline in eastern Ukraine in 2017. As Olesya tries to come to terms with losing him, she also tries to process the Russian invasion of Ukraine: as an immigrant living far from the frontline, as a historian of war, and as a woman, a civilian, and a sister.
In this timely blend of memoir and essay, Olesya tells the story of her brother – the wiser older sibling, the artist and the soldier – and of his death. Deeply moving and thoughtful, it picks apart the ways political violence shapes everyone and everything it touches and depicts with extraordinary intimacy the singular and complicated bond between a brother and sister. Olesya’s vivid writing is a personal and powerful commitment to honesty in life, in death and in memory.
‘Undetermined’ Ukrainians. Post-War Narratives of the Waffen SS ‘Galicia’ Division (Peter Lang, 2013) Memories of the Second World War play an important role in contemporary politics and society across Eastern Europe. One of the most controversial yet least studied pages of Ukraine’s wartime history is that of the Waffen SS ‘Galicia’ Division, whose members are usually portrayed either as war criminals or as freedom fighters. 
This book explores why over 8,000 members of the Waffen SS were allowed to move permanently to the West by analysing the complex series of events and decisions that characterized the journey of the ‘Galicians’ from capitulation to acceptance into civilian life. The book sheds light on the complex processes of memory politics.
«Смерть солдата. Історія, розказана його сестрою» (Віхола, 2023) 
Переклад Олесі Хромейчук
«Я воліла б, щоб не довелося писати цю книжку, щоб не було теми для неї, щоб брат був живий, а не щоб мою книжку надрукували…»

Цими словами Олеся Хромейчук починає свою історію, книжку, яка не мала би бути написана, історію смерті солдата, розказану його сестрою. Це дуже особиста оповідь, та водночас це історія десятків тисяч українських родин, історія втрат та їх проживання.

La Mort d'un Frère (Seuil, 2023) 
Translated by Cécile Deniard
« J’ai écrit ce livre pour lutter contre mes propres démons : le chagrin, la rancune, la peur. Je l’ai écrit pour tenter de trouver un sens à une perte : la perte d’un soldat parmi les milliers de pertes subies par l’armée ukrainienne ; celle d’un frère unique à mes yeux. Ce livre donne un nom, et une histoire, à une seule des vies humaines perdues au cours de cette guerre, mais j’espère qu’il pourra servir à consoler d’autres cœurs endeuillés. »
Que faire du souvenir d’un frère ? Comment lui survivre et faire vivre ce lien intime et si singulier dans un contexte où la violence politique emporte tout sur son passage ? Mêlant témoignage, souvenirs et réflexions, ce livre d’une grande honnêteté est une bouleversante traversée du deuil et un hommage, rempli de tendresse et de chagrin, à un frère perdu au combat, mais retrouvé par l’art et l’écriture.
De dood van een soldaat verteld door zijn zus (Atlas Contact, 2023)
Translated by Esther Ottens and Wybrand Scheffer. 
'Olesya Khromeychuk sleept er, terecht, het hele westelijke deel van ons continent er aan de haren bij. Voor ons, de lezers in landen waar het vrede is, zet ze de verhoudin- gen op scherp: daar, aan de rand van Europa, waar alles opeens uit balans kan klappen, verdedigt een bevolkings- groep de rest van het continent. [...] Dit is een rauwe werkelijkheid die je als lezer onder ogen moet komen'. Lisa Weeda
Ein Verlust: Die Geschichte eines gefallenen ukrainischen Soldaten, erzählt von seiner Schwester (Ibidem, 2022)
Translated by Lily Sophie. 
‘Der tote Bruder bestimmt ihr Leben mehr als der lebende es getan hatte. Sie nimmt ihn mit hinein in ihren Beruf und Alltag. In einer sehr sensiblen und berührenden Weise. [...] Dies ist kein politischer Essay, obwohl der Leser manches über die Ukraine und die Ukrainerinnen erfährt, z. B. dass sie anti-konformistisch, gespalten und deshalb der Wirklichkeit so nahe sind, wie Olesya. [...] Über dies Buch kann man eigentlich nicht schreiben, man muss es lesen. Der Leser wird reich belohnt.' Prof. Dr. Gerhard Simon