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What is happening in the Donbas? An overview of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict

sarah.moore.198 March 2022

Given the worrying escalation of tensions between Russia and Ukraine, Slovo feels that the time is right to create a blog post discussing the conflict so that our readers can learn more about the events taking place there currently. Qianrui Hu is one of our General Editors and a first-year PhD student researching the dynamics of identities in the context of the ongoing war in the Donbas, so he was perfect to sit down for a chat with our Online Editor, Sarah Moore, to discuss all things related to the conflict, from its origins to the potential implications for the wider international community.

Please note that this interview took place before the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, and was originally intended to be an overview of the conflict in the Donbas. However, Slovo feels it is important that this blog post should be amended as much as possible to include recent developments. All information is accurate at the time of writing, but we recognise that certain elements may be outdated at the time of posting due to the escalation of conflict.

Q: What is currently happening in the Donbas?

A: Since the war broke out in 2014, Donbas has undergone fierce battles between Ukrainian government armies and separatists backed by Russia. There are also numerous evidence indicating Russia’s direct involvement in the war. To date, there have been two peace agreements; Minsk agreement I and II. Since the September of 2015, the situation in Donbas is relatively calm, although sporadic shootings happen frequently. As a result of the war, the Donbas region is split into two parts: Ukrainian government-controlled areas and two self-proclaimed republics, namely DNR and LNR, whose sovereignty is not recognized even by Russia. Russia has been continuously framing the war in Donbas as a civil war between local armed groups and Kyiv, but many western scholars refrain from calling it a civil war, as the Russian involvement and local manipulative elites (including the biggest oligarch in Ukraine, Rinat Akhmetov) are the key to the escalation and sustaining of the conflict. Tragically, the ongoing war has claimed 14,000 lives, and more than 1.8 million people became internally displaced persons with another 1 million fleeing to other countries, predominantly to Russia.

Q: What is the history behind the conflict?

A: The history regarding this region is very complicated. According to the Ukrainian version of history, the Donbas should be part of the modern Ukrainian state because it is an integral part of Ukrainian ethnographic territory and Ukrainians’ historical patrimony. However, unignorably, from the eighteenth century onwards, the region was undergoing a huge influx of migrants as a result of Tsarist immigration policy. At the same time, many Ukrainian peasants were encouraged to move to the Urals and Siberia especially after the 1861 emancipation reform. Also, in 1764, a new administrative concept called Novorossia (‘New Russia’) was created, covering South and East Ukraine including Donbas. Subsequently, amid all the turmoil during the first world war, there was a short-lived republic established in Donbas and surrounding regions called the Donets’k-Kryvyi Rih republic. The republic was created in opposition to Kyiv-based Ukrainian People’s Republic as it refuses any forms of Ukrainian nationalism, but the republic was highly dependent on Bolsheviks and hence its legitimacy is controversial. During the Soviet era, the Donbas region again underwent massive influx of migrants, predominantly Russians, and the extensive urbanisation and industrialisation in the region made local residents possess a identity of “imagined economy”. As the industrial output was so high, no wonder there were some well-known slogans such as “Donbas feeds the whole Soviet Union” and later “Donbas feeds the whole Ukraine”. However, the region’s economy started to decline after the Ukraine’s independence. By 2014, it was not a region which could “feed” the whole Ukraine anymore but had to receive additional financial helps from Kyiv.

Q: How did the conflict originate?

A: The conflict in Donbas started with protests. To everyone’s surprise, the former Ukrainian president Yanukovych fled to Russia on 22 February 2014 as a response of the massive protest in the central square of Kyiv, called Euromaidan. Yanukovych was a Donbas-born and was backed up by many residents and local elites. His ousting and the overt Ukraine’s turn to Europe made local residents uncertain about the future, particularly the economic prospects as the region’s economy was highly dependent on Russia. Following the unrest in Crimea, there were also many protests in Donbas condemning the unlawful ousting of Yanukovych in February and March. However, many protesters were actually from nearby Russian regions, and they were bussed to various Donbas cities to take participate in the protests. Also, we do not how many of the protesters were paid to protest by local elites, including the biggest oligarch in Ukraine, Rinat Akhmetov. In April, the social movement in Donbas became radicalized, with various governmental building seized and the creation of so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, covering the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk oblast’ respectively. There were many “volunteers” from Russia who took participate in the battles between Ukrainian government armies and local separatists. Ukrainian government armies managed to take back some of the lost territories, but the two regional centres, Donetsk and Luhansk are still under separatists’ control.

