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Maria Labych

Maria Labych was born in 1976 in Rostov-on-Don. She spent her childhood in the Northern Caucasus and later graduated from the Rostov University majoring in Philosophy. Subsequently she worked at the “House of Hopes” orphanage for a few years and then as editor-in-chief of a local newspaper. From early childhood she loved painting, drawing and photography and in her adult years they became her professional occupation. She now works as a studio photographer and designer. Recently she has created a cycle of illustrations for her fairytales using a mixed technique of bitmapped pencil drawings.
Finished works: The Bitch, a novel; The Way of the Marmot, a novel; Box Caisson, a novel; Tales of the Old Teva. Collection of illustrated fairytales. (Long-listed for the “New Children’s Book” Prize.)

The Bitch, a novel. 200 pp.
Eksmo Publishers. 2018.
War has many faces: that of the victor and of the victim, of a child who has lost his mother and a child who has breathed his last. Among the wars still going on today is the armed conflict between Ukraine and the Donbas separatists. This novel is based on witnesses’ accounts and soldiers’ videos, some of the witnesses are still alive and others are long dead. The author looks at any war as an absolute evil which should be prevented anywhere and at all times.
After a bombing a little girl Dana regains consciousness in a dog’s kennel pressing to the dog for protection. She imagines that she is also a dog and the kennel is her home. Later she is placed in a mental clinic and her doctor, who is an intelligent and sensitive person, becomes a father figure for her. He is trying to prepare her for a real life outside the clinic. In order to leave the clinic Dana has to pretend that she is cured of her conviction that she is really a dog. Upon release she ends up in the army while secretly still considering herself to be a dog: she has a sharp sense of smell, a keen ear, and perfect eyesight. Her paranormal qualities make her see her surroundings in her own way, as it were from a detached point of view: she is unable or perhaps simply hesitant to make judgments and express personal opinions. This enables the reader to see things as they are rather than as the girl imagines them to be.
The platoon of twelve soldiers, including Dana, gets an assignment which is impossible to fulfill. Soldiers get killed one by one along the way. Meanwhile the woman-dog, due to her heightened sensitivity, is increasingly falling in love with the platoon commander Kotov but is unable to express her feelings.
The platoon is first ambushed and then captured. Separatists promise to release the POWs, but when they come into the open they are all shot. The only survivor is Dana, who watches the liquidation of the men from her hiding place in the old monastery. Her first impulse is to revenge for the death of her comrades. She has some grenades left and intends to blow up the monastery, but then she comes across a group of children finding refuge there. The children are wounded and some doctors are trying to treat them as best they can without any medicines or bandages. The sight of the children is too much for Dana’s impressionable mind. She turns into a dog again and this feeling liberates her of caution and responsibility. She wants to re-unite with nature and live like a dog but gets blown up on a landmine and dies.
The war goes on and Dana’s image is used for propaganda as a hero fearlessly defending her homeland. The authorities need heroic images to brainwash people into following heroic examples. Dana’s face appears on banners and posters and thus defeat is presented as victory.
The armies on both sides are pictured as ruthless and disorganized, led by corrupt and inefficient commanders. Most of the documentary material providing the background of the novel comes from the amateur video films made by soldiers on both sides of the frontlines and freely circulated on the internet. Several months after the start of the war they were removed from the internet, but their veracity and informational value is hard to overestimate.