On the anniversary of the momentous referendum on the Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine, this special publication of the Ukrainian Institute London takes stock of what makes Ukraine – thirty years young and feisty – a treasure trove of untold stories.
The Ukrainian Studies programme at the University of Cambridge will enable students to study Ukrainian language, culture, and history at the highest level for as long as the University exists. One of the key people responsible for this achievement is Rory Finnin, the Founding Director of Cambridge Ukrainian Studies, whose career became linked to Ukraine in what he describes as a ‘wonderful twist of fate’. Editor of the London Ukrainian Review Sasha Dovzhyk talks with him about the challenges of advancing Ukraine as a field of study on the international level and the lessons that Ukraine can teach the world.
While the thirtieth anniversary of Ukrainian independence invites us to reflect on what has been achieved so far, the issue which is likely to define the next three decades for Ukraine and the rest of the world is climate. For the first time in history, Ukraine has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and saying goodbye to coal. With the planet already 1.1°C warmer compared to the pre-industrial era, climate negotiations in Glasgow became an endurance test for global efforts to keep the rise in temperatures at a relatively safe level of 1.5°C. For Ukraine, this means modernising the economy, insulating buildings, and transforming whole regions where life revolves around coal.
Why did Ukrainian poets long to die in Paris at the end of the Soviet era? And how did the yearning for Europe manifest itself in the literature of independent Ukraine? Dr Uilleam Blacker explores three thriving decades in the history of Ukrainian literature, from a symbolically significant poem ‘We Will Not Die in Paris’ by Natalka Bilotserkivets and the experiments of the ‘Bu-Ba-Bu’ group to the powerful new war writing by Olena Stiazhkina, Serhii Zhadan, and Olesya Khromeychuk.
Like the country itself, Ukrainian cinema has gone through periods of stagnation in the 1990s and creative search in the 2000s, as well as a remarkable revitalisation after the Euromaidan revolution of 2014. Throughout the years of independence, Ukrainian filmmakers approached the question of national and cultural identity in diverse and surprising ways. Professor Vitaly Chernetsky surveys the films of the last three decades and draws attention to the linguistic and stylistic choices which have shaped Ukrainian identity on screen.
Olena Stiazhkina’s new novel takes the reader to the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, which has been the primary target of the Russian offensive since 2014 and remains occupied to this day. Debunking stereotypes about local identities, Stiazhkina draws attention to the Soviet roots of this ongoing tragedy. Born in western Ukraine, Mariana Matveichuk examines her changing ideas of Donetsk and reads Stiazhkina’s novel as a hopeful roadmap to a personal deoccupation.
On 7 September 2021, the world’s leading contemporary dance theatre Sadler’s Wells hosted a spectacular evening of Ukrainian ballet, brought to the United Kingdom by Olga Danylyuk and Ivan Putrov. The first of its kind in London, the Ukrainian Ballet Gala proved to be an example of how art can shape new cultural narratives and help Ukraine reclaim its cultural identity.
‘Over the years of my life in the UK, I defended my identity, resented it, hid it, altered it. I might not have known how to love my homeland properly, but I knew I loved it’. Olesya Khromeychuk explores migration, identity, and belonging in the opening piece of Ukraine at 30.
‘It is surprising what the prospect of losing your home to the imperialist fit of a neighboring country can do to your sense of the very place you scorned and fled’. Sasha Dovzhyk interweaves her story of homecoming with a history of Ukrainian steppeland.
‘Sometimes, I want my language to be just language. Not a weapon, not a treasure, not the tongue of guelder rose. Not a thing to fight for. Not a thing to fight with. A thing one uses mindlessly, like when we scratch our head with our hand’. Iryna Shuvalova considers the politics and poetics of the Ukrainian language.