Shannon Vare Christine on Love Letters to Ukraine from Uyava by Kalpna Singh-Chitnis

While virtually every news outlet continues coverage of the war in Ukraine, the focus of these stories is often on the economic and political impacts on Ukraine, Russia, and the world at large. However, Kalpna Singh-Chitnis’ Love Letters to Ukraine from Uyava, translated into Ukrainian by Volodymyr Tymchuk (poet and Lieutenant Colonel in Ukrainian Armed Forces), is a vital documentation of love’s role within this landscape of war. Told at times through an epistolary format, the speaker addresses an entire nation, but also personally communes with a Ukrainian poet soldier. There is an intermingling of prose and lyricism that underlines the historical and literary interconnections between both the Indian and Ukrainian cultures. This collection could and should serve as a blueprint for humanity on how the collective power of words, stories, and languages has the ability to unite people rather than divide them. This collection aims to serve as a history of this time, and also as a soothing salve for the Ukrainian people as they persevere.

This book is an act of rebellion launched by Singh-Chitnis and Tymchuk as a means to “bridge readers’ hearts” and to spread hope in a war-torn time, perhaps most importantly to provide strength to Ukrainians living amid the conflict. “A warrior wants to read love poems. / He wants to carry them in his pocket like seeds of sunflowers, / chew on them when famished.” This sunflower imagery historically holds volumes of symbolism and meaning to Ukraine, and has further deepened during this particular war. While no one holds the solution nor can predict how this will all come to an end, these words will continue as sustenance: “Do not forget to shred my poetry / and feed it to the winds.” Danger and tension live within and between the lines of these poems and there is a distinct hint of warning to the reader. Tymchuk’s very involvement in this project is perilous. And while this specific conflict is happening abroad for many readers, there is the insinuation that war in its many forms could easily visit their shores too. But there is the constant reminder that love is an antidote “a balm / It heals and comforts, / nourishes and assures, / stops insanity, / forbids atrocities.” Singh-Chitnis proposes that the world would be infinitely better if love served as the impetus, the focus, of every action, choice, reaction, and decision. 

Herein also lies an invitation: “He stops suddenly, refusing to walk / in the direction, the world is going. / In his halt are the hopes for the future.” This moment of reflection is meant to inspire a call to action in all readers. It is a moral imperative for all people to ask poignant questions of their leaders and to demand interventions for “What goes on in our minds, manifests in the world.” If society mentally wears itself down with negativity, critique, and hate, those will be the emotions and behaviors that reside in communities. But if people use love as their primary language: “It comes transcending all barriers, crossing all borders / to siphon the poison you have been inhaling. / It is oxygen for your lungs, collapsing.” These poems are not passive, one-dimensional love poems, but rather they are fierce, wise, and determined, as they address Ukrainians, offering support to them as they are surviving this time of war. The verses are also prayers, intentions, and meditations to a people: “Now I’m here, to hand you over everything, with love, / that you once gifted me in abundance.” The collective call to emotional arms, to offer a steadfast commitment to these people is evident throughout: “Allow me to cover your wounds, as they are my own. / Let me stay to celebrate your victory. As it will be mine too.” 

Stylistically, these poems range in format and focus. There are allusions to both Ukrainian and Buddhist customs, traditions, and symbolism. Singh-Chitnis echoes the literary traditions of Ukraine and their fierce independent spirit with some lines told in a clear, straightforward fashion. While others are laden with lush imagery, much like discovering a “lotus in an Autumn garden” or feeling “you wander like a dog, loyal and forlorn, / on the ravished grounds of your motherland.” Still others countdown time and capture the eternal feeling contained within stretches of hours, as in the poem “Three and a Half Hours.” Singh-Chitnis parallels the speaker’s life and daily actions while writing these love letters to those of Ukrainian soldiers a world apart. In this way the speaker is able to figuratively transport herself, and the reader by proxy, to the battlefields, the training grounds, and the alleyways ravaged by missiles. “You weave sweaters for my poems / with your words, with the yarns of / your language, with the beads of / your tangled breaths, / seeking freedom.” Kalpna Singh-Chitnis and Volodymyr Tymchuk have tasked their readers with heeding their call to evoke change in the world and promote empathy by amplifying voices of those who cannot be heard themselves. 

Shannon Vare Christine is a poet, teacher, and critic living in Bucks County, PA. She is an alumnus of The Community of Writers and Tupelo Press 30/30 Project. Her poems are featured in various anthologies and publications. Additionally, her poetry reviews and literary criticism were published or are forthcoming in The Lit Pub, Cider Press Review, Sage Cigarettes, Compulsive Reader, The Laurel Review, Vagabond City, Tupelo Quarterly, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. Archived writing and more can be found at, her periodic newsletter, Poetic Pause, and on Instagram @smvarewrites.