Embroidered Worlds — A New Anthology of Ukrainian Fantastic Fiction

I am excited to share with you the news that I am editing an anthology of Ukrainian speculative fiction, including fantasy, science fiction, horror, magic realism, and alternate history!

The title of the anthology is Embroidered Worlds: Fantastic Fiction from Ukraine and the Diaspora, and it will be published by Detroit publisher Atthis Arts. Thank you to E.D.E. Bell and Chris Bell of Atthis Arts for believing in this project.

The majority of stories included in the anthology will be from writers in Ukraine, and for most of them it will be the first time their work will be translated into English. Writers of the Ukrainian diaspora have contributed stories as well, drawing from varying degrees of connection to their heritage and ancestral homeland, illustrating the complex and diverse ways we celebrate and re-imagine culture.

Most of the work soliciting stories from writers in Ukraine can be credited to the perseverance of my Ukrainian co-editors, Olha Brylova and Iryna Pasko. This anthology would not exist without them. Also instrumental were members of the science fiction community who began exploring this idea after Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24, 2022. They shepherded this project through many stages until it came into my hands. I am so grateful to them for all their hard work. 

This anthology is important to me because it represents a collection of possibilities. It is an expansive experience of the Ukrainian imagination, which dares to remember history and dares to dream of freedom, justice, and peace.

Largely due to Russian colonial imperialism and russification policies,  a few decades ago it was nearly impossible to find Ukrainian literature in the United States, especially translated into English.

Kazky was my favorite of the children’s readers and workbooks (Tut I Tam series) published by Alberta Education in Canada in 1977.

Growing up in Chicago in the 1970s and 80s, my sources for Ukrainian stories were either my grandparents or the stories I read for Ukrainian School on Saturday mornings. Some were Xerox-copied from books that our teachers owned, others were smuggled overseas or purchased from Canada.

Nowhere outside of the Ukrainian spaces we inhabited (church, school, folk dancing, scouts), nowhere in the American spaces of my life, did I hear about anyone like me or my family. I have no doubt that my love of world mythology came from my scouring books of myths from around the world trying to find any that came from Ukraine.

In my “American life,” I was instead asked if a teacher or a new acquaintance could shorten my name to Val, because it was “easier to pronounce” or “sounded more American.”  I was told that Ukraine “isn’t a real country” or it’s “a part of Russia” or I’m “practically Polish.”

So we clung to any mention of Ukraine or Ukrainians on the news, in the Olympics, in popular culture. From a very young age, I loved the Beatles for giving a lyrical shout out to “Ukraine girls” in “Back in the USSR.” Even though they included the problematic “the” before Ukraine, still, here was proof. We existed! Someone thought we were real and beautiful.

A Ukrainian man and women in their 60s wearing Ukrainian folk costumes and holding a Ukrainian flad in their Chicago backyard. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine declared its independence, and there was so much celebration and hope. My grandparents, Baba and Dido, had feared they would not live to see an independent Ukraine but they did. Ukraine and her people were free!

In the thirty years since, there have been many stories and books written in Ukrainian, and some have been translated into English. For anyone who is interested in reading more about modern Ukrainian speculative fiction, I recommend reading “SciFi in Ukraine” by Michael Burianyk, in Locus magazine.

This week I was talking with my parents about the ongoing atrocities in Ukraine, and my father repeated something he has said many times since the war began: “I’m just glad Baba and Dido are not here to see this.” I cannot even fathom how much it would hurt their hearts to see the land that they loved so much, that they raised their children and grandchildren to love and cherish and celebrate, being ravaged in such a horrible way. Again.

How many stories will never be written? How many voices have been lost forever, both in battle and in Russia’s senseless attacks on civilians?

Members of the Ukrainian diaspora have been trying to help in any way we can: financially, emotionally, and politically, in public and private spaces. More than ever, it is important for us to amplify the voices of the Ukrainian people, to share their stories and art and poems and songs.

Culture is the container for everything that the diverse populations of Ukraine hold dear. It contains the ideas and ideals, the history and future that the Ukrainian people are fighting and dying for.

“Often ignored, or relegated to marginal status, the cultural front is nonetheless foundational. The wars of this century are wars over meaning. As American forces learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, if you lose on the cultural front, military and economic dominance swiftly erode. The terrible battles for Kyiv and Kharkiv, the destruction of Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, Europe’s struggle to heat and feed itself this winter, spiralling inflation, the brutal material horrors of the struggle, might make any cultural reading of the conflict seem fantastical or glib. But at its core, and from its origin, this Ukrainian conflict has been a war over language and identity.” 

