That’s, I’m sure, a vampire:
Gnaws on bones, bloody-lipped.
—A. S. Pushkin. “Vurdalak,” Songs of Western Slavs
(Это, верно, кости гложет
Красногубый вурдалак.
—А. С.  Пушкин. “Вурдалак”, Песни западных славян)

What’s in the mirror that you see?
No bloody fangs, which would be fitting:
you feed on corpses of your victims.
You make them as you drink your tea.
You are no ghoul from fairy tales:
there’s been no one that’s been as horrid.
This is your time. But see, before it,
there were some others, and they failed.
One placed a bullet in his brain.
The other choked on his own vomit.
The end is near. But you postpone it:
you’ll murder more—but that’s in vain.
You should have grown two fangs, a horn
(a snout already has been grown).
A creature sits on rotting throne.
And when it’s dead no one will mourn.



Michael Vanyukov is a Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Psychiatry, and Human Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh. He immigrated to the United States 30 years ago as a refugee from the Soviet Union.

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33 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    Michael, that is a great poem in the tradition of so many great Russian poets from Pushkin to Lermontov. I have a story about Pushkin. For a year after retiring from the US Army Military Intelligence and being a Russian Foreign Area Officer I was VP of an international trading company. I flew to Saint Petersburg to sell western products. At the time, one of Putin’s roles there was to greet and meet foreign trade representatives. That is when I met and dealt personally with Putin. One of my last roles in the Army besides being the Portal Commander at Votkinsk under the INF treaty was as the Executive Officer of a unit in the US in 1987, that interviewed and assessed all Russian emigres entering the US to determine if they had useful intelligence. If they did, our debriefers would debrief them and write reports. My duty was to make the choices of those to be further debriefed based on their interviews. In any event, you have written a poem that resonates with me.

    • Michael Vanyukov

      Roy, thank you so much for reminding us of Putin’s political roots as a lackey – as you know, he also used to carry a suitcase after the Leningrad boss Sobchak. That was after his mediocre career as a petty KGB man in East Germany – but his KGB connections have helped him grandly. I am a bit familiar with that unit – or rather its CIA counterpart. They contacted my family upon immigration.

  2. Paul Freeman

    I appreciate this poem, Michael, having lived under the tyrant Robert Gabriel Mugabe for many years and watching the destruction of the free press and the almost weekly elimination of his rivals and political enemies.

    Thanks for the read.

    • Michael Vanyukov

      Wow, I am sure that my life in the Soviet Union was much easier than yours under Mugabe, a real monster. Thank you for the warm words.

  3. Stephen Dickey

    A great poem that I have wanted to see. I think the skillful inexact rhymes amplify the point.
    Thank you for this poem.

    • Michael Vanyukov

      Dear Steven, I greatly appreciate your positive reaction and especially noting the inexact rhymes. Perhaps my being brought up on Russian poetry – mainly the XX c. rather than Pushkin’s times – made me to value those rhymes more than the perfect ones. I don’t find them “lazy” at all 🙂 – at least from me they seem to require a greater effort. Please check out this: https://classicalpoets.org/2021/01/20/priam-king-of-troy-addresses-cassandras-concerns-about-the-horse/

      • Stephen Dickey

        Dear Michael,
        Thanks for the other poem, which is also excellent, excellently sardonic.
        I have tried inexact rhyme only once, and had the same experience—true rhymes kept coming when I didn’t want them!

  4. Margaret Coats

    Monstrously graphic detail, and yet a carefully managed time structure in the whole. Present to past to conditional suppositional features, with the future predicted. Nice job, Michael. The imperfect rhymes suit the poem well.

  5. Irina

    Your poem resonates with me. My grandfather could not afford to marry my grandmother and give his Jewish name to his child, my mother, because another creature sat on the throne. They were married in 1953. Until 1953, my grandfather had a “worry suitcase” in the hallway of his communal apartment. My grandmother was waiting for the “black crow.” Mom grew up an anxious child. We will never forget. My dad was Ukrainian. We will never forget.

  6. Jeff Kemper

    Thanks for the poem! I have read it several times to let my disdain for that creature to flare. I will read it several times more with an eye toward how the partial rhymes people are speaking of fit the piece.

