Posts Tagged ‘Ukraine’

Mr Jones, Curzon Victoria 14 February

February 29, 2020



This film started with a typical Ukrainian wooden house in a field of typical Ukrainian wheat and in the house the Ukrainian writer George Orwell is writing Animal Farm.

Apart from that, the action presumably takes place in 1933 when Gareth Jones, who has just been made redundant as Lloyd George’s secretary and has previously succeeded in interviewing Hitler in an aeroplane travels to Moscow in the hope of interviewing Stalin and finding out there the money to pay for forced industrialisation is coming from.  By that stage of course there was a National Government without Lloyd George, so the reference to him and Ramsay Macdonald sorting out the economic crisis made little sense.

Anyway, once in the Soviet Union Jones manages to escape his minder on a trip to Kharkov and tramp round the Ukrainian countryside observing scenes of hunger, death and cannibalism.  He also has to contend with Walter Duranty, the senior foreign correspondent in Moscow, who expounds the official line that there is no famine, really.  Then we get what seems to be an entirely fictional entanglement with the Metro-Vickers trial  and the British engineers being held hostage for Jones’s silence.  Similarly, the idea that Orwell was converted to anti-Communism by Jones’s account rather than his own experiences in the Spanish Civil War is…strange…

So the mingling of fact and fantasy was unsatisfactory, which can leave people wondering about the historicity of the Ukrainian famine.  Another question would be what the actual story is meant to be. If it’s about the famine in Ukraine, then why does it only exist when a Westerner finds out about it?  If it’s about the discovery of the famine, then Malcolm Muggeridge for instance had already written about it.  As the subject of a film, the story of Duranty could have been better, or compare-and-contrast of him and Jones as very able men who could not easily find a place in normal life.


Ukraine and Wales

October 10, 2017

Picture from ‘Voice of Ukraine in Wales’ FB page

Reading Laada Bilaniuk’s book on the language question in Ukraine while holidaying in Wales has led me to musing on the similarities (and contrasts) between the two nations.


Ukraine is a large country with a large population.  Wales is a small country with a small population.


Ukraine is located to the west of Russia.  If foreigners have any idea about Ukraine, they think it is or ought to be part of Russia.  Wales is located to the west of England.  If foreigners have any idea about Wales, they think it is or ought to be part of England.


The Welsh may be considered the successors of the first historically-identifiable inhabitants of Britain who where later displaced by invading Germanic tribes from the east.  (Human beings of course inhabited Britain long before the Indo-European languages came into existence, but who exactly they were in terms of for instance language is hard to say.)  Ukraine may be considered the successor to the original Kievan state (founded to be sure by Germanic invaders) while in Russia the succession was interrupted by Mongol-Tatar invaders from the East.

Wales is essentially an agrarian country but in the 19th century large deposits of coal and iron were discovered which led to the industrialisation of the South-East of the country.  Ukraine is essentially an agrarian country but in the 19th century large deposits of coal and iron were discovered which led to the industrialisation of the South-East of the country.


Since the 19th century, Welsh has traditionally been spoken in the North and West of the country and in the villages, while English has been spoken in the South and East and in the large towns.  Since the 19th century, Ukrainian has traditionally been spoken in the North and West of the country and in the villages, while Russian has been spoken in the South and East and in the large towns.

Prior to the 19th century, Welsh was abandoned by the upper classes in favour of English and so became a language of village-dwellers.  As such, there was no standard form and considerable dialect differences emerged or persisted, making it difficult to form a standard language.

Prior to the 19th century, Ukrainian was abandoned by the upper classes in favour of Polish or Russian and so became a language of village-dwellers.  As such, there was no standard form and considerable dialect differences emerged or persisted, making it difficult to form a standard language.

During the 20th century, socialist leaders in Wales downplayed the importance of Welsh while relying on English as a language of international progress.  During the 20th century, Bolshevik leaders in Russia downplayed the importance of Ukrainian while hoping that Russian would be the language of international progress, or if not that then of revolution in one country.

The position of Welsh in the school system has generally been subservient at best, though in the 21st century it has been made compulsory in  schools in Wales, although in the vast majority of cases instruction is basically in English .  It is now possible to study most arts subjects in a university somewhere in Wales.  The position of Ukrainian in the school system has generally been subservient to Russian, though in the 21st century it has been made compulsory for Ukrainian schools to work exclusively in Ukrainian .  It will probably soon be compulsory for all university education everywhere in Ukraine to be in Ukrainian.

