Since the war began, and it’s been a month already, it became my main concern. I’m listening to the news more than it’s healthy, probably, but I also decided to go beyond the breaking news, and I reached for some recent Ukrainian literature. I have to admit I have not been keeping up, I’ve read some during my university days, but nothing recently. And a lot is going there, apparently, with much getting translated into Polish. Not as much into English, I’m afraid, but I found something that made huge impression on me that is available, so after a few more paragraphs of introduction I’ll review Serhiy Zhadan’s The Orphanage: A Novel. I wanted to write a quick review, but it turned out into quite a long text about history and politics…
What makes writing this post difficult is that I’m back to Polish sources, not so much when I’m looking for the news, here I have some excellent outlets and pages in English in my mix, but for the more in-depth cultural analysis. And this is a very interesting front. Ukraine is not only defending itself on the frontlines of this vicious war, but also re-defining its national identity, a process that started… well, back in the XIX century 😉 but in its current phase – after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. There was a referendum then, with over 90% of the voters supporting Ukraine’s independence, but in the 90ties it was independence of a weak state that tried to be equally close to Russia and to the West. Large part of its population considered Russian to be their native language, especially people in the East, but initially also in the central part that includes the capital, Kyiv. For many, a difference between being Ukrainian and Russian wasn’t clear. Whole regions were largely pro-Russian, and supported staying away from such institutions of Western imperialism as EU or NATO. Fierce nationalism dominated the West of the country, cities like Lviv. But it was a smaller, neglected part of the state.
Ukraine was a poor and corrupted country of great people that largely lost hope for things to get better – that is my own observation from the times when I used to visit more often. Then something changed, and it was a change many people missed, initially. A political one. Elections are not always fair in this part of the world, and often the population is powerless to do anything about that. Or doesn’t even care, convinced that all politicians are the same. Ukrainians refused to accept rigged elections, and more than once. They showed a love of liberty and democracy that was never really present in Russia, and that fact proved to be important. Russia, unable to manipulate Ukraine from the shadows, moved in forcefully, conquering Crimea and then parts of two of Ukraine’s easternmost regions – the former was incorporated into Russia after a referendum, the latter left as pseudo-states, ruled by Russian agents and constantly attacking Ukrainian army. After 8 years of a low-intensity (but quite bloody) conflict, Putin told his horde to attack with full force on multiple fronts and the results we see on the news since February 24.
Continue reading “Reading Ukrainian authors, thinking about Russia”