The Idea of Ukraine

It’s not only Ukraine as a place, as cities, villages, fields and buildings that I don’t want to see destroyed. I’m also deeply attached to the idea of Ukraine. To what Ukraine was starting to become in the past 8 years.

A real nation that was going to show the world that the nation-state is not dead.

A country that happily, openly and very loudly embraced and celebrated the Western Civilization even when the Western Civilization seemed eager to undo itself and drown in a sea of stupid, idiotic guilt.

Democracy without wokeness and socialism.

A sense of humor that the West painfully needs.

A desire to take pride in resilience and strength and not in snowflakery and mental issues.

Love of history without self-flagellation.

A real free press.

It was a long and bumpy road with a million setbacks like everything worth anything in life. But it was starting to happen. I had left Ukraine in 1998 because I didn’t believe this was going to happen in my lifetime. I didn’t think Ukrainians were going to abandon the USSR and shake off its totalitarian torpor.

But then they did.

Seeing the results of the painful, hard reforms being bombed to the ground hurts. The reforms aren’t vague conversations. I’m talking about buildings, roads, schools, bridges, factories, businesses, restaurants, stores. All that was built in recent years. The reforms were tangible, physical, you could see them and touch them. And now it’s all rubble and dust.

All of those buildings, hospitals, schools, and roads were the reason why Russians got rabid and invaded. You know which city stood out in terms of the reforms? Which city had experienced a miraculous transformation before the war? It was so amazing that I saw articles about it in the foreign press. Want to know the city’s name? It’s Mariupol. And look what the Russian envy and hatred did to it.

The Ukrainian flag my Russian husband put up on our house

Turkey Candle

For a little comic relief, here’s a true story from yesterday.

I was giving Klara her bath and lit a scented candle for her. The scent is Sicilian lemon.

“I love this candle!” Klara exclaimed. “It smells like turkey!”

“Why turkey??” I asked, not getting the connection.

Turns out that she was reacting to the smoke from a lit match I used to light the candle. The last time she smelled the smoke from a match was in November when we did a barbecue. And what kind of meat did we use?

Yep. Turkey.

Canceling Dostoyevsky

Here’s another point I want to make amidst the flurry of scandalized stories about the cancellation of a Dostoyevsky course somewhere.

First of all, I’m completely and unequivocally opposed to canceling the Dostoyevsky course. It’s wrong, it’s stupid. Dostoyevsky, like few others, warned about Russian besovshina. We all need to read more Dostoyevsky, Lermontov, Chekhov, and Gogol, not less.

Are you aware, however, that these courses are extremely rare? Do you know how many departments and programs of Russian or Slavic Studies have been closed in North America in the past couple of decades? The answer is, almost all of them. Most Dostoyevsky courses won’t be cancelled because they were never offered in the first place. My university, for instance, had a Russian program. It doesn’t exist anymore, and I’m trying to revive at least a little bit of it.

I hope we all understand that the closure of almost all Russian programs across North America (I don’t know how things stand in Europe and welcome clarification) was completely ideological. So the excuse that it’s shocking now because it’s ideological but wasn’t shocking 10 years ago doesn’t fly. We are now in a situation where people who understand the Russian-speaking regions are urgently needed but they don’t exist. As a result, there are tons of utterly inane commentary from unqualified people. At my university, we are organizing a roundtable on the war in Ukraine, and none of the speakers will be actual specialists. There’s funding for speakers, etc. But the speakers don’t exist.

I hope that instead of vapid bleating about a single course – which, once again, absolutely should not be cancelled – we talk about the larger picture in which the very existence of such a course is an anomaly. It’s easy to destroy these programs bit it’s extremely hard to rebuild them. There’s simply nobody to hire anymore to teach in them, let alone to do research. And the same thing is happening with German, Italian, and French programs throughout North America. They are simply being killed off.