    A long-time admirer of Dostoyevsky (who first piqued my desire to read literature) I have been heartbroken over what the Russian people and their conquered peoples have had to endure, as I have learned from my limited reading of their history. I have been intrigued especially by the Russian political leadership’s transition from Yeltsin (I believe Russia’s first elected head-of-state) to Putin! Was he initially a puppet on somebody else’s strings?

    • Michael Vanyukov

      Dear Jeff, thank you so much for the kind words. It is indeed horrible what the Russian government, unfortunately supported by much of the population, has done, forever removing any traces of brotherhood between the two nations. Russian chauvinism, ever part of the culture (including what you may have seen in Dostoyevsky’s writings), has given the world another ugly fruit (I’ve written some prose on that: https://jewishchronicle.timesofisrael.com/the-black-hole-of-russia/). I think, Putin, as probably Hitler at some point, may have been considered a puppet by those who helped him get to power, – but he definitely had had plans of his own even when he was Sobchak’s lackey. He is of my generation, and I have known people like him, including those who elected a career similar to his. He is such an iconic spawn of the Soviet system, coming from the very symbol of totalitarianism, the KGB, that even his first election was already telling of the black hole potential of the country. It was just a matter of time that it would start swallowing its surrounding and turning its own people into orcs. Thank you again.

  7. Mia

    So Zelensky does not want to be friends with Putin
    He wants to be friends with Erdogan
    Turkey member of NATO
    USA member of NATO
    So Turkey allowed to take what it wants eg Cyprus!!
    This month is 49 years since Turkey took my home and I cannot go and live there. The world is silent .
    So excuse me if I have to speak.
    But worse Zelensky is allowing his own people to be killed and for what
    so he can join another gang!

    Justice is about everyone, not just when it suits.
    If people remember justice when it suits them , that is when there is no justice for anyone. So we mistreat, small countries at the peril of all.

    • Michael Vanyukov

      Dear Mia, I am afraid you have put the cart before the horse. It is not Zelensky who invaded Russia but Putin who invaded Ukraine, having declared that there was no such country, and it’s all Russia. His genocidal aggression had been predicted by democratic politicians in Russia, including Putin’s competitor Nemtsov, later assassinated (guess on whose orders). His and his entourage’s aggressive plans are not limited to Ukraine. And Erdogan is a much closer friend of Putin’s than Zelensky’s. Turkey really has no business being a NATO member, I think.

  8. mia

    “The Greek people are anarchic and difficult to tame. For this reason we must strike deep into their cultural roots: Perhaps then we can force them to conform. I mean, of course, to strike at their language, their religion, their cultural and historical reserves, so that we can neutralize their ability to develop, to distinguish themselves, or to prevail; thereby removing them as an obstacle to our strategically vital plans in the Balkans, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East.”
    Henry Kissinger

    • Michael Vanyukov

      I am not certain what this comment has to do with either Putin or the poem.

  9. Mia

    Dear Michael, thank you for your replies. Your poem is very powerful.
    It seems that it has touched on a fear that this escalating war, terrible as it is
    will eventually bring a nuclear catastrophe. And if Putin is as he is portrayed then it is not an unreasonable fear to have.
    My clumsy attempt, as I am not the able communicator that I would like to be, was to give another point of view. I believe , for example, that western media manafactures consent ,if it is for a war, but remains silent on atrocities that are happening and continue to happen. Therefore it is not as unbiased as it would like us to believe. And that the west and in particular NATO is not always blameless. What I was trying to convey is that if this war is about the freedom of the Ukraine to join NATO, then in my humble opinion it is not worth the murder of millions.
    Although we are not responsible, in a sense we are all drinking tea whilst people are being killed. Forgive my clumsy attempt to comment in order to voice my antipathy to war.
    I wish you all the best.

    • Michael Vanyukov

      Thank you for the kind words. NATO is definitely not blameless, and double standards are rampant. The war is not about that, of course – it’s about Putin’s imperial ambitions. He sees himself as Peter the Great or Stalin while being a war criminal. We may be drinking tea too (we pay taxes, after all, while Biden is sending that money to award Arab murderers of Jews), but we are not sending anybody to murder and be killed. I agree that this is a weak excuse though.

