Kiva was born and raised in a Russian-speaking environment in Donetsk, and she graduated from the local university. Nevertheless, she and her family took a pro-Ukrainian stance in the conflict. Friends and friends of friends were wounded or killed; one committed suicide. In the summer of 2014, Kiva was forced to flee Donetsk, leaving everything behind. Since then, she has lived as a war refugee in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. According to Kiva, she began to write “completely differently” after these events. In wartime, she writes, “luxuriant metaphors seem superfluous to me. Difficult times demand simplicity in speaking. But that’s just formal minimalism. I don’t mean semantic simplification. I mean something like the inability to put on a beautiful, expensive dress if everyone around you is a beggar.”
Poetically speaking, Kiva is something of a contradiction: a poet of contemporary Ukraine who most often expresses herself in Russian (although she also writes in Ukrainian); a once-formal poet who now frequently employs techniques of free verse, collage, and montage; a war refugee who by her own account can’t seem to right herself, even far from the front lines.
Not surprisingly for a poet who’s spent most of the last six years as a refugee, themes of memory, violence, trauma, and borders/transitions run through Kiva’s poems. She also explores states of alienation and separation, ways people fragment and become disconnected while paradoxically “connecting” via digits and pixels. Death is another of Kiva’s preoccupations: “[D]eath interests me not as ‘we’re all going to die, how terrible,’ but as a particular variant of violence. And as a complex psychological problem. That is, not as an ending, but as a breaking-off, an incompletion.”
Kiva is also known to Russian-language readers for her poems about the Second World War, including poems that explore the complex history of Ukraine’s Jewish population. She says wryly that many consider her poems “gloomy and depressing,” although she insists that’s not the case. One of her interests as an artist is precisely the moment when things deviate from perceived norms, from convention. Her life, she writes, is not typical, easy, or smooth: “My poems look very much like my life.”