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The war in Ukraine is the real culture war

Between the sirens of air raids, amid updates from the front, push what saves. “I had the feeling in the early days, and even now, that there was sand in my mouth instead of words,” said Olena Stiazhkina, a famous novelist and historian, when we met to eat Crimean Tatars a few days after Kyiv’s death. last bombardment. Ms Stiazhkina was born in Donetsk, the largest city in the Donbass, and fled when Russian-backed separatists fought for control in 2014. Her novels, like many conversations here before February, swing between Ukrainian and Russian – or they used to; she’s done with Russian for now.

She has friends who fled Kyiv, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave home, not a second time. When we met, she felt strong and sure of herself, but she wondered what might happen to her in a decade. She mentioned Primo Levi, Paul Celan, Jean Améry, writers who survived the Holocaust and then committed suicide years later, and her eyes lit up.

What drives it is this Ukrainian archival impulse. “As a witness, I can write. As a writer, I can’t,” she told me. “I understood that I had to be a witness, and that’s why I write a diary every day. And this time, I have every intention of finishing it on the day of our victory.

In 2014, after the Maidan revolution that overthrew former President Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine experienced a national renaissance, at least in part. The political revolution trembled, but the cultural explosion continued, producing a new generation of young filmmakers, photographers, designers and, above all, DJs and electronic musicians.


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