      • Mia

        I don’t know why but I remembered a little bit of family history. My late parents were young teenagers during WWII and living in Cyprus. An uncle , an older teenager, lied about his age and enlisted with the British army and fought against the Nazis in Greece.

        Later my father remembered how the first jewish refugees from the war were kept in Cyprus until they could go to Israel. We have always believed that Israel belongs to the jewish people. it is the only bit of land that they have to call home compared to the vast swathes of muslim countries that surround them. Jordan especially was it not created as a country at the same time for the Palestinians? So I am actually shocked to hear that money is being sent to them by Biden. This is another instance where the press gives one side of the story. Shocking how many young Jewish people are killed through terror attacks and it is never in the mainstream news.

  10. Michael Vanyukov

    Exactly. It’s as if being murdered is the natural condition for the Jews. It was one of the most terrific accomplishments of the KGB – to turn the enormous Arab Goliath into little David.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Given what goes on in Muslim and Communist countries (and is starting in so-called “democracies” as well), and looking back at Ancient Rome, perhaps being murdered is the natural state of Christians as well. As the Bible both says and shows, people of God have always been rejected by the world, because the world has always hated God.

      • Michael Vanyukov

        Thank you very much for the comment. Looks like the world has hated any carriers of Gd-given morality, which surely is chains on the human animal nature. What people have consistently neglected to notice is that any other morality is chains that humans put on other humans, slave chains.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      The worship of Palestinians and the encouragement of their terrorist attacks have now become a dogmatic part of the West’s new Left-Liberal Religion. You must accept and practice this religion if you want to be welcomed in polite, elite society. Any robust defense of Israel will get you blackballed, cancelled, or fired from your job.

      This is especially the case in academia, where Jew-hatred has now become endemic. The C.U.N.Y. system is particularly infected with it, with support for BDS very strong in Political Science, History, and Humanities departments. Israel is routinely described as a “racist, apartheid, colonialist state.”

      Why? Simply this: because Israel wants to preserve its ethnic and cultural identity, and not be swallowed up to become another fly-bitten Levantine backwater.

      • Brian A Yapko

        You’ve nailed this issue, Joe. Leftist-liberals, almost none of whom actually know the history of the region, refuse to allow actual facts to interfere with a perfectly good freedom fight. A “freedom fight” which ultimately makes no sense since Jews are the indigenous people of Israel, with a continuous and scientifically verifiable presence going back 3000 years. Because you’ve touched upon a subject which I happen to know something about, I want to clarify a few points:

        First, I would clarify the term “Palestinian.” There is no unique “Palestinian” people. It is essentially a geographical term. As described in Wikipedia, Palestinians are Arabs who happen to live within the region called “Palestine.” There is nothing culturally unique about them. Their language is Arabic. Their religion is Islam. Their cuisine, their very clothing is Arab. Until 1978, the Arabs of the West Bank were Jordanian citizens, until the Arab League promoted the PLO as their rightful leadership rather than the government in Amman. There are 22 Arab States which stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean, including the Arabian peninsula. The Arab world consists of a population of 423,000,000 spread over a territory of 5.7 million square miles. The Palestinian territories are, of course, contiguous parts of this world bordering Jordan and Egypt.

        Israel’s Jewish population is very small compared to the Arab world. Israel’s population totals 9,154,960 of which 6,300,000 are Jews. In other words, Jews are only 16/1000th of the population of the Arab world. Furthermore, Israel is a territory of 8,522 square miles – only 0.16% of the territory of the Arab World. It would take 592 Israels to equal the amount of territory which Arabs possess. And yet the Arab world begrudges this small territory to the Jews, including the 900,000 Jews (and their descendants) who were expelled from most of the Arab world during the 1920s to 1940s.

        But why should BDSers let facts get in the way of an opportunity for some good anti-Semitic hate-mongering?