Q: Why is this conflict important with regards to international relations and global peace?

A: Since Ukraine may potentially gain NATO membership, the conflict is crucial for international relations and global peace. Ukraine has become the frontline of the Russia-NATO’s rivalry, and the occupied territories of Ukraine mean Ukraine’s path towards NATO and EU membership is still uncertain. Also, as in any other conflict, there are a huge flow of displaced people and numerous human rights abuses inflicted by the Donbas conflict. The shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines civil aircraft likewise means the conflict is never far away from us and can have a huge impact on us at any minute.

Q: What sparked your interest in researching this topic?

A: I was really interested in the complexity of identity regarding the Donbas region and the conflict. There are so many layers in this issue and I genuinely wish to hear first-hand accounts from local people themselves. I am a massive fan of Svetlana Alexievich and I really hope to incorporate her style of writing and investigating into my research.

Q: What is your current research based on?

A: My research is looking at the fluid identity of people with dual nationality in Donbas in the context of the ongoing war. As a result of the massive migrant flow into Donbas, intermarriage was so common in the area. According to official statistics, the intermarriage rate reached 55% in 1970s, meaning there is an enormous number of people who actually possess more than one ethnicity. However, in the first and only one census of the modern Ukraine, they were not given a choice in the census to claim their true identity, as they had to choose either “Ukrainian” or “Russian”. Shall we assume these people naturally possess a middle-ground identity? This is unlikely because there are so many other factors which can affect an individual’s identity, just as we learned from our sociology textbook. My research, hence, is eager to examine the interactions of ethnic, regional, and national identity and the casual mechanisms of how various factors and lived experience influence the context of their identity and the process of their identification, using the case of people with dual nationality.

Q: Why do we (those interested in the SSEES region and the wider academic community) need to know about the conflict?

A: As I have been trying my best to illustrate the origins of this conflict here, the Donbas case is just so fascinating and there are just so many things to study about from different perspective! Whether you are a political scientist, sociologist, or psychologist, the empirical evidence is so rich in the Donbas case. Also, except from those war entrepreneurs who can gain colossal benefits from wars, every conflict is a tragedy for everyone else. My humble wish is by studying the conflict onsets and dynamics, I can make the smallest contribution to future conflict prevention and alleviate a tiny bit of the pain of those who suffered from the war.

Q: How has the international community responded to the escalation of tensions in the region?

A: On 21 February 2022, Russia recognized Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, but Putin did not specify whether Russia recognizes the de-facto borders of these two republics, or the borders claimed by these two republics, that is the whole territory of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasti. The recognition of these two republics was followed by an infamous speech of Putin, in which he again denied the legitimacy of Ukraine as a country and believed Ukrainian as a nation is an artificial concept. Since his speech did not only touch upon the two republics, but Ukraine as a whole, many people were worried that Putin is aiming for expanding the borders and capturing more territories in Ukraine. The next day Putin confirmed that Russia recognizes the borders of the two republics as the borders articulated in the constitutions of the republics, which clearly shows Russia is going to expand borders. However, the Russia’s invasion in Ukraine on 24 February 2022 at 5 am still shook the whole world, as it is totally unprovoked, and Russia attacked the whole territory of Ukraine. In a video address aiming to justify the invasion, Putin mentioned the goal of this “special military operation” is to demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine. The barbaric attack on Ukraine was responded by harsh sanctions of the international community. Russia is sanctioned financially in all possible ways including the expulsion of some major Russian banks from SWIFT. The war is still unfolding, but it is clear that Russia has failed its initial goal of blitzkrieg. Russian armies are faced with strong resistance from both Ukrainian militaries and civilians. Hence, unfortunately, we can see Russia has somehow adjusted its plan to a more brutal way and we are witnessing more and more casualties of civilians. These horrendous war crimes must be recorded and stridently punished later by the international community.

Glory to Ukraine!

 

Slovo wishes to convey its shock and anger at the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and lends its full support and sympathies to all involved in the conflict. We also encourage you to get involved, whether it be attending protest demonstrations or donating items for those in need. A full list of ways you can get involved can be found on UCL’s ‘Ways to Help’ webpage.

Slovo Statement on Equity and Inclusivity

serian.carlyle.141 October 2021

Slovo is committed to pursuing equity and inclusivity in all aspects of our work. We believe that good research is diverse, inclusive, and accessible. We stand in solidarity with those experiencing oppression and discrimination and will do everything we can to ensure our work does not reinforce inequality.

