Reflections on the Experience of War
Olena Braichenko, Denys Brylov, Denys Kobzin, Anna Prokhorova, Mariia Shvab, Natalia Tsybuliak, interviewed by Thomas Winkelmüller and Julian Kettl, DATUM: Essen, Beten, Lieben (added 21 February 2023)
A collection of first-hand accounts drawing on their Documenting Ukraine projects, which range from religious life, to healthcare, to students’ experiences. Alongside an essay by Nataliya Gumenyuk, Der Staat sind wir, and an interview with Katherine Younger by Sebastian Loudon about Documenting Ukraine: “Menschen lieben einfache Erzählungen. Wir kämpfen dagegen an.”
Artem Chapeye, Der Standard: Sich als Vater freiwillig für den Kriegsdienst melden (added 22 February 2023)
In an essay excerpted from the forthcoming volume Aus dem Nebel des Krieges (ed. Kateryna Mishchenko and Katharina Raabe, Suhrkamp 2023), Chapeye recounts the moments just before and just after the full-scale invasion began and his decision as a pacifist leftist to voluntarily enlist in the army. "Und auf einmal – du hast schon die Hälfte des Lebens hinter dir, du hättest dir niemals vorstellen können, dass du so etwas jemals erleben würdest –, auf einmal bist du mit einer so realen, abgründigen Ungerechtigkeit konfrontiert. Mit dem fast metaphysischen Bösen. Als Romanautor war ich schon immer skeptisch gegenüber den "Hollywood"-Kategorien von Gut und Böse. Jetzt muss ich das einschränken. Das "Gute" gibt es wohl nicht – aber das "Böse" lässt sich klar definieren. Wenn mitten in der Nacht Zivilisten bombardiert werden. Wenn es die eigenen Kinder treffen kann. Wenn das mit Absicht geschieht."
Sasha Dovzhyk, New Lines Mag: Mother Tongue: The Story of a Ukrainian Language Convert (added 23 February 2023)
From childhood in Zaporizhzhia through Maidan-era Kyiv to these past nine years of war, Dovzhyk traces her relationship with Russian and Ukrainian, situating her personal experience historically and culturally. "My mother tongue tastes like ashes. Things scorched by enemy fire, then soaked with rain, touched with rot, smelling of death. I felt the taste of my mother tongue most acutely while driving through Borodianka, Bucha, and Irpin two months after these Ukrainian towns in the Kyiv region were liberated by the Ukrainian army from the Russians’ “brotherly” embrace. Russian is my mother tongue and liberation means ripping it out of my throat."
Nataliya Gumenyuk, The Guardian: One year on, Ukrainians are full of anger and a sense of duty. But the overriding feeling is guilt. (added 25 February 2023)
Having spent the past year reporting from all over the country, Gumenyuk identifies a shared response to the experience of full-scale war: a commitment to one's professional and personal duty, even while overcome with anger and horror, alongside a constant sense that there was more to be done.
“As for today – besides hope in victory, national pride, solidarity and compassion, which you see on the surface – one of the prevailing feelings among Ukrainians is guilt that we are not doing enough. In non-frontline towns and in Kyiv, life has returned to a kind of normal. We are preoccupied with thoughts of those who live under constant shelling or occupation. Those who are not in the army think of those who must fight daily; soldiers who survive think of the fallen. Those who left the country feel guilty about those who stayed. [...] Ukrainians have defended their country for 365 days without a break. They have saved many lives from Russian troops. Our task now is to transform a sense of guilt into a sense of duty. We need to preserve our strength.”
Andriy Lyubka, TAZ: Espresso an der Front (added 21 February 2023)
Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Lyubka has raised funds to buy over 90 vehicles for the Ukrainian army, making 15 trips to various parts of the front lines to deliver them. Here he reflects on his conversations with friends who have become soldiers and on ways of preserving individuality and humanity, such as an expertly-prepared morning espresso. “Der Kaffee half, die Psyche zu schützen, dadurch, dass er ein Gefühl vermittelte, dass du nicht nur ein Stück Fleisch bist, ein Ziel für Scharfschützen und Bomben, sondern ein Mensch. Ein Mensch, mit all seinen Vorlieben und Gewohnheiten.”