      • Michael Vanyukov

        Thank you. You are surely right. Add to that that Arab view on the Jewish state, the same as the progressive one, is that it has no right to exist. The entire progressive academia is virtually genocidal where Israel is concerned.

  11. Paul Martin Freeman

    Putin is not blameless because he ordered the invasion. But why did he do so? He ordered it because of the inexorable movement of NATO up to his borders beginning in the late 1990s after the US had promised this would not happen.

    And if we think Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is something the West would not do in a comparable situation, then what about Kennedy’s response to the Soviet build-up in Cuba? A blockade is an act of war even if no one gets killed. And Cuba is 90 miles from the US whereas Ukraine is immediately next door. Putin, lest we forget, had been warning the West about the dangerous situation developing since 2007 when he was invited to speak to NATO. Have we forgotten also that he wanted Russia to join?

    The blame for this appalling war––appalling for the loss of life on both sides, appalling as it was as avoidable as it was predictable, and appalling as the consequences will be felt for decades––is very much the fault of people whose life’s mission has been the destruction of Russia. Putin wanted to be our friend as his personal values are fundamentally the same Judeo-Christian ones as ours used to be. Now we have made him our enemy and forced him into an alignment with China, Turkey and Iran because we just refused to recognise that he has a point of view and strategic interests which have to be respected if only to avoid nuclear war, which is what’s going to happen now if he doesn’t get what he wants.

    How dumb do we have to be not to see that?

    One last point. My impression is that Putin is a friend of Israel, although this fact is not advertised too widely in case it upsets Israel’s principal backer. He’s also a friend of the Jewish people. Last year, when Lavrov made some remarks that were deemed by some to be antisemitic, Putin stepped in and apologised for the offence caused. Actually, I didn’t think Lavrov had crossed that line. He’d merely stated what is actually the case, that some of the worst antisemites have been Jews while Hitler may well have had some Jewish blood. Yet even so, Putin publicly humiliated his long-standing Foreign Minister because he recognised the deep hurt that had been caused to vulnerable Jewish people. What Russian leader has ever been so solicitous of the feelings of the Jews to ignore the details and the inevitable disapproval of some within his own ranks and humble himself before them? That, in my view, is a mensch.

    So think about this for moment. A Russian leader who wanted to be our friend and is a friend of Israel and the Jewish people, and we’ve made him into our mortal enemy.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Paul, this is absolutely spot-on. The war in the Ukraine was deliberately provoked by the United States and by neocon retreads in the government: Victoria Nuland, John Bolton, Anthony Blinken, and others associated with National Review, Commentary, and assorted warmongering think-tanks. This is a proxy was against Russia run by the United States and its lapdog allies in Europe.

      These people have hated Russia ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Russia’s slow return to civilization. They are infuriated and terrified by Russia’s embrace of its Christian traditions, its rejection of LGBTQ perversion, its outlawing of trannie-driven self mutilation, and above all, Russia’s wealth and power — which allow the nation to thumb its nose at Western bankers and global capital and NGOs.

      Putin has every right to defend his nation’s security, just as we had in 1962 when the Soviets attempted to place nuclear weapons in Cuba, a mere ninety miles off our shores. And promising to let the Ukraine become a NATO member is more than a mere provocation — it is a de facto declaration of war on our part. It is as suicidally insane as Germany’s blank check to Austria-Hungary was in 1914. We have already given Russia a genuine casus belli by blowing up that gas pipeline to Europe. Yes, we did it. Don’t believe the lying vermin in our media, who give out bullshit cover stories of how it was done by “independent agents.”

      Our controlled Mainstream Media won’t tell you this, but the Russians are CREAMING the Ukrainians, and the plains are strewn with the twisted wreckage of our Bradley vehicles and those German Leopard tanks. The Ukrainians are running out of grave-space for their slaughtered soldiers. Their ballyhooed “Spring Offensive” was about as effective as a banzai charge against heavy artillery and machine guns. And all our stupid elitists in D.C. can do is scream that we need to send illegal cluster bombs and F-16s.

      Putin is not always a nice guy (which politician is?), but right now he is the good guy in this fight. I hope and pray that he destroys that Zelensky cabal of liars and puppets, and that he totally humiliates the United States establishment.

