a note on a visit to Ukraine

When I ended up in Turkey during the coup (or, as locals insistently say, coup attempt), some friends implored me to leave. Yet Istanbul has such a place in the European imagination that people could understand why I stayed. In fact, the -phobias and -isms that really drive me away from Turkey existed before the coup and the friendships and experiences that draw me back to Istanbul (which are not part of the international social imagination of the city) persisted after the coup.

It has not been the same with Ukraine. Kyiv lacks the cultural cachet of even Warsaw, let alone Budapest or Prague or Berlin or Paris. Sadly, despite the mountains, steppes and Black Sea, Transcarpathian cuisine, café culture and drinking culture, as well as a more traditional artistic cultural renaissance that has been achieved amidst crisis and conflict, friends and colleagues have repeatedly asked why I am here.

Sadly, I’m only here for a month (or, from now, another couple of weeks), partly to visit friends, partly to write up (unrelated) work, although I am also going to meet some colleagues while I’m here. I wouldn’t normally post a travel note, but I have even been asked how I can be here.

Yes, Ukraine is a postcommunist country in Eastern Europe, which is still struggling to secure democracy and the rule of law. I am under no illusions about the unfreedoms and insecurities that remain. But it is also an international(ised) society, whether through working-class “migrant” labour or middle-class “(fl)expatriate” labour (or, indeed, asylum-seeking of Ukrainians in other countries, if not significantly by asylum-seekers from other countries in Ukraine). One of my friends in Kyiv, whom I met in Istanbul, visits London more often than I do. And friends, colleagues and others are acting to secure and advance their society, whether through work, activism or everyday life.

Yes, Ukraine has been invaded and partially occupied by Russia. Ukraine is at war with Russia. I am under no illusions about the grim reality. More than 10,000 people have been killed and the war goes on. Yet, from the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lviv in the west to the monumental port of Odessa in the south, Ukraine is more than the war.

At the same time, the war itself, as well as the crisis and the situation in Ukraine in general, is a matter of professional concern. Plunder, expropriation, “restitution”, corruption, looting, trafficking, cultural heritage propaganda in pursuit of gross human rights violations, must not be neglected because they are happening in the context of an inconvenient crisis or an inconvenient war. I want to recognise the suffering and struggles in Ukraine as much as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Cyprus, Yemen, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Colombia, Argentina…

Lviv, Ukraine

Lviv, Ukraine

Odessa, Ukraine

Odessa, Ukraine

an advert for online auction site Violity, on a scrolling baord in front of a museum in a city centre square, Lviv, Ukraine

an advert for online auction site Violity, on a scrolling board in front of a museum in a city centre square, Lviv, Ukraine

an advert for online auction site Violity, on a scrolling board in front of a museum in a city centre square, Lviv, Ukraine

an advert for online auction site Violity, on a scrolling board in front of a museum in a city centre square, Lviv, Ukraine

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2 Comments to “a note on a visit to Ukraine”

  1. Reblogged this on HARN Weblog.

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