Thriving in Isolation and Beyond: The Empowering Poetry of Vasyl Stus

Bohdan Tokarsky’s article, Thriving in Isolation and Beyond: The Empowering Poetry of Vasyl Stus, recently published in the LA Review of Books, examines the writings of Ukrainian poet, Vasyl Stus (1938-1985), as a path to obtaining solace and direction in trying times.

Image courtesy of Vasyl Stus Museum and StusCentre.

Despite the extreme, solitary conditions of his life in Soviet prisons, labour camps and exile, Stus remained remarkably active in writing, finding strength through his inner world. As Tokarsky writes, Stus’ process of “filling-oneself-with-oneself” (samosoboiunapovnennia) in his poetry during captivity built for him “an internal defence against oppression”, creating “an inner harbour, a position from which to resist the assaults of the external world”. For Stus, this external world was fraught with the brutality of the Soviet regime.

Although political imprisonment and Stus’ anticipation of freedom are a world away from our present-day COVID-19 pandemic, Stus’ poetry, Tokarsky suggests, can depict a universal human condition that is both fragile and resilient. He states that Stus’ writing “might offer the solace of commiseration. He too “dove into the vertigo of waiting,” capturing its irresolvable tension”.

Bohdan Tokarsky’s article was published in the LA Review of Books on 9 June 2020, and can be accessed here.


Bohdan Tokarsky is a Fellow of Prisma Ukraïna – Research Network Eastern Europe from April to July 2020 and an Affiliated Lecturer in Ukrainian Studies at the University of Cambridge, where he has recently completed his PhD. During his Fellowship, he is working on a project entitled Ukraine’s Executed Renaissance: Fragmentation of the Literary Self in Early Soviet Culture. More on Bohdan and his research here.


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