Oleksandr Mykhed, FAZ: Wörterbuch der Invasion (added 21 February 2023)
How has the past year of war changed Ukrainians’ relationship with language? Mykhed reflects on new additions to the lexicon, which reveal the dominant features of particular phases of the war, and how the stories he wants to find the words to tell have shifted: “Zu Beginn der Invasion wollte ich unbedingt alle russländischen Verbrechen dokumentieren, damit sie niemals vergessen werden. Jetzt will ich unbedingt, dass meine Worte, meine Sprache des Krieges reicht, um von den unglaublichen Leuten zu erzählen, die unseren Himmel halten.”
Jurko Prochasko, with Tanja Maljartschuk and Katja Petrowskaja, interviewed by Julia Encke and Karen Krüger, FAZ: Der Krieg, in jeder Ecke der Seele (added 21 February 2023)
We make a mistake if we think of this war as a single thing: both in each moment and over time, it has many facets and is experienced in different ways. Prochasko reflects on this multiplicity and one of its manifestations in his own life: the oscillation between silence and the obligation to put words to the unspeakable.
“Es gibt Zeiten in diesem Krieg, in denen ich glaube, das Verstummen wäre der adäquateste Ausdruck dessen, was in mir vorgeht. Und diese Welle wird abgelöst von einer anderen: Nein, genau jetzt musst du Kräfte finden, das Unsagbare zu sagen, das Menschliche in diesem Unfassbaren und Unsagbaren zu formulieren. Das ist jetzt deine Aufgabe. Und diese verschiedenen Wellen werden immer heftiger und folgen in immer kürzeren Abständen aufeinander.”
Iryna Tsilyk, FAZ: Unsere Kinder — Muttersein im Krieg (added 21 February 2023)
Tsilyk describes the particular ache of motherhood, of watching her son go from shaking with fear in the first days of the full-scale war to living undaunted by attacks on his hometown to attending the funeral of Tsilyk’s good friend who was killed in action and thinking about his own future:
“’Weißt du, Mama, ich möchte kein Soldat werden, das gefällt mir überhaupt nicht. Aber vielleicht dauert der Krieg ja lange, und dann muss ich auch kämpfen?’, sagt mein nun schon fast dreizehnjähriger Sohn nachdenklich, und mir stockt der Atem. Bloß das nicht, bloß nicht . . . Ich möchte unbedingt glauben, dass wir unsere Kinder vor dem Krieg beschützen können. Wenigstens in Zukunft, wenigstens das.”
Reporting and Analysis
Vasyl Cherepanyn, Foreign Policy: Why the West Is Afraid of Ukraine’s Victory (added 22 February 2023)
"An uncomfortable truth about Russia’s genocidal war against Ukraine, so plainly obvious that it’s usually overlooked, is that it became possible not only because it was conceived and carried out by the aggressor but also because it was allowed by bystanders. The biggest blow to democracy on a global scale was not the war itself but the fact that—despite all “never again” claims—European and Western countries in general agreed and accepted beforehand that another European nation might be deprived of its sovereignty, freedom, and independent institutions, and it might find itself militarily occupied. (If this isn’t how they felt, then they wouldn’t have evacuated their embassies in Kyiv.) So far, the West has been having a good war in Ukraine—above all, because its present course still allows the West to behave as if the war is not its own. The West’s political discourse, rationalized in the ivory tower language of non-escalation and nonprovocation, is still basically about how best to ensure that exposure to the continued risk of military aggression and death is restricted to Ukrainians. In a basic sense, the West has always been afraid of a Ukrainian victory."
