Dame Harriet Walter said Russia is doing “terrible harm” but we must not “treat the Russian people and the Russian language with the same brush as their political leaders”.
The 71-year-old screen and stage star will join a star-studded fundraiser for Poets for Ukraine at JW3 in London on Sunday night.
Dame Harriet, who demonstrated her command of the Russian language in the BBC drama Killing Eve, will read the Requiem by Soviet poet Anna Akhmatova, who expressed the experiences of the Russian people under Joseph Stalin’s rule.
She told the PA news agency: “Poetry is like music. It affects us not only on a verbal level, but also on a non-verbal level. Language itself is neutral.
“As an actor, I try to tune into the intent behind the words, and great poetry challenges us to pay attention and to think deeply and boldly. It’s the opposite of propaganda.
“Russia as a political force is doing terrible damage to the world, but we must not camouflage the Russian people and the Russian language with the same brush as its political leaders.”
She is joined at the Mother’s Day fundraiser by actress Juliet Stevenson, who has welcomed a Ukrainian refugee family into her home.
Stevenson will read Shakespeare’s impassioned appeal to treat refugees with compassion, from the book by Sir Thomas More.
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Stevenson told the PA news agency: “I am delighted to see how so many members of the British public have risen to the challenge and are willing to offer sanctuary to people fleeing war and terrible circumstances.
“By contrast, the government’s official response has been chaotic at best, willfully heartless at worst.
“This literary gala is important as a fundraiser for charities working on the front lines, but even more as a recognition that language has a power beyond bureaucracy and politics – as a call to attention and a shot in the heart – to remind us that Need for empathy and humanity.”
Comedian Meera Syal, actress Sophie Ward, singer-songwriter Jessie Ware and theater-turned film director Sir Nicholas Hytner were also announced as part of the cast, alongside this year’s Costa Book Prize winner Hannah Lowe.
Former Scottish creator Jackie Kay, Imtiaz Dharker – winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry – and American poet Naomi Shihab Nye, who will be performing from the USA, will also perform.
Kay told the PA news agency: ‘At times like these we have to turn to what we can. A glimmer of hope.”
Gillian Clarke, ex-national poet of Wales, and Forward Prize winner Fiona Benson will also perform at the event, alongside former poet prize winners Carol Ann Duffy and Andrew Motion.
The British actors and poets will read for up to five minutes to live and virtual audiences, with most reading translations of modern Ukrainian poetry – including by Serhiy Zhadan, who was “under heavy bombardment,” said event curator Aviva Dautch .
Ukrainian poet Lyuba Yakimchuk, who came to Vienna with her son on Wednesday after fleeing Kyiv, hopes to attend the event online alongside Ilya Kaminsky, Nicole Yurcaba and Boris Dralyuk.
A message of support comes from Kyiv Book Festival curator Oksana Shchur, who will also speak about her experience fleeing the war.
And readings by Ukrainian poets from the diaspora and the frontline, including Nicole Yercaba, Ilya Kaminsky, Lyuba Yakimchuk and Boris Dralyuk, as well as a message of support from Kyiv Book Festival curator Oksana Shchur. https://t.co/EpNADQFvzj
— Jacqueline Saphra (@jsaphra) March 23, 2022
Curator Dautch told the PA news agency: “Literature carries memories and gives poets a home in language wherever they are in the world.
“So we thought that during this period of stalemate as we wait for the visa process to be sorted out so we can bring Ukrainian refugees to the UK, we could at least tell their words and their stories.”
The fundraiser is the initiative of Poets for Ukraine, a collective of British poets who have come together to offer support, raise funds and show solidarity with the people of Ukraine, led by Jacqueline Saphra.
Funds raised will be donated to Hope and Aid Direct and Goods for Good to help Ukrainian refugees.
https://www.independent.ie/style/celebrity/celebrity-news/harriet-walter-we-mustnt-tar-russian-people-with-same-brush-as-their-leaders-41488455.html Harriet Walter: We must not camouflage the Russians to the same level as their leaders