In keeping with UCL’s Equity and Inclusion Plan, we “aim to acknowledge, understand, and tackle structural inequities and unjust social power imbalances that affect our communities across the institution”. More information about UCL’s wider commitments in this area, can be found here and specific policies are here

Legacies 

We are aware that the fields we work in have traditionally been and continue to be very homogenous. In the 2019/2020 academic year, data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed that 75% of academics working in UK Higher Education were white. Less than 5% of academic staff were known to have a disability. At higher levels of seniority, diversity decreases. This homogeneity can make it very difficult for people from other groups to enter academia, as their needs have not traditionally been considered and they can find themselves isolated. This creates a vicious cycle, making it more difficult for change to occur.  

The British university system is intrinsically linked to systems of white supremacy and colonialism. Concurrently, research has often focused on areas acceptable to those with power, such that works exploring race, gender, disability, and/or sexuality have often not received the level of attention they merit. 

We do not deny these legacies and we continue to exist within these systems. However, we will do everything we can to learn from these histories and continuing injustices and work to change the spaces over which we hold influence. We believe that diversity is vital to good research, both in terms of the research community and the work we conduct. 

Limits

We are a small, non-profit, volunteer-run student journal. All work done for Slovo – whether that of the editorial team, peer reviewers, or writers – is done around other commitments, in our own time and without any remuneration. That means that our responsivity is slower than ideal, and we ask for your consideration and generosity in this area. However, your constructive criticism is valued and appreciated, and your suggestions for how we can improve will help us make faster progress in our goals. This is intended as an explanation, not as an excuse; work in this realm is a priority for the journal and will be treated as such. 

Learning

Slovo is designed to be a space for academics early in their studies to share their work, learn, and grow. 

Academia can be a very hierarchical space and its traditions can be alienating and exclusionary for many. Those with societal privilege will often find it easier to make connections and learn how systems work. Student journals offer a space to start to level the playing field. Contributors learn how systems of peer review work; they receive feedback; publish their work; and build their profile, in a safer space that is designated for their development. We hope that this can smooth the transition into the wider world of academia or other fields. 

Peer review is, at its heart, a space for learning. In the same vein, we extend our commitment to learning to our own actions as an editorial team. We are open to making mistakes, and think it is important to acknowledge them. That allows for us to build and develop, as individuals and as an organisation. 

Commitments

The editorial team will return to this document every year, reflect on our commitments, and implement lessons we have learnt. We would welcome suggestions for specific actions. 

  • We will do whatever we can to ensure that Slovo is an inclusive and welcoming space for all. 
  • We will particularly highlight work on aspects of our fields that have traditionally been excluded in academic research. This may mean soliciting reviews for specific books or articles on certain topics. 
  • We welcome and encourage contributors from all backgrounds.
  • All allegations of inequality or prejudice will be taken seriously and will be investigated through UCL’s systems, unless the person making the statement wishes for it to remain an informal and internal affair. 
  • We will provide some feedback to all submissions, even those that we reject, to help authors understand the ways they can improve and develop their work. 
  • We are aware that unpaid work often falls on people who are marginalised and/or in precarious positions. We endeavour to use a diverse pool of peer reviewers with regard to geography, race, gender, age, and seniority.
  • We use a double blind peer review system to attempt to reduce incidence of prejudice and unconscious bias. We welcome suggestions for ways to improve this work.
  • We will work to maximise the transparency of the editorial process, for example, publishing our guides to writing for Slovo.
  • We aim for flexibility in terms of both working hours and deadlines for everyone involved in Slovo. We are aware that many people may have caring responsibilities, fluctuating health, or financial pressures that mean they cannot prioritise work with Slovo. We endeavour to provide alternative options so that everyone is able to manage their own priorities and commitments, and continue their involvement with the journal.
  • We will do our part to maximise the accessibility of research. Given that the publication is open access, our articles will be accessible to anyone with an internet connection – free from paywalls – and we are free to publish (our authors will not face any article processing charges (APCs)). 
  • We will acknowledge our mistakes and learning. 
  • While much of our work is time-bound, opportunities will always be made to submit work in later issues if there are reasons contributors cannot make deadlines. 
  • Level of English accuracy and proficiency will not be a reason for rejection, but instead authors will be supported with editing their work before publication. 
  • When hiring for the Editorial team, applicants will be expected to demonstrate their commitment to these principles. 
  • The Editorial team will be selected on commitment to Slovo’s projects and ethics, as well as their enthusiasm, rather than solely considering previous experience. We are aware that many people from marginalised groups may have been excluded from certain opportunities (e.g. unpaid work experience) and therefore do not have an equal playing field.
  • We will always be open to feedback and will act on all feedback to the best of our ability.