However,  Welsh is the only member of the Celtic language group to remain in significant everyday use, which group has a large number of fascinating typological and morphological features.  As well has synchronic dialectal variation, it is also subject to diachronic/register dissimilation with a literary standard based on William Morgan’s 16th century Bible translation marked (for instance) by use of simple verbs rather than the periphrastic forms favoured by modern colloquial Welsh.  As such, and excepting only Basque, its survival and promotion is the most important task facing language policy  in Europe.  Contrariwise, Ukrainian has been considered as a debased form of Russian or at least as belonging to an East Slavic group and as such closely allied to Russian.  In any case, Russian and Ukrainian can hardly have diverged any time significantly before 1000 CE.


The Conservative government of the 1950s established the Welsh capital in Cardiff, an industrial city near the border with England, rather than the more obviously traditional candidate of Caernarfon.  The post-Revolution Bolshevik government established the Ukrainian capital in Kharkiv, an industrial city near the border with Russia, rather than in the traditional site of Kiev.


With iron and coal having lost importance, Wales suffers from a lack of modern industries to supplement its traditional agrarian economy.  With iron and coal losing importance, Ukraine suffers from a lack of modern industries to supplement its traditional agrarian economy.


On 9 October 2017, the Welsh football team lost 1-0 at home to the Republic of Ireland, thus losing their chance to reach the World Cup finals.  On 9 October 2017, the Ukrainian football team lost 2-0 at home to the Republic of Ireland, thus losing their chance to reach the World Cup finals.


Anne Applebaum at EBRD, 28 September

September 28, 2017


Blurred picture of Anne Applebaum and Ed Lucas

Anne Applebaum pursued three main lines in discussing her new book Red Famine: Stalin’s War On Ukraine under the benign oversight of Ed Lucas.

The first was that by sequencing and analysing decisions taken by Stalin in the light of his previous experiences we could be sure that the Holodomor or Great Famine was a deliberate attempt to destroy Ukraine and not just things going badly in agriculture as they were elsewhere in the Soviet Union.  As subsidiary points, it was now possible to establish the number of excess deaths with reasonable accuracy and the closure of Russian archives was not crucially important since it had been possible to sufficiently elucidate Stalin’s decisions.

Her second main theme was a number of historical absences around Holodomor, which had been covered up by the Soviet regime which complaisant Western correspondents, following the lead of Walter Duranty, had also glossed over.  As well as wishing to keep on good terms with the regime for practical purposes of doing his job, he had also not wished to go back his earlier Pulitzer-Prize-winning articles on collectivisation.  This tied in with the ambivalent reaction to Applebaum’s book of historians like Sheila Fitzpatrick who had developed an idea of Stalinism as a different type of modernisation and hence a different type of normal.

With regard to the question of genocide, then the actions of the Soviet Government would fall within the normal understanding of the term but not within the strict legal definition adopted by the UN.

Two weeks in Ukraine

July 13, 2016
Monument to Great Famine, Kiev

Monument to Great Famine, Kiev

Sunday 19 June  

I get to Gatwick in spite of cancelled trains.  Then Ukraine International Airways take a long time to find the plane.  I am met at Kiev.  It is hot.  I have a headache.  I get lamb stew and mashed potatoes at a restaurant that apologises for being on a trial basis.  It costs 300 UAH.  I manage to eat the mashed potato.

Monday 20 June

I join Kiran and Nalini, the other 2/3 of our party, together with boss Igor, guide Natasha and driver Vlad.  We see some churches, and have lunch in a place where I do not lose my wallet.  In the afternoon, we visit Pyrohovo–a kind of open-air museum of peasant huts.  Vlad gets a permit to drive round.  I have a burger in a place called The Burger.

Hut in Pyrohovo

Hut in Pyrohovo

Tuesday 21 June

We go to the Lavra.  It is hot.  A different guide takes me and Kiran down some caves with holy dead bodies.  Then we escape an exhibition of micro-miniatures and get Scythian gold instead.  I give Natasha some money in an envelope.  Kiran gives her some money not in an envelope.

A long day awaits without hotel room, toilet, air-conditioning.  I go to Petrovsky Market and it is far too hot.  Then I have some expensive lager in an underground ‘pub’ off Khreshchatik.  I eat in a decent place called Prepuce.

Vlad appears.  We drive to the station.  We wait.  We get on.  It is hot and humid.  My cell-mate contrives a through draught by wedging the door open with a shoe.  Sleep.

Lunch at Puzata Khata

Lunch at Puzata Khata

Wednesday 22 June

Lviv station

Lviv station

We arrive in Lviv.  Welcome signs of recent rain.  We drive round some places–main interest is drawing up to the kerb so that Nalini can get in and out.  Kiran and I do a walking tour. At least we get to sit in the Armenian church.  Typhoid and the paraffin lamp were invented in Lviv.

