Volume 5, No 2

January 16, 2018

Memory Wars on the Silver Screen: Ukraine and Russia Look Back at the Second World War


In post-communist Russia the state has been supporting the production of historical films reflecting the official politics of memory, in which primacy is given to the victory in World War II. Often filmed in Ukraine, where the national cinema industry was nearly extinct until recently, these films project an imperial stereotype of modern Ukrainian identity as a fake and Ukrainian patriots as traitors. In contrast, the Ukrainian patriotic war narrative has only been reflected in straight-to-DVD films celebrating the nationalist insurgency. This article focuses on three recent films: two Russian films set in Ukraine during the war, which caused protests in Ukraine, and the first full-length Ukrainian war film to receive mass distribution, Mykhailo Illienko’s Firecrosser (2012), interpreted here as an attempt to merge Soviet historical mythology with the Ukrainian one.

Article Keywords: cinema, memory, nationalism, Russia, Ukraine, World War II

Language and Identity in post-Soviet Ukraine: Transformation of an Unbroken Bond



Language has traditionally been a crucial component of Ukrainian identity. Given the lack of independent statehood, Ukrainian identity was primarily ethnocultural rather than civic. However, the contradictory policies of the Soviet regime produced a large-scale discrepancy between the language use and ethnocultural identity. Moreover, independence boosted Ukrainian civic identity and stimulated reconsideration of its relationship with the ethnocultural identity of the titular group. Although the Ukrainian language occupies a special place in both main versions of Ukrainian identity, it has to be reconciled with the continued reliance on Russian of about half of Ukraine’s citizens. At the same time, the perception of oneself as Ukrainian is gradually shifting from ethnocultural to civic, particularly among the young generations raised in independent Ukraine. Last but not least, the escalation of an identity struggle in the wake of the Orange Revolution led to different dynamics in the two parts of the country.


Article Keywords: language, identity, native language, everyday language, Ukraine

‘Soviet Young Man:’ The Personal Diaries and Paradoxical Identities of ‘Youth’ in Provincial Soviet Ukraine during Late Socialism, 1970-1980s


Using personal interviews and six diaries of contemporary male authors representing various social groups of urban residents in Soviet Ukraine (two from the cities, and four from towns), written in Russian and Ukrainian, from 1970 to the beginning of the 1980s, this article analyses archival documents and contemporary periodicals and explores the influences of the massive exposure to audio and visual cultural products from the “capitalist West” on the self-construction of identity of Soviet youth from provincial Ukrainian towns. This article seeks to study a concrete development of cultural détente from “the bottom up” perspective, avoiding the Moscow/Leningrad “elitist/conformist” emphasis of recent scholarship.


Article Keywords: détente, diary, identity, Soviet Ukraine, youth, Westernization

Vasyl’ Stus and Russian Culture: A Complex Issue



This article is part of a larger project, aimed at studying the many influences and intertextual connections of Vasyl’ Stus, a key figure for contemporary Ukrainian cultural identity, with writers of both Western, Ukrainian and Russian literature. Scholarship on Stus is growing rapidly, yet on the whole it fails to grasp the breadth of his knowledge of foreign literatures. More specifically, studies on the difficult last twenty years of his life often tend to obviate a truly scientific approach to his literary heritage. For fairly obvious reasons, one of the most neglected aspects of his biography as a poet is the role of Russian language, culture and literature in his artistic development. This article argues that a detailed study of the writer’s Russian readings and of the possible influence they might have had on his work would help better understand his literary genealogy, his way of thinking and his poetic work. Discussions of works and authors of Russian literature constitute a significant part of Stus’s letters. Russian (Soviet) reviews and translations were often for him the key to various foreign literatures and cultures. Russian writers and thinkers aroused his interest in a particular, “privileged” way. Special attention is also paid to the role of Donbas culture in shaping the identity of the young Stus.

Article Keywords: Stus; Russian literature; Ukrainian literature; poetry; comparative literature.

