Book Review: Illya Titko, “Blood Formula”, translated by Jeffrey Stephaniuk, Regina, Benchmark Press, 2021, 210 p.

By Gianluca Cinelli

Senior Lieutenant Illya Titko is a combat veteran from Kalush, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, Ukraine. He was drafted in September 2015, or rather, he volunteered for the mobilization that was underway. Mr. Titko writes his book from the per­spective of a citizen-soldier, as a man who continued to maintain one foot firmly in the civilian world, even though his new environment was a war zone, and “war is when your entire world is turned upside down.”

Jeffrey Stephaniuk, the excellent translator of this book, introduces with these words the author (at p. 6), highlighting the perspective from which the whole story is told: that of a “citizen in arms”, a man who has answered the impellent call of duty when his country was in dire danger. Titko himself adds some remarks a few pages later:

It was not an easy task for me to write this book. It was a real inner struggle, for over a year, on whether I should write it or not. But I was pre-occupied with those past events, mulling that chaotic time over and over in my mind, conscious of the fact that it really wasn’t that long ago when I lived through them. There were nights when I couldn’t even sleep. I’d argue with myself: Should I or should I not write this book? I clearly understood that not only should I write this book, but it was nec­essary for this book be written. First, it was necessary so that everything I ex­perienced would have its place and not become lost in the subsequent living of my everyday life. I needed to write this book so that those who hadn’t been there personally could know about these events. I wanted them to know what happened and how they happened to those involved, with the people, with the country, and of course all those individuals who resolved to walk this same path, namely sol­diers defending their country. I realized that such a book would be necessary for children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, so that they would have access to first-hand accounts about these difficult and stormy days and nights in the history of our nation. (12)

Read the review here

Launch of new journal section: “Back to the light. Stories of healing from trauma”

War affects our world and lives, whether we are directly involved or not. Its effects are like those of a disease that spreads through the organism, weakening it and altering its relationship with the environment. War destroys communities, poisons associated life, and builds walls. And, which is worse, it plants rotten seeds from which bitter fruits will grow. One antidote to the spread of its malice is listening to the stories of those who have seen its very Gorgon’s face and suffered from its scorching touch.

The Close Encounters in War Journal inaugurates a new section called Back to the light. Stories of healing from trauma. It is entirely devoted to the stories of people who have experienced the war and learned how to cope with the burden of its traumatic memories. Sharing these stories means much to the authors both in terms of ethical commitment and psychological effort. They reveal something intimate that has been troubling them, a core of traumatic memories that haunt their lives. Nonetheless, they are eager to share their stories worldwide with a public of interested and empathic readers, who want to listen and know what war is about.

We are happy to launch this project with two contributions by Ukrainian refugee Olga Kornyushyna and American former infantryman Charles Collins. Olga tells about her traumatic encounter with war as a civilian who had to flee from Kyiv, bombed by the Russians in the present war. Charles tells how he went through four turns of deployment overseas and how he had to fight to heal the moral wounds that such experiences inflicted on him.

The editors of the CEIWJ would like to express their profound gratitude to the authors of these stories and invite all who have stories of healing from war trauma to share them with us and our readers. Veterans, families, friends, therapists, and healers are welcome to submit their contributions.

Our gratitude also goes to Ed Tick, who has generously accepted to embark on this endeavour as co-editor of the Back to the light project, and the members of the section-specific editorial board, Charles Aishi Blocher, Kate Dahlstedt, Nathan Graeser, Lawrence Markworth, Donald McCasland, Glen Miller, Roxy Runyan, and Floyd Striegel.

“Poems for Roman” by Svitlana Povalyaeva

Svitlana Povalyaeva is a Ukrainian writer and poet. She received a degree in journalism at the National Shevchenko University in Kyiv and worked as a journalist for a number of years at major TV channels and media outlets. Svitlana is the author of eight books, one of which is a collection of poetry “After Crimea” that was written after the annexation of Crimea. Her second poetry book will be published in Ukraine by the end of 2022. Over the years, Svitlana took part in countless major literary events, festivals and forums as an author, presenter, and speaker. She practices Buddhism, which has an important influence on her writing. Svitlana is a long-standing civil activist. She took an active part in the Revolution of Dignity (also known as Euromaidan) in Kyiv in 2013-2014 together with her two sons.

