Ukraine Diaries – Dispatches from Kiev (Andrey Kurov)

ukr502A front-line testament of a revolution from writer & journalist Andrey Kurkov. Apparently never intended to be compiled into a book, Kurkov began writing a diary on Ukraine’s 2013 pro-European protests from a first-hand perspective (his flat being just a few hundred yards from Independence Square in Kiev). Getting accurate information on Ukraine can be difficult, as both Europe/The West & especially Russia deploy so much disinformation, hyper-bias, omission & propaganda. Ageing enmities & resent for historical injustice & bullying only escalate & inflame current hostilities & polarization, most specifically the Holodomor or “Great Famine” that ravaged Ukraine from 1932-1933, with a death toll estimated at almost four million. Holodomor was deliberately inflicted on Ukraine by the Soviet Union as punishment for not supporting Stalin’s ambitions for kholkozy, collectivised farming & rural reform. The Ukrainian parliament recognized it as a “genocide of Ukranian people” in 2006, but Russia continues to acknowledge the tragedy as a natural event due to a poor harvest. The protests erupted when then-president (since ousted) Viktor Yanukovych took the hugely unpopular decision to move Ukraine closer to Russia rather than gradual integration into Europe which seemed to have much more favouritism amongst Ukrainians. As Kurkov so eloquently puts it – “ Ukraine is up shit creek. The European summit ended happily for Maldova and unhappily for us ”. The ensuing confrontation between state & people is discoloured & complicated by rogue/plain-clothes undercover agencies & proxy militia, outside infiltrators, defectors, criminal opportunists & a gaggle of unorthodox agendas & bodies in what becomes an extremely confusing & chaotic struggle. Titushky, berekutovsty, byudzhetniki, & a small compendiums worth of official, pseudo-official & totally aberrant & unaccountable militia or security personnel & police resort to subterfuge, terror, abduction & murder in attempts to thwart the movement. There’s so much to be gleaned from Kurovs writing & observations. The very nature of the revolution itself & it’s progression & complex inflammation. During its third month, Kurkov observes “The protestors have already been through all the stages: from the romantic phase, where everyone thought they could achieve their aims within a few days, to a premonition of war, with revolutionaries covering their faces with balaclavas, wielding baseball bats and metal riot shields stolen from the police. Now we have entered a new phase, which can be summarised in five words: ‘the bridges have been burned!’ and many protestors on the barricades in Hrushevskoho Street have removed their masks, no longer fearing to show their faces.”

There’s plenty more to examine & discuss about this excellent book & bitter stand-off, but I would far rather just recommend Ukraine Diaries highly & urge you to read it for yourselves.

I will close this review with an amazing extract detailed in the book from a Cardinal of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (yes that’s correct!). The Church is absolutely not an entity I find myself agreeing with often, but this is fabulous –

“There are situations when armed resistance may be permitted. When the government resorts to excessive violence, the people have the right to defend themselves with the use of force. Everyone has the right to defend himself. There is no need to write that in the constitution: it is the law of nature. I have the right to defend and my loved ones, as does every human being.“

The Ukrainians could really teach these docile British hamsters a thing or two. Which is all the more tragic, as they flee from Russian oppression towards the European Union, another monster in waiting. Between a vice & an anvil. A better way now.

Author: Andrey Kurkov

Publisher: Harvill Secker/Random House/Penguin 2014