The Voices of Kharkiv: Reconstructing Everyday Life in Wartime

Documenting Ukraine

Once a major cultural, artistic, and commercial center, Kharkiv’s heritage and legacy are being destroyed daily. Almost half of the pre-war population has left, and those who stayed are living under constant shelling. 

A number of Kharkiv historians, artists, and thinkers are currently working precisely on registering and recording people’s personal and collective experiences, within the framework of Documenting Ukraine.

Yevhenii Telukha, together with the NGO “Kharkiv Youth”, investigates and records the memories of Kharkiv citizens and the changes that occurred in their everyday lives since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. For the professional historian, the mission is to preserve the memory both of the people and the places. That is why one of the project's ambitions is to develop an interactive digital map that will bring together the history of the places and the memories, sentiments, and stories that citizens share about them. The reconstruction of Kharkiv, whose many buildings have been fully or partially destroyed, will be a task for generations to come, making the project all the more urgent. 

The recording of people’s lived experiences during the war has another crucial dimension. Apart from the necessary work of remembering and reflection, the stories also play a role in bringing the Russian state to justice. Yevhen Zakharov, who has been a key figure in the Ukrainian human rights movement for many years, is collecting documentation of atrocities to inform both the Ukrainian and worldwide communities. Interviews with witnesses and victims of Russia’s atrocities are currently being published on the prominent Kharkiv Human Rights portal and are planned to be compiled in a book entitled Voices of War

Some thinkers have left Kharkiv but continue to explore their experiences both in the city and as internally displaced people (IDPs) elsewhere in their writing. The writer Andrii Krasniashchykh, who moved to Poltava a month after the invasion, reflects on his status in a non-fiction book project Kharkiv: Under the Bombs. Poltava: Immigrants; excerpts have been published in English translation by Eurozine. Similarly, historian Roman Liubavskyi, who lived under Russian occupation in the village of Mala Rohan in Kharkiv region, and who later evacuated to Lviv, records his story in the form of a diary. There, he describes the life and self-organization of village residents, who hid in the local school bomb shelter. The diary offers a comprehensive description of the village life under the occupation, including the mood and behavior of people, cases of looting, mutual assistance, contacts with the Russian troops, and more. Both Krasniashchykh and Liubavskyi reflect on their life after the evacuation and their status as IDPs. 

War disrupts the predictable sense of time and patterns of behavior. The urgency and necessity of registering changes, recording experiences and emotions, and putting thoughts on paper, are evident in many initiatives Ukrainians are undertaking. The need to reflect and make sense of events is important both for people today and for future generations of scholars and writers. 

The statue of Hryhorii Skovoroda in the museum memorial in Kharkiv region after a Russian shell hit the building. Serhii Kozlov, May 2022