Thursday 23 June

Building in Zhovka

Building in Zhovka

We go to Zhovka, a small town.  It rains, unfortunately not enough to keep us in the minibus.  We proceed to a monastery at Khrekiv, where Brother Dmitri says he had earlier been a violinist in an orchestra.  Irina the guide and I walk to a magic well, leaving Nalini on a bench.

Nalini says that her grandfather sold his land.  We are cheerful on the way back to Lviv.

Friday 24 June

I wake up early and look at the computer.  The referendum is going badly.  It gets worse.

At breakfast a Dutchman tells me how bad Brexit is.

Determined trudge from Kiran and Nalini at Kamenets-Podilsky

Determined trudge from Kiran and Nalini at Kamenets-Podilsky

We drive towards Kamenets-Podilsky.  I brood about having left my two-pin adaptor behind and how I will manage if so.  K-P is like a Ukrainian version of Durham, with tourist facilities but without tourists.  Our guide is keen to get on with things.

We drive to Ivano-Frankivsk, where the Nadiya is quite nice and I do have the adaptor of course.   I can’t work out how to get into the hotel restaurant and go to place called Desyatka.



I speak to the waitress in Russian, she replies in Ukrainian, I agree with everything and it works out fine.  Young people in brightly-coloured clothes are happy to be alive.  I have chicken and rice and beer.

Saturday 25 June

I have some black pudding at breakfast, a change.  We walk round I-F with the guide Marta.  There is a gallery-style thing in the foundations of a fortress.

Child-cooling apparatus, Ivano-Frankivsk

Child-cooling apparatus, Ivano-Frankivsk

We drive towards the Carpathian mountains.  It is all right.  We arrive at the sadyba, which is somebody’s house they are renting out while living in the one opposite.  We go to a museum where the daughter of a man who taught himself 50 musical instruments gives a demonstration to us and a large group of Americans.

Sadyba kitchen

Sadyba kitchen

I spend the evening searching the sadyba for my glasses.

Sunday 26 June

I wake at 0539 to look for my glasses.  They are in the bag with the computer stuff.

We see a picture of Indira Gandhi done by a peasant artist from a newspaper.  We drive somewhere else and get on a chairlift.  They stop the chairlift so that Nalini can get on.  We look at a view.  We come back.  We drive to a souvenir market.

Shadows of the Carpathian Chairlift

Shadows of the Carpathian Chairlift

Marta wakes me up to have my dinner.  It is quite nice.

Monday 27 June

We go to a museum of the film ‘Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors’ by Paradjanov.  It’s on YouTube too.  The woman speaks for a long time.  Then Martha interprets.

Call that a waterfall?

Call that a waterfall?

We go to Yaremche, where we see an exhibition of models of buildings in Carpathia.  Then somewhere else with a souvenir market and what was a waterfall.  Marta tell us about her tour company.

Marta sees us off

Marta sees us off

We get on the train in Ivano-Frankivsk.  The provodnitsa complains when I do not buy anything from her.  I lock the door.  The floor of the toilet is very wet.

Tuesday 28 June

The train reaches Odessa.  We are driven to the Aleksandrovskiy Hotel.  We have a city tour.  It is hot.  We stay in the minibus.

Main street in Odessa

Main street in Odessa

Wednesday 29 June

We get in the car and drive to Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, where there is a castle.  Then we go to a winery with many steps and see some films and an exhibition about the Swiss who worked there.

OK, it's a castle.  With a tower.

OK, it’s a castle. With a tower.

We have lunch.  Kiran gives instructions about his tea and the milk.

We come back to Odessa.

Thursday 30 June

We go to the caves and the partisan museum.  Igor the boss has reappeared and interprets for Ksenia the interpreter, who is not having a good day.

Kiran and Nalini in the partisan's underground schoolroom

Kiran and Nalini in the partisans’ underground schoolroom

I do not go to the Literary Museum.  I worry about buying train tickets in Poland.

Friday 01 July

We drive.  At Sofyivka Park they say they know nothing about us, we have to pay 50 UAH to stand inside the gate, it is not possible that the guide has been paid for in advance.  We retreat to the car and get the driver to phone Igor.

Discussions.  We get our money back and begin to amble round after the guide.  She says that Euripides was the first Greek playwright.



In Kiev I find I have left my soap and flannel behind.  I manage to buy something that will do as a flannel.  Then the security tag sets off alarms in the supermarket. I have a decent meal at the Prepuce.