Her younger son Roman Ratunyi was a well-known Ukrainian public figure, a defender of green recreational zones of the city of Kyiv, an author of original forms of municipal activism and resistance to corruption, which went far beyond environmental issues, and a volunteer soldier. When the full-scale Russian invasion broke down on February 24, 2022, Roman enlisted as a volunteer and fought in the battle for Kyiv, he took part in the de-occupation of Kyiv Oblast and later joined the 93rd separate mechanized brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces “Kholodnyi Yar” where he was a part of the military intelligence unit. Roman took part in the liberation of the town of Trostyanets and fought in Sumy Oblast. He was killed in action near Izium, Kharkiv Oblast on June 8, 2022. The sentence written by Roman in his last will and testament is symbolic: “Kyiv, I died far from you, but I died for you”. Roman became an inspiration for thousands of Kyiv residents and a symbol of the young generation of Ukrainians.

Read the poems for Roman here

“Burial at Sea”, by Lawrence Markworth

An old warrior, relegated to obscurity in the backwaters of San Diego Bay with the rest of the Navy’s unwanted fleet, waited. A destroyer, unable to serve her country after a crippling collision that amputated most of her bow, the USS Tingey was disabled, decommissioned, and cast aside. Guns removed from her decks, stripped of every piece of machinery of value, no longer able to fight, she lay naked, aging, and lonely, secretly wishing for rehabilitation or death. From her remaining superstructure, she could occasionally see the proud fleet leaving the bay for the real action in the South China Sea. She longed to be with them, cutting the waves at 30-plus knots, protecting aircraft carriers, looking for Russian submarines, or shelling the enemy in some far-away jungle. Instead, rust ran rampant through her decks, passageways, bulkheads and bilges, eating away at her insides like an inoperable cancer. But the worst was the neglect. No one worked on her, no one visited, no one cared. Nothing but silence, except for the occasional wave lapping at her rust-oozing sides, as a tugboat brought in another old hulk. How long could this idleness and humiliation last?

Continue reading the full text here

Review: “Coming Home in Viet Nam”. Poems by Edward Tick

San Fernando, CA: Tia Chucha Press, 2021. 187 pages

Seeking the most powerful healing practices to address the invisible wounds of war, Dr. Ed Tick has led journeys to Viet Nam for veterans, survivors, activists and pilgrims for the past twenty years. This moving and revelatory collection documents the people, places and experiences on these journeys. It illuminates the soul-searching and healing that occurs when Vietnamese women and children and veterans of every faction of the “American War” gather together to share storytelling and ritual, grieving, reconciliation and atonement. These poems reveal war’s aftermath for Vietnamese and Americans alike and their return to peace, healing and belonging in the very land torn by war’s horrors.

Download and read the review of the book here

“Suicide monologue”. A testimony by Everett Cox

One steamy night, the summer of 1969, at Marble Mt. Air Base near Da Nang in Viet Nam, a rocket exploded near me and I died. There was screaming, explosions, dust, smoke, chaos; I had no torn flesh, no blood in the dust, but I died.

My flesh did not die but I had shattered. In death, I became a ghost. In life, a shadow. The ghost dominated the shadow. That domination has meant self-destructive behavior, an obsession with suicide and suicide attempts. Self destruction. Who, what is self? My body? My heart? My spirit? I had to destroy all that might be self. I had to destroy  self completely, my complete self, even though there was no complete me.

Read full text here

Selected poems from “In the Courtyard of the Moon”, by Humberto Ak’abal

Humberto Ak’abal is a poet from Guatemala. These poems were written in K’iche and translated into Spanish by Humberto. Further translation from the Spanish into English was made by Miguel Rivera with Fran Quinn. All poems are extracted from the book by Humberto Ak’abal In the Courtyard of the Moon, Los Angeles, Tia Chucha Press, forthcoming in April 2021. We kindly thank the publisher for permission to publish these poems.

Read Humberto Ak’abal’s poems here

“The Emotions after War in Viet Nam. Poetry from my Reconciliation and Healing Journeys”, by Edward Tick

Seeking the most comprehensive and holistic healing of war wounds possible, I have been leading annual reconciliation journeys to Viet Nam for veterans and other war survivors every year since the twenty-fifth anniversary of the end of the war in 2000. Encounters between survivors of all sides squeeze long-ago memories and feelings out of American and Vietnamese alike. Through poetry I record the voices and stories of women and men who lived through extraordinarily close encounters during war and again on meeting today. These encounters show the depths and complexities of our emotional lives during times of warfare and its aftermath when we can transform fear and hatred into understanding, compassion and love.

Read Ed’s poems here