Follow-up after the excursion in Ukraine

Our excursion in Ukraine is already in the past. We are back in Germany. On the first day after our returning back I was mentally still feeling in Ukraine, but then the new semester started, the daily life absorbed me and everything turned back to its normal pace.

However, the effect of our journey was not only short-term. I found myself very excited to share my experiences with my friends and tell them more about Ukraine. I also realised that I learned a lot: a feeling I didn’t have while I was there, due to the continuous confusion that was ruling over my brain and the big amount of new information and experiences we all were exposed to. After spending more time at a certain place, meeting many new and interesting people there and thoroughly examining everything, you inevitably connect with the place in a more emotional, personal way. I was not surprised to meet some of the other participants in the excursion also attending lectures and seminars connected to Ukraine. When we meet around the university campus, we always greet each other and exchange a conspirational smile.

These days I had a little flash-back from the excursion. After already meeting him once in Charkiw a few weeks ago, the Ukrainian author Serhij Zhadan was in Viadrina University in order to present his new novel “Internat” and some of his poems. This time the meeting was held within the framework of the project “Reinforcement of the sound of the Ukrainian voices in Europe” and was part of Zhadan’s reading tour through Germany.

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Many things in Ukraine have changed since the war started: the people, the language, the lexis, the intonation, even the air. So has literature, says Serhij Zhadan. A big amount of his contemporary work is dedicated to that topic. For him it’s important to write about the war and describe what it is doing to people. His new novel carries the name “Internat” and describes the civil society living in Donbass which is now the battle-field of the Russian-Ukranian conflict in the East. The book is not a heroic plead about the bravery of the Ukrainian soldiers or civil society. It rather portrays the new war reality people live in and their wandering around, their confusion. The author says about his main protagonist, a teacher of Ukrainian language, that he is the most “unheroic hero”. He is a mixture of the different voices in society Zhadan has witnessed.

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The name of the book – “Internat”, which in Ukrainian means orphanage, has its literal and figurative meaning. First it is one of the venues in the book. Second, it is a metaphor for the whole country: in the perception of many Ukrainians Ukraine is rather an “internat” than a home for them. There is a lack of belonging and at the same time a feeling of homelessness, abandonment. The term fatherland is for many somehow foreign, hard to understand or relate to. The whole construction of independent Ukraine is rather as an “internat”, says Zhadan. People don’t have a clear awareness where do they belong or what does it mean to be Ukrainian, so they feel like orphans. The term is also a metaphor for the issue of self-identification in the Ukrainian society, which is no longer an issue only for Crimea or the East part of Ukraine, but for the whole country.

With the beginning of the war this has started to change and problems in society that have been conserved for 25 years of post-communism reality are breaking out. It makes people occupy themselves more with the problem of self-identification and it brings them to rethink the meaning of some words such as patriotism or what it is to be a patriot. In the context of contemporary Ukraine everybody who is fighting in the war is a patriot, he is brave and virtuous. In German context, for instance, patriotism is linked to being rather conservative, says the author.

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So as ironical and paradox as it may sound, this is one of the “positive” outcomes of the war: it turns people from passive into active, it makes them face some issues they have been ignoring for far too long such as the issue of self-identification. All this has been happening at the background of ficticious state institutions that have been serving only as a decoration. According to Zhadan, the question, whether the war will fundamentally change Ukrainians’ feeling of homelessness and the way they perceive their own country, is still to remain open, because the war is not over yet. However, some changes have already occurred: some of them are on a very personal, intimate level that is not visible for the outside world; others such as the fear, the death, and the psychological trauma are more evident. The author told us that during one of his readings in Ukraine a girl from the audience wanted to ask him a question, but then started crying and telling that only now people understand what they have lost and that Ukrainians don’t know how to appreciate their own country.

These are issues concerning the whole Ukrainian society and therefore the whole society has to work to overcome them. Serhij Zhadan for example engages himself with the organisation of different cultural activities for students such as guided tours through Charkiw. “Because I don’t want that young people feel like living in an internat in their own country”, claims the author.

His novel “Internat” will be published in Germany in March 2018.

Ein Gedanke zu “Follow-up after the excursion in Ukraine

  1. Pingback: Visual recap – part 2: Charkiw/Charkov | viadrina goes ukraine. Exkursion 2017

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