'Instead of wheat, the Russian army is sowing death…'
‘Instead of wheat, the Russian army is sowing death…’ A diary by Ukraine’s most acclaimed author is a devastating account of how ordinary people are coping with the reality of Putin’s war
- Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov’s work has been translated into 37 languages
- He has now produced his Diary Of An Invasion, about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine
- In early March, Kurkov details some of the atrocities perpetrated in the first weeks of Putin’s ‘special military operation
DIARY OF AN INVASION
by Andrey Kurkov (Mountain Leopard Press £14.99, 304pp)
Sometimes reality defies the novelist’s art. Thus it is with the Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov, whose works of fiction, notably Death And The Penguin, have been translated into 37 languages. When Vladimir Putin’s army invaded Ukraine, Kurkov felt quite unable to continue his latest novel.
Instead he has produced his Diary Of An Invasion. The logistics of publishing mean that this volume ends in early July, before the more remarkable successes of the Ukrainian army (to whose soldiers Kurkov has dedicated the book). Nonetheless, amid the horror, a remarkable confidence that Ukraine will win pervades this incomplete diary.
Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov’s work has been translated into 37 languages. He has now produced his Diary Of An Invasion, about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Pictured: Ukrainian children singing the national anthem
In early March, Kurkov details some of the atrocities perpetrated in the first weeks of Putin’s ‘special military operation’: ‘The shooting of young volunteers who were carrying food to a dog shelter, the murder of postmen who were delivering pensions to elderly residents in Sumy region, the execution of two priests on the road… the list goes on and on’.
He then adds: ‘We certainly do not yet know all the crimes committed but all of them will be discovered and the list will be presented at the new Nuremberg trial.’
I wish I could be as certain; but perhaps that confidence is an essential survival mechanism when one’s nation is the victim of a sadistic, mightier neighbour.
Neither Kurkov nor his English wife Elizabeth have left Ukraine; they moved from Kyiv for the notionally safer far west of the country, close to Makariv. There, the family enjoys ‘our favourite Makariv loaf — a soft, white, brick-shaped loaf, baked at the well-known Makariv Bakery’.
In early March, Kurkov details some of the atrocities perpetrated in the first weeks of Putin’s ‘special military operation
But in the entry for March 8, entitled ‘Bread with Blood’, Kurkov writes: ‘The Makariv bakery was bombed on Monday. The bakers were at work. I can imagine the fragrant smell that surrounded them the moment before the attack. In an instant, 13 bakery staff were killed and nine more were injured. The bakery is no more. Makariv bread is a thing of the past.’
The fact of Moscow destroying not just lives, but the source of life — wheat, bread — resonates in this country, often called the world’s bread-basket.
In 1932-1933, the Soviet authorities caused the death through starvation of an estimated four million Ukrainians, in an artificial famine known as the Holodomor: a form of revenge, as Kurkov puts it, ‘for Ukrainians refusing to join their collective farms’. He mentions this when reporting how ‘Russian missiles are directed at Ukrainian food depots. The largest warehouse on the outskirts of Kyiv has been blown up. Many tons of frozen meat and other [food] products have been blown up.’
In a later entry, he is more savagely poetic: ‘This year a vast area of Ukraine will not be used for agriculture. In the east and south, instead of wheat, the Russian army is sowing death.’
There are also glimpses of remarkable resilience in the Ukrainians’ fight to keep baking.
Kurkov tells how an 83-yearold woman from Horenka, who made ‘paskas’ — a special sweet bread eaten at Easter — managed to continue turning them out, even after her home was destroyed by Russian artillery: ‘The stove survived almost intact. You can still cook food in it, but there are no walls or windows around it and no roof above.
‘This grandmother, who now lives in the ruins of her home, has baked almost a dozen Easter paskas in this oven. No doubt, she then took them along to her church so they could be blessed. That is, if the church itself survived the Russian bombing.’
In the book there are also glimpses of remarkable resilience in the Ukrainians’ fight to keep baking
Apart from the struggle to survive, there is another thread running through this diary, one with which I have personally become acquainted, as we have Ukrainian guests. The mother, Vera, is Russian speaking, with most of her close relatives living in that country. She frequently tells me: ‘Putin says he is acting to protect Russians in Ukraine, but he is killing them with his bombs. If he wants to protect Russians, he should stop his bombing.’
Kurkov is also Russian speaking. He was born in what was then Leningrad, but moved to Kyiv as an infant. He, too, points out how grotesque is Putin’s claim to be acting in the interests of Russians and Russian culture: ‘The majority of the civilians killed by the Russian army in Kharkiv, Mariupol, Melitopol, Chernihiv are Russian-speaking or ethnic Russians.
‘This war is not about the Russian language. This war is about the ageing Putin’s last chance to fulfil his dream of recreating the USSR or the Russian Empire. Neither is possible without Kyiv, without Ukraine. Therefore blood is shed and people are dying, including Russian soldiers.’
Not surprisingly, Kurkov now feels ashamed to speak the Russian language in Ukraine (fortunately he is fluent in Ukrainian). He notes, bitterly: ‘Anything Russian now causes only hatred. Yes. I am filled with hate, too.’
This is, as Kurkov so eloquently sets out, the full horror of war, beyond the immediate physical destruction: ‘I have the feeling that the war is now inside me. It is like knowing that you live with a tumour that cannot be removed.’
No one with the slightest interest in this war, or the nation on which it is being waged, should fail to read Andrey Kurkov,.
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