As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, Ukrainian writers are sharing their perspectives on the war’s origins and society’s response. Recently, acclaimed author Yuri Andrukhovych offered thought-provoking reflections during the World Literature Festival in Zagreb. In a discussion with his publisher, he explained why war with Russia was inevitable for Ukraine and how it is transforming Ukrainian identity.
The inevitability of Russia’s war against Ukraine
To some extent, I witnessed a historical segment of our country’s history, as I took part in our first rallies for independence in the late eighties to early nineties. This can be compared to a novel with this country at the center.
This book is being written by someone above us. I don’t want to say that this is directly the Lord, but let’s call him the Author with a capital letter. The Germans have had the concept of “landgeist” for this since the time of Hegel. In my opinion, he works on an extremely concise and interesting script. The plot of this novel is extremely well crafted. The Russian attack couldn’t not be there.
In 1991, when Ukraine became independent, the idea was very popular: “Oh my God, how is this even possible? We suddenly gained our own statehood without shedding a drop of blood, while so many previous generations of Ukrainians died for it.”
“Independence as a gift” was a sign of the changed postmodern world, where violence and hatred disappear. The new was incomprehensible, but it looked like a peaceful, happy beginning of an independent Ukraine. And only later did we realize that this is not a dream at all, because we saw how difficult it was for us.
I began to understand that this was just a war postponed for later. It did not necessarily have to take the form of total war, but still it led to a serious intercivilizational conflict.
The philosophy of Ukrainian independence is to be part of the Western world, and the philosophy of Russian imperialism is to never allow this. Otherwise, Russia felt it was losing the purpose for its existence. That is why it tried consistently to humiliate, subdue and stop our development.
Already in the 90s, there was an attempt to capture and disconnect Crimea, later Russia’s brutal interference in our elections provoked the Orange Revolution. Why did we have [Maidan [Revolutions]? Because Russia again brutally hindered our European integration. Each of these attempts ended in defeat for Russia: Ukraine won the Orange Revolution and the [Euromaidan] Revolution of Dignity.
When Russia failed to stop us either by falsifying elections or shooting demonstrators on Maidan, it resorted to the last method – full-scale war. I see it as a very logical plot that could not have turned out differently.
Long-awaited words of EU prospects
Almost the entire Ukrainian society today has moved much closer to Europe. This was partially coerced: due to the significant number of people forced to leave Ukraine and move to Europe. But it also happened at the level of political decisions.
On 24 February 2022, Russia attacked Ukraine, and on the 27th, the fourth day of the Russian aggression, I heard the words of Ms. von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, about Ukrainians: “They are part of us, and we want them to be with us.”
I had been waiting for something like this if not all my life, then probably the last 40 years or so. I no longer even believed that I would live to hear it.
It was a phrase accompanied by very characteristic sounds outside my window: a siren wailed, another air raid alert began. In the first weeks of the full-scale war, we were still completely inexperienced in this and disoriented, so we tried to find a safe place from possible missile strikes and take cover from these sounds.
Now, we are already used to them and continue to go about our business when we hear an air raid alarm.
It was a very eloquent combination: this statement by Ms. von der Leyen, which sounds and echoes in me, because I want to hear it again, and again, and again, and these siren sounds.
In the minds of European politicians, it is a real revolution – to offer Ukraine candidate status for the European Union and seriously consider our accession. It turns out that this war had to happen in order for such decisions to be made. I do not know how much longer we would have waited for these words if Russia had not attacked us. Maybe we would never have heard them.
500 years for Russia’s transformation
In [my book] “Lexicon of Intimate Cities,” the section on Moscow ends with a signal of hope. However, when I wrote this text, I thought that by operating with the term 500 years [necessary for Russia’s positive transformations], I was exaggerating a lot. Instead, after everything that has happened and is happening now, I’m starting to think that maybe I didn’t exaggerate.
It will be a very long story of non-forgiveness and non-forgiveness. In the midst of war, we need to know how long it lasts, when and how it will end, and what the future holds for the aggressor.
We all want freedom and the collapse of Russia into dozens of smaller countries, none of which will be as dangerous as all of them together. But this is just one of the options, and in my opinion, not the most probable one. So let there be 500 years in my text: perhaps when they pass, there will be people in this world who will look into old books and laugh at my exaggeration or wonder at how I guessed.
Writers supplying vehicles to the frontline
What does it mean today to be a writer in Ukraine? In our country, there is a tendency to call it a mission. For me, this is too pompous a definition, so I try to avoid it. But the proponents of this thesis, first of all, probably mean to be close to your Ukraine and formulate some meanings: why Ukraine is in a state of war; why it was our country, not some other one, that was attacked; what is behind this aggression.
From the first weeks of the war, many of my writer colleagues were not only shocked and desperat, but fell silent. Perhaps for the first time in their lives, they experienced something about which they could not write, so they decided to be useful in a different way.
My wonderful friend, writer Andriy Lyubka, lives in the border town of Uzhрorod, a city that has not been attacked and can be considered the safest among Ukrainian cities. It would seem, what can you do in such a city, far from the front, when you lose the ability to write?
Andriy found, in my opinion, a very useful option – using his media influence and popularity, he started an indefinite volunteer campaign to raise funds for various needs of the Ukrainian army. Most often, he buys used SUVs in neighboring Slovakia, which come mainly from Great Britain, and transports them to the east of Ukraine, to the front line. As a writer, he has that degree of trust and public authority that helps him successfully raise large sums of money and almost continuously supply the Armed Forces of Ukraine with cars.
This is one of the options for what it means to be a writer in Ukraine right now. Many others, without thinking twice, put on military uniforms in the first weeks of the war and joined the army directly.
Writing will come someday, but today, we really need to do something else, bring victory closer. This is what our writers are setting as their goal today.[…]
Regional differences in Ukraine and reconstruction
When it comes to modern or late Soviet-era buildings, Ukrainian cities are very similar in many ways. At the same time, there are significant urban differences between the millionaire cities of the industrial east and south and the cities of Ukraine’s west, where there is only one millionaire city – Lviv.
It seems that we have not even two but several different urban cultures: Odesa, Kharkiv, Dnipro. In a military situation, the simple location of the city determines a lot: whether it is closer to the front line or the border with Russia, it suffers much greater destruction. In addition, when in Ivano-Frankivsk, far from the front line, we hear a siren, we know that we have from 30 to 60 minutes to decide how to respond. And when they hear an air raid siren in Kharkiv, they sigh with relief: it means it’s already over. There, the siren sounds later than the Russian missile arrives because it takes 2-3 seconds to fly from the border to Kharkiv.
In the east of Ukraine, there is now enormous destruction. According to the Ministry of Culture, the number of destroyed or damaged cultural and architectural monuments is approaching one thousand. These are museums, theaters, old interesting buildings, fragments of old urban buildings – everything that should be preserved as a historical and cultural heritage.
Paradoxically, during the first weeks of the war, we began to believe that after the victory, huge investments would arrive from around the world to Ukraine, and the best contemporary architects would come up with new concepts for the destroyed cities. We can create an interesting and modern urban landscape, but this may remain just a fantasy if the Ukrainian authorities continue to use their corrupt habits. But we must fight even for this prospect. Russia destroyed in eastern cities the industry it once planted itself: the factories and plants built during Stalinism. Now it has “cleared the area” itself for post-industrial projects.
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