A pacifist with a rifle. Artem Chapeye writes about the experiences of ordinary soldiers. 


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May 5, 2023

A pacifist with a rifle. Artem Chapeye writes about the experiences of ordinary soldiers. 

  • Dispatches from Ukraine
  • Russia
  • Ukraine
  • war

The writer, a supporter of Gandhi and his idea of “nonviolent resistance”, volunteered for the army in February 2022.

Photo by Ivor Prickett

This is one of many such checkpoints where you stop, show your documents, and then hope that you will pass quickly and without unnecessary formalities or problems. Holding such a rather thankless post is one of the tasks of Artyom Chapeye, a writer, translator, journalist, and, since the end of February 2022, also a soldier.

Artem Chapeye is his literary pseudonym. Anton Vodyanyi—his real name—was born in 1981 in Kolomyia. He left the academy of the Security Service of Ukraine, where he studied, after protests against the then-president Leonid Kuchma broke out in the last days of the 20th century. Barely an adult then, he decided he was on the wrong side of the barricade. He considered himself a revolutionary until a decade later he saw the dead bodies of anti-government protesters in Kyiv’s Maidan. Then he turned to Mahatma Gandhi and his idea of nonviolent resistance, and even translated his book. Nevertheless, three days after the start of the full-scale Russian invasion, as soon as he had taken his wife and two children out of Kyiv, he volunteered for the army.

“My decision was forced. I understood that if I didn’t go, it would be difficult for me to look people in the eye, especially myself,” Artem Chapeye tells me today.

He is the author of several fiction and nonfiction books that have received numerous nominations and awards. They are usually related to social issues in Ukraine, such as immigration, or observations during motorcycle trips.

Most probably, the book Tato w dekreti (“Dad on maternity leave”) brought Chapeye the greatest popularity. In it, he describes how he, and not his wife, took on most of the responsibilities related to raising children. He explained that he consciously gave up the male privilege that the patriarchal Ukrainian society gave him.

It was separation from his family that became the biggest challenge for Chapeye since he put on the uniform. He had a huge sense of guilt towards his wife for leaving her alone with the children. And also towards his children, because he disappeared for an indefinite period of time.

“In the first months, I didn’t even know if I would ever see them again, because it was not clear how the war would go and whether they would be able to return here again,” he admits in an interview today. “During this period, I cried almost every day, missed my children and dreamed about them.”

Since he started his service, he has only seen his family once.

Since the end of February 2022, Czapeye writes only occasionally. In his texts, however, he tries to understand those who shirk from the army (he himself admits that if Russia had attacked earlier, when his son was ill, he could have been one of these people), and above all focuses on the experiences of ordinary soldiers.

“In the future, I would like to write about people on whose shoulders our world rests,” he tells Tygodnik. “We don’t know if we can save this world. But if so, it will be thanks to them.”

This text was originally published in Polish in Tygodnik Powszechny.

Translated from Polish by Lukasz ChelminskiThis piece is part of the DS collection: Dispatches from Ukraine.


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