Originally written by Serian Carlyle and Claudia Griffiths, with support from the 2020/2021 Editorial Team. We are grateful for feedback provided, including contributions by Chloe Hixson and other anonymous readers.

The Irony of Fate (or Enjoy Your Bath!) – The Quintessential Soviet New Year Film

serian.carlyle.1431 December 2020

On this strange New Year’s Eve, the Slovo team invite you to read this review of the quintessential Soviet New Year’s Eve film, a film that remains a staple for many Russian households on the 31st. In her review, Lara Olszowska explores the role of architecture as an ideological signifier in the film. If you’ve seen the film, we’d love you to share your thoughts in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #SlovoSuggestions. Until then, Happy New Year!

Film, 184 min

Directed by Eldar Ryazanov

Written by Emil Braginsky, Eldar Ryazanov

Produced by Evgeny Golynsky

Soviet Union, 1976

Language: Russian

“Совершенно нетипичная история, которая могла произойти только и исключительно в новогоднюю ночь”

“A completely atypical story that could happen only and exclusively on New Year’s Eve”

–Eldar Ryazanov, Irony of Fate

On New Year’s Day 1976, Eldar Ryazanov’s Irony of Fate or Enjoy Your Bath! was first broadcast to television audiences across the Soviet Union. The epigraph attributes the ludicrous events that unfold to the date on which they occur, whilst the second title highlights the initiator of the action as the bathhouse. It later becomes apparent that the true driving force behind the plot is something far less magical than New Year’s Eve and even more ordinary than a festive drinking session at a bathhouse with friends. It is the typical setting in which this “atypical story” is told: a standardized Soviet apartment in an archetypal mikroraion, or suburb. This review posits the role of architecture as an ideological signifier in the film.

Zhenya Lukashin lives in apartment 12, 25 Third Builder’s Street, Moscow. So does Nadia Sheveluova, but in Leningrad. Once Zhenya enjoys his bath and too much vodka, he mistakenly flies to Leningrad, gives his address to a taxi driver, lets himself into Nadia’s flat using his key, and falls asleep in her bed. After she stirs him from his stupor, the pair spend a farcical evening together and eventually fall in love. The irony of their fate is that their chance romance is a result of Soviet residential planning; a dreary housing block can become the locus of a New Year’s Eve miracle. One of the final lines in the film is Zhenya’s: “Fate brought me to Leningrad and in Leningrad there is a certain street, with exactly the same housing block and apartment, without which I would never be happy”. In other words, he thanks the city for Nadia, not New Year’s Eve for his newfound happiness. Ironically, his destiny as a Soviet man to live in an unremarkable mikroraion with any wife (he manages to substitute his fiancée for Nadia almost seamlessly) remains unchanged no matter how much of an “adventure seeker” Ippolit (Nadia’s fiancé) considers him to be. The conventional fairytale ending neatly upholds traditional Soviet values of domesticity and glosses over the deeper levels of conflict within soviet housing.

The cartoon that preludes Irony of Fate makes a visual mockery of Soviet architecture and marks the film’s raison d’être: two matching flats in identical housing blocks, both with identical addresses, both in identical mikroraiony and each inhabited by the two lead protagonists. The animated architect seeks approval for his imperial-style buildings from bureaucrats, who reject the designs until every decorative feature has disappeared from the façade leaving the prototypical Soviet housing block behind. The newly approved rectangular block shown in the cartoon has nothing “new” about it. As viewers were aware, the only choice for architects was to build according to the model that aligned with the regime. By the 1970s Khrushchev’s prefabricated housing had been reproduced so many times with so little innovation, it demonstrated the absurdity of Soviet planning and the inescapable influence of socialist ideology. The character’s inability to escape the army of apartment blocks that chase him in this opening sequence shows his personal resistance to the regime, personified by a marching mikroraion. The need to present the mikroraion as such a caricature reveals how the ubiquitous ideological signs of the Soviet period were and how desensitised citizens had become to them.

In his light-hearted deprecation of soviet planning, Ryazanov alludes to a heavier criticism of socialist byt, or living. The undisputed aim of socialism was to build a new society from scratch. Housing to induce socialist byt was therefore ideology materialised. The new Soviet person would live in and be conditioned by the new socialist city and form a collective of like-minded individuals, their individuality suppressed by the state. As the voiceover sarcastically narrates: “a person can come to an unknown city and feel at home there” because they are all familiar and all the same. In the film, the uniformity of the suburbs do not generate social harmony as intended, but instead cause chaos for the protagonists. The verisimilitudinous Soviet architecture in the film held a mirror to the Soviet viewer on that New Year’s Day in 1976, likely watching from the comfort of their prefabricated home, reminding them of the ideological project their houses were constructed to complete and how that project remained unfulfilled. There lies the true irony beneath the surface of the lovers’ luck: the irony of socialism.

