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The Ukrainian Facebook Novel that is getting an English translation

A Ukrainian protest novel published entirely on Facebook has received an English translation. The author, who had previously suffered harassment from the Ukrainian state, used social media and translation to evade the censorship of a volatile government.

Kaharlyk, the title of the book and the name of a small town near Kiev where the story is set, will be released in English this year. Oleg Shynkarenko wrote the apocalyptic novel, set in a future Ukraine controlled by Russia, in multiple 100 word posts on Facebook.

Shynkarenko had previously published work on his blog criticising the then president, Viktor Yanukovych, only to be interrogated by police and have his blog altered. So Oleg turned to social media, where his work would be harder to censor.

Written on Facebook and translated through a Kickstarter campaign, the work is as an example of how new technology, social media and translators can combine to champion free speech and oppose oppression.

Social media and Euromaidan

In November 2013 Ukraine was a country divided, many people were frustrated at the rife corruption under a President widely seen as a Russian puppet.

Protesters took to the streets demanding that Yanukovych be removed and the country tighten its diplomatic ties with Europe. These demonstrations were known as the Euromaidan protests, which resulted in the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.

The chaotic events in the country served as the backdrop to Shynkarenko’s work and the subsequent need to publish it in an unconventional way. As the government adopted an increasingly oppressive stance in order to retain power, social media became a way for protesters to communicate with the outside world.

Euromaidan was just one of a number of huge political incidents influenced by the role of social media. Despite high profile social media campaigns on events in the middle east (#Egypt), the U.S (#blacklivesmatter) and Nigeria (#Bringbackourgirls), the war in Ukraine has been the largest incident in Europe since the war in Yugoslavia and the first since the invent of social media.

Shynkarenko’s work imagines a Ukraine 100 years from now, a country that has fallen under Russian control.

An excerpt of the novel has been released through Index on Censorship Magazine, who commend the role social media played in Kaharlyk, “Facebook was a freer space and less open to the vagaries of the authorities. Some of the scenes mirrored the violence that was happening, and had happened around him… the dark world he has created is undoubtedly drawn from Oleg’s fears about the future for his country where he sees restrictions on freedom being drawn more and more tightly.”

How translation can help battle censorship

Shynkarenko’s novel was translated into English by Kalyna Language Press. The translation service itself was funded through Kickstarter.

An excerpt of one of 100 word translated Facebook posts has been released through Index on Censorship Magazine:

“The wind blows listlessly through every cranny. Travelling to Kiev on the main highway, two identical 26-storey buildings are visible by the road in the distance. They stick out, the last two teeth in a jawbone. Thus the city’s corpse lays, its head southwards. Their sole inhabitant is a mummified 45-year-old wearing elegant spectacles.”

This is not the only time translation and social media have been used to tackle censorship in Ukrainian conflict. In 2014, after a commercial plane carrying 295 innocent civilians was shot down over Eastern Ukraine, both sides of the conflict played the blame game.

In the immediate aftermath of the incident a leader of the pro-Russian separatists tweeted: “We did warn you- do not fly in our sky” (sic). When it became clear the fallen plane was a civilian aircraft, he deleted his tweet.

The Kremlin subsequently posted a picture implying a Ukrainian rocket launcher was seen in a nearby town. Shortly afterwards, an interpreter took to Twitter to debunk their claims and proved their image was doctored. He was only able to do this as he had a localised knowledge of Ukraine.

It reminds us that translation is not only an incredibly useful tool for businesses, but also people. Used correctly it can help those oppressed to evade censorship and enlighten the public.

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