Occupation and De-Occupation

, 04.10.2022
Ukraine in Focus

In Osteuropa (in German) Tatiana Zhurzhenko details the policies put in place by Russia – cutting off access to Ukrainian telecoms, issuing Russian passports, changing the symbolic landscape – and the reactions of local populations. Another piece by Zhurzhenko, for ZOiS Spotlight, focuses on the school system.

Each village, city, and region has its own particular experience of occupation and thus each of those stories is worth telling; at the same time, reading those experiences alongside one another can help to build a fuller picture. Stories of life under occupation, such as those from Izium, Balakliya, Berdiansk, and Kherson oblast (most in Ukrainian with English subtitles), are continually being added to the Life in War platform, developed by the Public Interest Journalism Lab in partnership with the IWM’s Documenting Ukraine project.

While for parts of Ukraine Russian occupation is counted in days, weeks, and months, other parts have experienced over eight years of occupation. In a 2021 piece for New Eastern Europe, Olena Yermakova highlights the legal and bureaucratic procedures used by the Russian Federation to “silently colonize” Crimea since illegally annexing it in 2014. These measures pushed property owners to sell and leave the peninsula or to acknowledge, at least tacitly, Russian control. (Today, making the colonial nature of the Russian regime even clearer, those Crimean Tatars who conformed to the regulations Yermakova outlines, taking Russian passports, are disproportionally targeted by the Russian military for mobilization to fight against Ukraine.)

Not only people but the landscape and environment feel the impact of Russian occupation: for The Ecologist, Kateryna Iakovlenko describes the role of salt, coal, and gas in the history and present of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions and the relentless Russian pursuit of resources from the region, both material and human.

Making sense of life under occupation goes hand in hand with understanding what de-occupation entails, on the individual as well as communal level. In Apofenie, Lyubko Deresh tells the story of helping Volodymyr Rafeyenko escape from his village not far from Kyiv in March. Ukraïner, another Documenting Ukraine partner, also talks to individuals who escaped occupation or who live in now de-occupied areas. One photographic series concentrates on bicycles, which Ukrainians in these places are turning to as a mode of transport: both because of a lack of fuel and because Russian forces destroyed roads and cars.

As more and more people and places are liberated, the need to think about the impact of the experience of occupation on people, and how Ukrainian society will process that experience, will become ever more acute. Questions of collaboration and resistance will need to be tackled, and the trauma will need to be worked through individually and collectively. The task of reconstruction lies ahead, in many forms.