Saturday 02 July

I get up about 4am.  My passport is missing.


I find it again.

The girl at the airport check-in desk acts like she is pleased to see me.  They finally locate the plane and send us to another gate.

Farewell Ukraine, hello Poland!




Ukraine: The War for Truth

February 26, 2015
Awaiting the off

Awaiting the off

This lecture by Timothy Snyder, well-known as the author of Bloodlands, attracted a large and attentive audience.

Setting the historical background, Professor Snyder said there was no current of Europena history that had not affected Ukraine while Muscovy had gone its own way as the successor of the Tatar Khanate.  More recently, Ukrainians saw the Great Famine of 1933 as something directed against their country specifically, while for Russians it had been a common misfortune; and WWII had seen the whole of Ukraine occupied as against 5% of the territory of the present-day Russian Federation.

Since 2013, the Russian media had portrayed events in Ukraine in terms of WWII–for Russians, WWII had been something that largely happened elsewhere.

The present situation could be traced back to the events of 2011/12 in Russia.  Anti-regime protests had led to the Government turning away from the middle classes and appealing to the broader masses.  This had been accompanied by Eurasianism in foreign policy, comprising a combination of conservatism and hostility to the EU.  Yanukovych responding to pressure to turn away from the EU had led first of all to the Maidan, and then to a ‘bourgeois revolution’ among the Russian-speaking middle classes of Kiev, who saw their path obstructed by a glass ceiling of corruption.  Those killed had been representative of the mixed local population.

Russian tactics had been based on reversed asymmetrical warfare, where as the stronger side they had used approaches such as deliberately drawing fire onto populated areas so as to alienate the populace that were normally the province of the weaker.  But they portrayed themselves as heroic resisters of Fascism.

The Russian leadership had applied strategic relativism in for instance relativizing the existence of Ukraine as a state.  Since the EU was strong and Russia was weak, they had tried to bring it down to their level by breaking up the connections that held it together.  Edward Snowden had been employed at the Transatlantic level, but the heart of the strategy was to break up the EU.  This had involved seeking client states such as Cyprus and Hungary, supporting separatists like UKIP and calling for a recount in the Scottish referendum, supporting the far right, attempting to control access to hydrocarbons and to undermine a Common Energy Policy for the EU.

Addressing the question of whether civil society actually existed, professor Snyder asked his audience Were you paid off to be here?  The Russian authorities did not believe in the existence of civil society as a concept, which did not hinder them from preventing it in practice.

The philosophy of applied postmodernism had a number of elements.  Making up things that were not true hardly required further comment while liberation from context had been pioneered by Fox News.  Things they did especially well were political marketing and organised cacophony.  Political marketing meant that different audiences received tailored messages (‘Ukraine is gay/fascistic/anti-Semitic/part of worldwide Jewish conspiracy’).  Organised cacophony meant improvising a range of discourses in response to an event such as the shooting-down of MH17 so as to muddy the waters until the event had lost its impact. The motto was you can’t trust anybody because everybody lies equally. The consequence of this was that the Western powers had allowed themselves not to know what was going on in Ukraine and so, for instance, had failed to re-route civilian air traffic.

Certain types of truth were important to maintain. Aristotelian non-contradiction meant that Ukraine could not be both Jewish and anti-Semitic. Legal truth meant that a state had an existence as a legal entity–for instance, Canada certainly used the same language as the US but was a separate state on the basis of law. Existential truth meant that you could take a risk and get killed, your existence was authentic and not that of a hired extra. Social truth meant that you could try things out with people you trusted and form civil society.

Russian TV used the methods of British TV, one could not speak of different civilizations. Rather it was a question of what you thought existed: one the one hand you had the state with supra-national organisations above it and civil society below; on the other hand it was the state and a variety of charades.

Ukrainian propaganda was weak, while Russian propaganda was effective. While the war on Ukraine was going worse than expected (there had been no spontaneous uprisings in Donetsk or Lugansk) the war on the EU was going rather better than expected.

As  to What should we do? Europeans should beware of American-style optimism whereby democracy would effortlessly spring up everywhere.  The two or more generations of peace, prosperity and freedom they had enjoyed were a historical anomaly and needed to be carefully guarded.  Russian propaganda had no traction in the states that had been subject to the  Molotov-Ribbentrop pact:  Poland, Latvia, Lithuania,  Estonia.

Oligarchy and the rule of law did not sit well together, but the West needed to accept sovereignty and work with states like Ukraine as they were so as to make progress.

Another account of this lecture may be found here.