Ukrainian Cassandras, witnesses, and killjoys

The title of this blog post is taken from Dr Sasha Dovzhyk’s tweet about her lecture (‘Ukrainian Cassandras’) given this week as part of the important series of talks called ‘Rethinking Slavonic Studies’ arranged by the University’s Slavonic Studies Section and CamCREES.

One of Dr Dovzhyk’s slides; to the right is a bust of the national poet Taras Shevchenko, now with a Russian bullet through his forehead

Dr Dovzhyk has been mentioned in this blog before as the curator of the fantastic Ukraine Lab project, and so too have we mentioned the Cassandra of Lesia Ukrainka’s play who inspired her talk’s title.  Dr Dovzhyk gave an extraordinary talk, looking at Ukrainka herself and her Cassandra before coming forward to modern days to discuss Ukraine’s modern-day Cassandras: those who tried to raise awareness of the increasing Russian threat to Ukraine with clear voices, such as Dr Olesya Khromeychuk through her memoir A loss : the story of a dead soldier told by his sister and Serhii Zhadan through his novel Voroshylovhrad.

The first 6 months of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine saw Dr Dovzhyk herself a witness, as she worked and volunteered in Ukraine.  She spoke about the treatment of her intense and informed witness in many media settings as emotional and biased, with a non-Ukrainian interviewee standardly also included, to provide so-called balance.  For some time, Dr Dovzhyk helped in Ukraine as a fixer for foreign journalists, and her experience here was also often shocking, with a huge gap between the local fixer and their immediate experience of their own country under war and the foreign journalists with their ability to distance themselves from what they saw.  This was one of the critical moments where the idea of a killjoy came in: the “buzzkill” of a local fixer who could not join in with the journalists’ singing of pop songs as they drove through scenes of terrible destruction.

'Chervona zona'It was an incredibly informative and thought-provoking talk and a privilege to hear Dr Dovzhyk speak.  Among the many questions she received after the lecture was one about other writers producing work in response to the current war.  She mentioned the four authors below, and I’ve added mention of what we currently hold by them.

Much of these authors’ 2022 work is yet to be published, of course, but we will look out for new titles and also fill existing gaps in our collection in the meantime.

Mel Bach

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