    • Margaret Coats

      Paul Martin, and Joseph, many thanks for fully presenting this extremely sad viewpoint regarding the extremely foolish failures by American policymakers and their allies in this tragic war. Michael Vanyukov, my above comment on your poem stands, and now I must thank you as well for initiating this discussion. Not to say that Putin and his continued use of totalitarian practices and Russia’s recent history haven’t caused immense suffering to those who lived under them. But as Paul Martin and Joseph point out, Russia was emerging from all that, and beginning to reacknowledge worthy traditions. Hatred of Russia does no good anywhere.

      • Michael Vanyukov

        Dear Paul, Joseph, and Margaret,
        I appreciate your comments. I do disagree, however. As a Russia born and bred native speaker I have been tracking the events in detail that is not commonly accessible. Putin is not how I described him – he is much worse. There is no way to put in a brief poem his murder of political opponents (like Nemtsov) and journalists (like Politkovskaya), his plunder of Russia that has made him probably the richest man in the world, his stated genocidal intentions toward Ukraine, his slaughter of both Russians and Ukrainians, like before he slaughtered Chechens… It would require many pages of revolting prose to put all of the sordid detail on paper. It is unfortunate and sad that the Democrats in power have first enabled his aggression (if nothing else, by the huge rise of oil prices due to “Biden”‘s disastrous policies) and then turned help to Ukraine into a partisan item. I’d be happy to discuss further.

  12. Mia

    Dear Michael
    I really understand your point.
    You say Putin murders political opponents.
    But this has happened in Turkey I forget the year but it could probably be found as it was not so long ago when criticism of the government resulted in the death of opponents as well as journalists.
    Genocidal intentions? The constant genocide of Kurds. Turkey
    The invasion of another sovereign country, small and vulnerable Cyprus. Turkey
    That which you accuse Putin of doing has been done by Turkey. I will not put down specific names in print.
    And yet there are no sanctions. Turkey is a member of NATO and policing Russia so to speak!
    Turkey still denies that the Armenian genocide ever took place. Yes it was a few years back just before the holocaust. Shouldn’t we remember?
    I would like to emphasise that we don’t have a difference of opinion with regard to Putin but our emphasis goes in different directions perhaps.
    So what do we do? Just as we think very carefully whether a war with Turkey would do any good, we should apply the same logic to Russia.
    The United States warned Russia about missiles on Cuba and Russia backed down. I think this was mentioned in another comment.
    But even though it was known how antagonistic it would look to take the Ukraine into NATO the policy was continued.
    So for the freedom to join another side millions are dying and the country is being destroyed. Or is that not the real reason for the war? Is it a war for freedom for Ukraine or is it a war to destroy Putin. Because if it is a war to destroy Putin using the Ukraine to do so then it is in my humble opinion , despicable.

    I have lost my ancestral home and land to Turkey. But no-one cares about that particular injustice. Turks took homes, property , land in 1974, all for free. Fast forward to recent times and northern Cyprus, vis a vis the invaders are being given grants by the EU because they are poor! As a British tax payer , my taxes are funding those who have stolen my home! They are also being given an unprecedented number of scholarships to European universities whilst the refugees who fled to the southern part of Cyprus or abroad we have been left to sink or swim. Through sheer determination, hard work and sacrifice we are now paying for those who have taken our homes at gunpoint.
    So I understand what it is like to be in exile. that is why I have such sympathy for Israel .
    but I think it may have been Benjamin Franklin who said, only when we are outraged by the injustice that does not affect us we will get justice. I must look it up as I have not quoted it exactly.
    I too am happy to discuss things after all there isn’t much left to do , as I would not use any other means to make my voice heard..
    If only I could write a credible poem about it all!
    Thank you for being willing to have a discussion.

    • Michael Vanyukov

      Dear Mia,

      I agree with you that Turkey has enjoyed undeserved immunity from criticism, let alone punishment, for its horrific deeds. So have so many Muslim regimes that routinely deprive people of lives, freedom, and homelands. I hope that you’ll write that poem. I’ll be the first to congratulate you (if you let me know :)).


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