Beyond Two Decades of Social Transition in Ukraine: 1 The Underestimated Power of Agency in Transition Research



The purpose of this article is twofold. Firstly it explains the process by which democratic social transformations are realised in post-Soviet Ukraine; and secondly it introduces models describing the life- course strategies that Ukrainians utilise in facing the uncertainties of a society in transition. By analyzing and dissecting the individual’s ways of dealing with systemic structural changes in the economic, political and social spheres this paper demonstrates how the sociology of life strategies can be applied to the specifics of post-Soviet Ukraine. Particularly, by drawing on mainstream post-Soviet scholarship and statistical data, the life pathways of Ukrainians are observed to be distinctly polarised. Agents adopt one of two opposing life strategies: one dynamic, risk-taking and future-oriented “achievement strategies” (or “creation strategies”), which are open to mobility; and the other conservative, risk-minimizing and survival-oriented “survival strategies” and “strategies of adaptation” that are less conducive to any type of change. Focusing on existing problems of a continuously fragile internal political and economic stability in Ukraine which have threatened to further delay the incorporation of Ukraine into the democratically advanced and developed West, this article puts forward the idea that the proliferation of life strategy type can determine the vector of development of the whole society, giving insight into the circular relationship between social transformations and actions of individuals in conditions of social change.


Article Keywords: post-Soviet Ukraine, Democratic Transition, Structure-Agency Perspective, Life Strategy, Achievement Strategies, Survival Strategies.

Normalising a Ukrainian Intellectual Identity in the Nineteenth Century: The Role of Marko Vovchok (1833-1907)


A question that confronted educated Ukrainians, predominantly landowners descended from Cossack notables, in the Russian Empire in the first half of the nineteenth century was whether they should foster an identity distinct from an all-imperial one. A sense of historical distinctiveness, the value placed by the late Enlightenment and the Romantic Movement upon the culture of ordinary people and the wealth of Ukrainian folk culture persuaded many of the need to generate a high culture employing the Ukrainian language. Yet, prior to the Ukrainian-language prose of Marko Vovchok (Maria Markovych), an element essential for the development of a multifunctional modern culture, and of an identity able to be shared by a modern Ukrainian intelligentsia, was lacking: a stylistically transparent prose able to function not only in a poetically charged way, but as a neutral medium for communicating content. The paper identifies the features of Marko Vovchok’s writing that made this innovation possible.


Article Keywords: identity, intellectuals, prose, public sphere, Ukrainian literature, Marko Vovchok

Literary CombiNation: Memory and Space in Contemporary Ukrainian Anthologies



Finding itself at the end of the twentieth century in a situation of post-totalitarianism, post-colonialism and postmodernism, Ukrainian literature faced the problem of finding its own identity. Genres dedicated to the representation of literature, including the increasingly popular genre of anthology, were among the foremost means of creating an image of the literature in its totality. From the end of the 1990s onward, the search for a usable tradition was accompanied by a sense of obligation to highlight one’s own modernity, delimit its periods and define its constitutive properties. The national literature has faced the problem taking into account the heritage of totalitarianism and colonialism, which involves coming to terms with its internal space as a multilingual one. On the other hand, the space of literature has extended over the state border, promising to create a new homogeneity of literature and overcoming the differences between domestic and diaspora literature.


Article Keywords: anthology, memory, post-colonialism, post-totalitarianism, space, Ukrainian literature.

Civil War as Musical Comedy: The Representation of the Ukrainian Revolution in the Soviet Film Wedding in Malinovka (1967)


This article explains the continued popularity in Russia of the 1967 Soviet film Wedding in Malinovka by analyzing its reliance on the traditional Russian cultural stereotype of Ukraine embedded in the burlesque style of kotliarevshchyna. The threat that the Ukrainian Revolution historically represented to Soviet Russian identity is normalised in the film, as well as in the 1936 eponymous operetta on which it is based, by framing it as an ethnic musical sitcom with dances. Although the two main yokels of the musical hail from a long line of Ukrainian and Jewish characters of popular theatre, both are also deeply ambivalent: one is a trickster who suddenly embraces the Bolshevik cause, while the other is the funniest and least threatening villain in Soviet film.


Article Keywords: imperial gaze, musical comedy, Russia, Soviet cinema, Ukraine, Wedding in Malinovka