Diary of an Invasion by Andrey Kurkov | Book Review

“I […] will continue to write for you so that you know how Ukraine lives during the war with Putin’s Russia.”

“This war (…) will continue as a war for historical truth and historical memory. “

“Ukraine will either be free, independent, and European, or it will not exist at all. (…) Ukrainians did not give up even when they were not free – after WW2, the partisan war against the Soviets in Ukraine continued until the early 1960s. Ukrainians will not now give up, especially after thirty years of free and independent life.”

Diary of an Invasion by the Ukrainian writer, Andrey Kurkov, consists of personal diary entries, texts on various subjects, wartime notes and essays spanning the period of seven months, starting at the end of December 2021 with the last entry recorded in July 2022. This is a chronicle of one person’s feelings, thoughts, emotions during the time of the Russian aggression in Ukraine. This is also a portrayal of the Ukrainian society, Ukrainian culture, and Ukrainian nationhood. Despite the continuous attempts by the Russian aggressor to destroy the Ukrainian nation, Kurkov writings show the strengthening of Ukrainian national identity.

In Diary of an Invasion, Kurkov presents the importance of the history and how the ongoing war should be traced not only decades but centuries back to understand the current tragedy happening in front of our eyes in Ukraine. This is particularly important for those unfamiliar with the region of Eastern Europe who are unable to look at this war through Eastern European lenses or where anti-American or anti-Western sentiment dictates their support for the atrocities committed on behalf of the Russian Federation.

“This war is not about the Russian language, which I have spoken and used in writing all my life. This war is about the aging Putin’s last chance to fulfil his dream of recreating the USSR or the Russian Empire. Neither one nor the other is possible without Kyiv, without Ukraine. Therefore, blood is shed, and people are dying, including Russian soldiers. (…) Putin has often stated publicly that, for him, the greatest tragedy he has experienced is the collapse of the Soviet Union. For most Ukrainians, it was not a tragedy. Rather, it was an opportunity to become a European country and to regain independence from Russia’s Empire. (…).”

Kurkov’s thoughts on an extremely important question for Ukrainians, as well as many Eastern Europeans, regarding the historical memory and historical trauma are compelling and important. Kurkov explores the suppression of collective trauma and how historical injuries affect the construction of national identity. He discusses at length the case of Ukraine, Russia as well as Lithuania.  

He points out that historical truth and trauma are returned to the people through works of art, literature, and cinema.

“The more powerful these mediums are, the longer the works remain relevant to the people, and, in the end, the best of them fall into the cultural canon of historical experience.”

Diary of an Invasion is a snapshot of diverse Ukrainian society, mentioning Ukrainians of Armenian, Korean, French, Japanese origins, the cultural and social differences between Eastern Ukraine and Western Ukraine. It is a portrayal of people’s traumatic experiences from the first days of a full-scale invasion when the elderly and disabled people were trying to find the shelter and unable to leave the shelling as they had no other place to go or no one to help them or they are simply tried to leave; especially when it comes to the refugees and internally displaced peoples from Eastern Ukraine who already had to flee their homes once before as a result of the war in Donbas. There are descriptions of the lengthy queues on the borders, overcrowded trains with the elderly unable to board the trains. 

Kurkov also explores the role of the church in the current war, the Moscow Patriarchate versus the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, as well as the linguistic identity and forced aggressive russification that has occurred throughout the history in Ukraine and other countries in Eastern Europe.

When we are talking about the historical trauma and we only take into consideration the 20th century, Eastern European nations suffered disproportionally. In case of Ukraine, there is trauma of the Holodomor of the 1932 – 33 (when estimated 4 to 5 million of Ukrainians died – the Holodomor was a man-made famine inflicted by the Soviet Russia on Ukraine in order to eliminate Ukrainian independence movement and punish those opposing the collectivization; the Holodomor is recognized as a genocide against Ukrainian people by the Soviets). There is trauma of the relatives sent to the Gulag, forced deportations of over 1.8 million of Ukrainians resisting the collectivization, communism. There is trauma of forced deportations of the Crimean Tartars which to this day informs their conduct. There is trauma of ‘the executed Renaissance’ – the murder of Ukrainian intellectual elite amidst Soviet terror in the 1930s. Kurkov does not doubt that if Russia takes over, there will be another executed generation of Ukrainian writers and politicians – those for whom life without free Ukraine does not make sense. There is trauma of pogroms of the Jewish population. Throughout the diary Kurkov provides many examples of the repetition of history – many comparisons between Russia’s current destructive war to when Bolsheviks attacked Kyiv or when Nazi Germany attacked the USSR.

“[…] one historic trauma that of forced deportations, gave rise to another historic trauma, the fear of hunger. “

With regards to historical trauma in Russia, Kurkov writes:

“In the Soviet Union, the historical memory of Russians was formatted as the memory of heroic victors. (…) The Russian people have been deprived of their historical injuries and released from their worries about past injustice. The more than twenty million victims of the Gulag have been forgotten, which is why the Gulag and the Stalinist repressions have not become a historical trauma for the Russian people. These injuries have not changed the worldview and attitudes of the Russian people, nor did they change their identity. (…) The fact that the crimes of the Gulag (…) are not a historical trauma for Russia today, proves that Russia has not yet recovered from the past, that it suffers from an analogue of the Stockholm syndrome (…).”

“Not all Russia is a collective Putin. The unfortunate thing is that there is within Russia no collective anti-Putin.”

I highly recommend Diary of an Invasion, especially to those unfamiliar with the history of Ukraine and Eastern Europe. I would also encourage you to first read a good history book of Ukraine.

Also, please refer to the list, I previously prepared, of the contemporary Ukrainian writers which might of help for those interested in learning more about the current situation in Ukraine.

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