Timothy Garton Ash, The Spectator: The need for speed in Ukraine: the West must be bold (added 23 February 2023)
During a visit to Kyiv and the Munich Security Conference, Garton Ash hears again and again that speed is of the essence: weapons need to be delivered quickly, and the West needs to adopt some of the efficiency and boldness with which Ukrainians are mobilized for victory, from bookshop staff to government officials to railway workers to journalists. This sense of urgency stems in part from exhaustion and a recognition of the human toll the war has taken, but also a recognition that "A crucial question in any war is ‘Whose side is time on?’ By 1942, for example, time was clearly on the side of the anti–Hitler allies. But in this war, time may be on the side of Vladimir Putin. There’s a strong suspicion that Putin thinks so too. If China were to send weapons, that would further strengthen his hand. Hence the constant Ukrainian emphasis on speed and urgency."
Timothy Garton Ash, New York Review of Books: Ukraine in Our Future (added 21 February 2023)
Reflecting on conversations during a recent trip to Lviv, Garton Ash suggests that the time to think about the postwar future is now. He poses lessons that the West can take from Ukraine, first and foremost with regards to freedom and how to fight for it; lays out the questions and challenges that face Ukraine after the war; and makes the case that both Ukraine and Europe have a great opportunity before them:
“Yet a better future for Ukraine and Europe is possible. It’s worth emphasizing the scale of this historic opportunity. Anchoring Ukraine (together with Moldova and Georgia) firmly in the geopolitical West would mean the effective end of the Russian empire. As a result, for the first time in European history, we would have a fully postimperial Europe—that is, a Europe with neither overseas nor land empires. It would mean another great advance, comparable in scale to that after 1989, toward the goal memorably formulated at that time as ‘Europe whole and free.’ Here is our next generational task. The keyword for Europe, as for Ukraine, encapsulating both the means and the end, is volya. If we have the will, Europe can achieve this freedom.”
Nataliya Gumenyuk and Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic: "They didn't understand anything, but just spoiled people's lives" (added 23 February 2023)
When Russian troops occupied Ukrainian towns or villages, local leaders were a primary target: elected officials, civil society activists, educators. Many were arrested or kidnapped; torture was widespread; some were killed and others remain missing. This targeting of civic leaders has notably been coupled with a total failure to replace the roles these people fulfilled in their communities, due to Russian incompetence, incomprehension, or indifference. "They discovered a world different from the one they knew. And so they smashed it up, hit back at it, and are still trying to destroy it forever." In partnership with the Reckoning Project.
Nataliya Gumenyuk, Vanity Fair: How One Besieged Hospital in Ukraine Treated Wounded Citizens, Soldiers, and Invading Russian Troops (added 23 February 2023)
A remarkable account of the experiences of the staff members of a hospital in Mykolaiv who lived through the medical complex’s occupation by Russian troops. In partnership with The Reckoning Project. "A year ago, immediately after Russian troops closed in on Snihurivka, in southern Ukraine, the staff at the town’s large regional hospital rallied to treat the constant stream of wounded civilians and combatants. What these medical professionals didn’t realize, however, was that for the next nine months they would be forced to coexist with the hospital’s new overseers: the invading commanders and soldiers themselves."
Kateryna Mishchenko, The Guardian: Does Europe Want Ukrainians as Living Partners or Dead Heroes? (added 3 March 2023)
"When my colleagues comment on Russia’s war against Ukraine, they talk about our history of Russian imperialism, Russification, about Stalinism and colonisation. For me, this war has a clear point of reference – the Maidan. Perhaps it is worth returning to this place to find the future. Our common future. The last European revolution, which has not – not yet – received its proper place in the history of Europe. Maidan was a signal from people on the margins of Europe that peace and justice, key goals of the European Union, require a complex, sensitive and inclusive construction. But was that signal noticed?"
Svitlana Oslavska, TIME: Inside the Basement Where an Entire Ukrainian Village Spent a Harrowing Month in Captivity (added 23 February 2023)
Much of the Chernihiv region spent March 2022 under Russian occupation. In the village of Yahidne, over 350 residents were confined to the basement of the local school. Oslavska recounts their experience, including the atrocities they endured, their eventual liberation, and the aftermath. In partnership with The Reckoning Project.
