the war in ukraine is the true culture war

The War in Ukraine Is the True Culture War

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Between the air raid sirens, amid updates from the front, there grows what saves. “​​I had the feeling in the first days, and even now, that there was sand in my mouth instead of words,” said Olena Stiazhkina, a celebrated novelist and historian, when we met for Crimean Tatar food a few days after Kyiv’s most recent bombardment. Ms. Stiazhkina was born in Donetsk, the largest city in the Donbas, and fled when Russian-backed separatists fought to take control in 2014. Her novels, like many conversations here before February, oscillate between Ukrainian and Russian — or they used to; she’s done with Russian for now.

She has friends who fled Kyiv, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave home, not a second time. When we met she felt strong and sure, but she wondered what might happen to her in a decade. She mentioned Primo Levi, Paul Celan, Jean Améry, writers who survived the Holocaust and then killed themselves years later, and her eyes welled up.

What pushes her on is that Ukrainian archival impulse. “As a witness, I can write. As a writer, I cannot,” she told me. “I understood that I must be a witness, and that’s why I write a diary every day. And this time, I have a strong intention to finish it on the day of our victory.”

In 2014, after the Maidan revolution that brought down former President Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine had a national rebirth, at least in part. The political revolution juddered, but the cultural explosion endured, producing a new generation of young filmmakers, photographers, designers and, especially, DJs and electronic musicians.