Irena Karpa, well-known Ukrainian writer and singer arrived in Ukraine from Paris to hold a therapeutic writing master class and demonstrate her cooking skills. On July 3, in the Squat17b yard, everybody could taste the meat barbecue cooked by the writer, who was taking a break as First Secretary for Culture at the Ukrainian Embassy in Paris. Irena Karpa spoke exclusively with the Kyiv Post about why she decided to visit Ukraine, what a Ukrainian writer can do during the current war and how to cook meat properly for a barbecue.

[Pavlenko] Irena, why did you come to Ukraine?

[Karpa] I came to Ukraine, I really did come and not fly as was the case in the past. It’s very strange. You know, this experience instead of three hours of flying, when you fly to Warsaw, then you travel to Lviv by car, and then you take the train. But I couldn’t not come to Ukraine. It was a very sad time. It was depression at a great distance and you are cut off. I needed to get connected. And I came, I’m in a positive shock. On the train, people are polite, it’s clean and cool, and railway stations are cleaned, people help one another and there are amenities. I ate in a Georgian restaurant. It was unbelievable! This is a very resource thing. Now, I’ll start advising everybody who’s abroad to come here! I understand that I succeeded in coming at a very calm moment. I haven’t heard air raid sirens yet. I visited Irpin, like in the past. 


[Pavlenko] What kind of emotions did it evoke?

[Karpa] You know, I have been really upset and cried. I was overwhelmed as we all were when it happened. You know, when you see all this on TV. It’s more painful when you see all this remotely. These are things that will never stop being painful. It’s amazing. You know how cool things were and now you see this destruction. And you see people who clean up, remove the trash. This is the power of Ukrainians – it’s destroyed and it’s being rebuilt. It’s good that we went there, it was difficult. It is heart breaking. We went there to see for ourselves because people rebuild everything very quickly. We don’t have a right to amnesia. You know, all these people who rebuild their houses – we need to do it with our mind. As a result of all this, I am launching a therapeutic writing course to provide people with the possibility to renew their minds to the pre-war level. All this braveness is based on our energy. Especially when people drink cocktails against the background of these events – this resistance. This is a triumph of life over death. This is what they want to take from us, the glory of our life, our lifestyle, our Europeanness, our independence. 


[Pavlenko] When the full-scale invasion started, when you got to know, what were your first feelings? Did you feel guilt because you were not here?

[Karpa] Of course, I did. When you are on the front you understand – here are our guys and there are the enemy guys. Beat or run! When you’re far away just as an onlooker you are added a feeling of guilt. There are people whom you can help now, you can just call everybody: “Come here quickly! I will host everybody!” We started making new beds to host people as much as possible. You know, you imagine that everybody who you knew in the past will come to you and we were ready to host everybody who we have known. 


[Pavlenko] Has somebody come to you?

[Karpa] Yes, my drummer with her daughter came to us. All my friends without children refused to come. A few people came but I was waiting for many more.

[Pavlenko] In your mind, what can a Ukrainian writer do during the war? How can they support the Armed Forces of Ukraine?

[Karpa] It’s important to write, even when you are not a writer. But when you are a person who has emotions and reflections. This helps to handle all this evil, panic, and harassment. A writer is also a person. First of all, when he is writing, they are treating themselves, treating their reader who will be reading it, they are working as a stenographer of reality. They do so people don’t forget about what is happening. Then we are all writing articles, we all provide media with comments, foreign media when you speak a foreign language while reporting the true history of Ukrainians instead of theories from experts. It’s very important – to pull things out of their context so they stop being just statistics in this history of people. People are people. Each time, this is a new tragedy, new story, or a new view. 

Irena Karpa is chatting to her fans (Photo – Patricia Cordell) (Patricia Cordell, Huntress Media)

[Pavlenko] Did you design this therapeutic course during the war?

[Karpa] Yes, during the war. I, like a lot of us, have given up earning money and went to volunteer. I need to do something that will help everybody, including the Armed Forces of Ukraine, because I will donate one third of it to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. 

[Pavlenko] Will it be online?

[Karpa] It will be online. Five lessons will work with five basic states. There will be the grief of loss, anxiety, guilt, and euphoria. We will work  on everything, so that people understand how to live with all this afterwards. You saw how people read here – somebody was crying, somebody was laughing, but this stays with you for your entire life.

[Pavlenko] You said that you volunteered before designing this therapeutic writing course. What were you doing?

[Karpa] I was busy on the informational front in the main. Sometimes, I had to give two or three clips on TV when I needed to explain in French about what was happening. In addition to my own donations, I was taking part in fundraising. Yesterday, for instance, we raised funds for a  bus for the Armed forces of Ukraine. Earlier on we had raised money for military boots and for animals whose owners had died. I don’t post such things very often so it doesn’t become routine, but I’m trying to get people involved. For refugees, we have created a platform “Shelter for UA” with Google and the Ukrainian Catholic University to host people. My husband will soon release a platform for job searching for refugees and for those in Ukraine who lost their jobs. We asked the Ministry of Culture in France to give assistance to Ukrainian artists by writing a speech, which caused the Minister to cry. They have allocated funds of EUR 1, 300,000 for aid for refugees, people who are creating something. 


[Pavlenko] How did you cook the meat for the barbecue? Could you share your recipe, please? Did you cook yourself?

[Karpa] Yes, I cooked it myself. This is a very easy recipe shared by my friend during the Revolution of Dignity. Her name is Alla Rybitska. This was a time when very “boring” meat was available. For instance, chicken fillet. We took it and froze it. There was grain mustard, honey, oil, salt, paper, and lemon juice, you marinade it to begin with and put it on the frying pan so it’s covered with a crust. Then put it on a low temperature in a saucepan so it is braised. And I was told that there is a grill here and I thought why not. The first association that appeared was with the meat we cooked in Dnipro a long time ago. 

Irena Karpa is cooking meat on the barbecue in the Squat17b yard (Photo – Patricia Cordell) (Patricia Cordell, Huntress Media)

[Pavlenko] What is your favorite dish?

[Karpa] Until recently, it was a bloody steak with salad. But now, if I’m given good bread and olive oil with good salt, it will be enough for me. I love it. 

[Pavlenko] It’s interesting!

[Karpa] Just high-quality bread, high-quality oil, high-quality salt. For me, this is a versatile dish, it’s very minimal, but it has a lot of life. 

[Pavlenko] In your opinion, who cooks better – men or women?

[Karpa] I think that the better cooks are those who love eating more. I cook meat very well, for instance, but I bake very badly. I have my own dessert recipe, the “tart monster”. This is a biscuit that I cover with sour cream and nuts. It’s very ugly but very tasty. On the other hand, I’m good at  cooking meat, fish, and cock in wine. 

[Pavlenko] And does your husband cook?

[Karpa] He cooks but very rarely. He cooked varenyky with salmon for me on St. Valentine’s Day to demonstrate his love. 

[Pavlenko] Oh, this is dainty!

[Karpa] But his menu choice was not very good. He cooked varenyky with salmon and mashed pumpkin.

[Pavlenko] Well, he tried!

[Karpa] He threw away his first portion and cooked the second “Honey, look, they are yours – varenyky!” I said: “With salmon – it’s very Ukrainian!” [laughing]


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