Mykola Riabchuk, Eurozine: Peace talking versus peace making (added 27 February 2023)
The Russo-Ukrainian War is not a war over territory or security but about status and identity, Riabchuk argues, and any hope of peace needs to take this into account; true peace is only possible with a Ukrainian victory and a change of regime in Russia.
“There have been no lack of calls for ‘peace negotiations’ but very few if any concrete proposals of possible compromises that could be acceptable for both sides. The reason is simple. The ultimate goal for Ukraine in this war is to defend its legitimate, internationally recognized borders and protect sovereignty, freedom, dignity and identity of its citizens. How can that be reconciled with the ultimate goal of Russia: to abolish international law, to occupy Ukrainian territory, eradicate Ukrainian identity, exterminate the Ukrainian elite, and to transform the remaining free citizens of the democratic nation into the voiceless slaves of a fascistoid despot? What is the viable centre between these two projects where liberal Kyiv and totalitarian Moscow could compromise? [...] Putinists’ words and deeds leave no doubt about their intentions, and Ukrainians are perfectly aware of this. That is why nobody in Ukraine takes the idea of ‘negotiated solutions’ seriously.”
Marci Shore, Die Zeit: "Hier und jetzt ist der Augenblick der Entscheidung." (added 21 February 2023)
Where guilt refers to the past, responsibility belongs to the present. Ukrainians are taking responsibility for protecting their fellow citizens and for fighting on behalf of all of us – and it is the wider world’s responsibility to ensure that they can win.
“Wie sollte dieser Krieg enden? Entschieden. Mit einem ukrainischen Sieg. Dem Wiederaufbau der Ukraine in einer Weise, die anerkennt, dass die Ukrainer für uns alle gekämpft haben. Sie haben, wie die ukrainische Essayistin Kateryna Mishchenko schrieb, ein ‘Verantwortungsbewusstsein für das Gemeinsame’ vorgelebt und das an den Tag gelegt, was Hannah Arendt als unsere ‘Gebürtlichkeit’ bezeichnet: die Tatsache, dass der Mensch zum ‘schlechthin Unvorhersehbaren’ begabt ist. Die Gegenwart - hier und jetzt - ist der Augenblick der Entscheidung.
Timothy Snyder, The Washington Post: You can’t understand the war in Ukraine without knowing history (added 23 February 2023)
"Ukraine is different from Russia thanks to its distinct history, including the history of these past 30 years, since the end of the Soviet Union. While Putin has pushed his country into the quicksand of myth, Ukrainians — with their votes, their protests and their defiance — have pushed their way into a confident sense of who they are. As they make history, they remind us that we need history to understand them better, to understand this war better — and also understand ourselves better. Like the Ukrainians, we are living through a historical turning point. Like them, we will need to learn history and defy myth to make it to a democratic future."
Timothy Snyder, interviewed by Ann-Dorit Boy and Eva-Maria Schnurr, Der Spiegel: “In Russland steht der Wille über der Vernunft.” (added 21 February 2023)
An interview on how history can help us understand the present war, empire, fascism, Germany’s responsibility vis-à-vis Ukraine, and how the war will end.
Olena Yermakova, New Eastern Europe: Back home to the warzone. Emotions of displacement among returning Ukrainian migrants (added 23 February 2023)
In a piece that blends personal experience and reflection with fieldwork, Yermakova asks what has motivated Ukrainians displaced abroad after the beginning of the full-scale war to return to the country, and how they have experienced being back. "But after all, what is the rationality of returning to the grounds of the biggest war in Europe in decades, where civilians are terrorised routinely? All rational arguments, all survival and self-preservation instincts, point clearly against it. Perhaps in times of war, when nothing is more fragile than material things, which can be destroyed in seconds and lives lost without warning, it is the immaterial that comes to the foreground? Three emotional themes prevailed across the women’s responses: purpose, loneliness and a desire to regain control."
Volodymyr Yermolenko, interviewed by Cathrin Kahlweit, Süddeutsche Zeitung: “Es ist eine Illusion, dass Russland nicht besiegt werden kann.” (added 21 February 2023)
An interview on the importance of a Russian defeat, the nature of Ukrainian resistance, and a postimperial future.