The poet and prose writer Yakov Khelemskiy was born in 1914 in the town of Vasylkiv, Ukraine. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Kiev, where Yakov spent his childhood and adolescence. Already as a schoolboy, he began writing. In the early 1930s, Yakov moved to Moscow, where he did part-time work in the editorial offices of several newspapers. His first short story collection, The Flying Arch, was published in 1934. Later, he began to study at the Moscow Institute of Philosophy, Literature, and History, but was unable to complete his studies because of the outbreak of war.
In September 1939, Khelemskiy, serving as a military correspondent, took part in the Soviet invasion of Poland, which resulted in the annexation of the eastern parts of Poland to Soviet Ukraine and Belorussia. In 1940, he was dispatched to cover the Soviet-Finnish War.
Following the Nazi invasion of the USSR in late June 1941, Yakov Khelemskiy volunteered for frontline duty, despite being exempted from service due to his weak eyesight.
His wish was granted, and he went on to serve as a frontline reporter, covering the major events of the war for the Soviet press. Khelemskiy also conveyed his impressions through poetry. A collection of his wartime poems titled Through the Lands of Orel came out in 1944.
In the course of the war, Khelemskiy was awarded the Order of the Red Star and the Order of the Patriotic War, 2nd class, as well as medals. He met V-E Day in Königsberg (present-day Kaliningrad).
Yakov Khelemskiy subsequently returned to Moscow, where he continued to work as a writer and translator. Many of his poems were set to music. He published about 20 collections of poetry, wrote prose, and translated works from Ukrainian, Polish, and Belarusian.
Yakov Khelemskiy died in Moscow in 2003, at the age of 89.
An excerpt from Yakov Khelemskiy' poem "The Star"
"How many stars would shoot down from the sky
Over the victims massacred in Kerch;
O'er those who fell near Vyazma and Orel;
Over the schoolgirl strangled in the noose;
O'er Babi Yar, where, row on silent row,
My neighbors, friends, and kinsmen lie unmourned;
O'er those who, fallen far from hearth and home,
Are covered with scant grains of foreign soil;
O'er those struck down by bullets in Berlin
Mere moments from the ending of the war —
Why, the whole Milky Way would fall to earth
In mournful rains, all through the silent night."