Stephen Marche, Our mission is crucial’: meet the warrior librarians of Ukraine” in The Guardian

Today, there is more Ukrainian writing translated into English than ever before. I’m proud that our new anthology, Embroidered Worlds, will be adding to that canon. These writers and their stories are wildly diverse: there are ghosts and monsters, there are space ships and ancient gods, there are battles — real and imagined — as well as time travel adventures, post-apocalyptic settings, magic and folk motifs. 

Smiling brown-haired woman with gray in her hair standing in front of a window in an orange paisley dress.

Over the next few months, I’m going to share updates about our progress here and on social media. At this time, we have 26 stories in our table of contents. Nineteen of those are from Ukrainian writers, seven are confirmed from the diaspora with a few still under consideration. We have enlisted the services of translators, and soon we’ll announce our Kickstarter pre-order campaign!

Anyone who would like to lend support to the project in any capacity, please email me: [email protected] or the publisher: [email protected]

Thank you. Дуже дякую.

“Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

New Year’s Reflection and Wish

After ringing in the new year with family, I woke up to this beautiful, hazy sunrise on the first morning of 2023: 

In the quiet of a house still asleep, I wanted to write. I didn’t post frequently in 2022. Time not spent at the day job was divided between family and working on Mother Christmas. With one teenager already in college and another headed there in the fall, I’m aware of how quickly time is flying and how any time spent with them is a gift.

But on January 1, 2023, I first turned to Twitter as I have done every morning since Russia’s attack on Ukraine on February 24, 2022.  I wake up and check the news, getting the latest updates from Ukrainian journalists and activists I follow, many of whom have been on the front lines. I sit for a moment with the weight of it, and then a prayer. 

By the time I have published this, on Ukrainian Christmas Eve, January 6, 2023, Ukraine has been at war for 316 days. In Ukraine, as well as around the world, there continue to be battles, massacres, injustices.  There are also moments of grace, joy, love, and resilience. 

Tonight is when my family celebrates Ukrainian Christmas Eve, Sviat Vechir. It is on this holiday more than any other that I think about my family, my ancestors, and the country my grandparents were forced to leave. I have been raised with, or maybe inherited, a profound sense of longing for Ukraine and her people and culture.

My grandparents survived WWII, but like many others, they were unable to return home to Ukraine. After time in the Displaced Persons camps, they emigrated to the United States and built their lives in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village. Their children and grandchildren were raised to never forget what they were forced to leave behind. Today, new refugees are resettling in Chicago and in other places, leaving so much behind. 

Growing up, my grandparents were my examples of the different ways that war and trauma can change people. Four people with four very different responses to their past.

I learned from them, and from others of their generation, that there are many shades of resilience: humor, creativity, hospitality, adaptability, conservation, anger, silence. We see this in the stories shared from Ukraine, as well as the stories from other places around this country and the planet where people are fighting for their lives. 

I keep asking myself: How do I begin to formulate a wish for the new year with such a backdrop? 

I’ve sat with these words and feelings for a week now, writing and erasing and writing again. I keep coming back to this Leonard Cohen lyric:

There is a crack in everything, that’s where the light gets in. 

~Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

We are living in communities — global, national, and familial — that are fractured and wounded. Trying to figure out how to heal those wounds is something many of us will spend our lifetimes working toward.

In talking with friends and family over the past few weeks, so many people are feeling a deep longing for connection — with those we’ve lost or lost touch with, with those we have not yet met — as well as spiritual and existential longing for a kinder, more peaceful and more just world.

What I heard and saw in person and on social media around New Year’s Eve was a sadness that goes hand-in-hand with that longing. Some of it comes from the pandemic, some of it comes from political and economic injustices, some of it comes from war and aggression, some of it comes from lack of resources to help with mental and physical health.

All around us, people are feeling loss and lost. Voices are crying out, but there does not seem to be enough conversation about that sadness, about that longing. People continue to feel unheard and unseen, or ignored.

This week, a new co-worker recommended a book: Susan Cain’s Bittersweet. In it, I read this, and it rang true:

If we could honor sadness a little more, maybe we could see it — rather than enforced smiles and righteous outrage — as the bridge we need to connect with each other. We could remember that no matter how distasteful we might find someone’s opinions, no matter how radiant, or fierce, someone may appear, they have suffered, or they will.
― Susan CainBittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole

So here is my imperfect but sincere wish for the New Year:

In this new year, when we reach out our hands, may we find other hands there to safely take hold of, to lift us up, to bring us close. And when we are able, and we see hands reaching out in earnest, may we find the strength to take hold of them.

May the obstacles that stand in the way of connection begin to be eradicated and may bridges take their place.

May we see people as they need to be seen, and may each of us find our way to the communities that will see us and love us and help us to heal ourselves, others, and this planet.


Love and blessings in the new year.