Discussion Group: Translation as a Political Gesture in Ukraine

The starting point of this Discussion Group session stemmed from the first Ukrainian publication of Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida. Olena Chervonik translated and produced this important academic exploration of the medium of photography together with the Museum of Kharkiv School of Photography. The book was due for printing on 24 February 2022, but was postponed due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It was released on April 7, marking the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Kyiv region.

Chervonik sees her translating efforts as a gesture of resistance not only to the current Russian brutal invasion of Ukraine but more broadly to the centuries-long Russian consistent erasure of the Ukrainian history and culture. In the words of Chervonik herself: ‘The Russian empire and the Soviet Union as its heir have been denying Ukrainians the right to use their language for centuries. Most of the world literature, creative or academic, was translated into Russian only, with only a small portion permitted in Ukrainian. Since I am an art historian writing my dissertation on photography, I have decided to contribute to the Ukrainian epistemic independence by translating some important literature on the medium I am researching.’ Thus, in this session, Olena Chervonik gave a historic overview of the Russian epistemic oppression of Ukrainians, specifically in the realm of translation. Then she addressed the issues of translating Barthes’ essay on photography with the emphasis on its syntactic and semantic idiosyncrasies and her attempts to resolve them by expressive means afforded by the Ukrainian language.


Olena Chervonik is a PhD candidate in art history at the University of Oxford, writing her dissertation on the early history of photography. Currently Chervonik cooperates with the Museum of Kharkiv School of Photography (MOKSOP) as an academic editor and translator of the series on the history and theory of photography. Previously, Chervonik received her master’s degree in art history from the Institute of Fine Arts in New York. Chervonik worked as a curator of contemporary art in a number of institutions, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art (USA), Izolyatsia. Platform for Cultural Initiatives (Donets, Ukraine), and Videonale. Festival of Video Art in Kunstmuseum Bonn (Germany) and Spencer Museum of Art in Kansas (USA).