Review by Lara Olszowska, Masters Student at UCL SSEES

So Far, So Good, So SLOVO

Borimir S Totev17 April 2017

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 10.57.27 am


Today the Royal Academy of Arts ends its exhibition on Russian art in the period of 1917-1932. The much celebrated works of Malevich, Petrov-Vodkin, Kandinsky, and Chagall, amongst many others, remained open to visitors of the Main Galleries for more than two months. Back in February, SLOVO Journal was invited to the Press Viewing of the exhibition supplemented by a tour with the curators Ann Dumas, Dr Natalia Murray, and Professor John Milner.

IMG_3104

The Press Viewing of ‘Revolution: Russian art 1917-1932’ at the RA

It was made obvious to me then, that a season of appreciating Russian art was slowly about to unravel in our country’s capital, and with its cultural calendar London fully embraced the task of marking one of the most profound and consequential moments in world history. However, much in contrary to what some critiques suggest about the centenary of the Russian Revolution, I contend that its acknowledgment here was done elegantly, with an accurate awareness of history and its plights.


We are now almost half way through the year. So far, so good. Fear not, there is still plenty out there to see, explore, and read on the topic of all things Russian.

For starters, if you haven’t done so already, make sure to read through the latest issue of SLOVO Journal available online, or rummage through our collection of electronic archives. For nearly three decades we have provided a platform for the publication of promising academic work covering the Russian, Post-Soviet, Central & East European regions. In VOL 29.1 published in January this year, our authors covered intellectually stimulating explorations of human testaments to past events and cultural relations, as well as the more contemporary topics of online activism in Russia and the revival of populism in Europe.

There is still some time left before our 1st May deadline to submit your own papers and reviews for consideration. The publication of VOL 29.2 will complete our annual run marking the centenary year of the Russian Revolution and will be published around the autumn season of 2017.

Slide1

SLOVO Journal’s Call for Papers


Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the events that are constantly taking place at UCL’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies. Back in March, SLOVO Journal screened the feature documentary ‘Revolution: New Art for a New World’ as part of SSEES’s events calendar, hosting BAFTA Award wining filmmaker Mary Kinmonth.

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SLOVO Journal organised screening of ‘Revolution: New Art for a New World’

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Executive Editor Borimir Totev (left) in conversation with Director Margy Kinmonth (right)


What else is left? Plenty. The Design Museum is in the middle of its ‘Imagine Moscow’ exhibition exploring Moscow as it was imagined by a new generation of bold and creative architects and designers. The launch of the new book ‘The Sixth Sense of the Avant-Garde: Dance, Kinaesthesia and the arts in Revolutionary Russia’ by Irina Sirotkina and Roger Smith will take place on the 18th May at the Calvert 22 Bookshop. Film fans can look forward to the screening of Sergei Eisenstein’s 1928 cinematic masterpiece, ‘October: Ten Days that Shook the World’ with a live orchestral accompaniment at the Barbican on the 26th October. Tate Modern is still only getting ready to join the wave of exhibitions with its own ‘Red Star Over Russia’ covering artworks from five decades, between 1905 and Stalin’s death in 1953, opening on the 8th November. In the meantime, you can always head to Pushkin House or the Gallery for Russian Art and Design (GRAD) and discover what’s on schedule there.

 


By Borimir Totev, Executive Editor of SLOVO Journal

SLOVO Logo

 

Pussy Riot Amnesty: Event of the Year?

Slovo2 January 2014

The icon caricature of Pussy Riot

The icon caricature of Pussy Riot

The chances are you have already heard/had enough of Pussy Riot and their ground-breaking punk prayer. Indeed, the scandalous art performance has pretty much dominated the ever so popular international media theme of human rights and ideological totalitarianism in Russia. With popularity of such recurrent themes, it was a great media catch when the punk prayer happened in 2012. Although aimed at the central religious locale – Christ the Saviour Cathedral – it seems the feminist girl band had little ambition or care to get where they are today. Their acceleration to celebrities and role models of democracy and anti-government oppression movement has been swift; the following two year prison sentence – a great achievement in validating the oppressiveness of the regime.

What was little expected is the event of the year: the Pussy Riot amnesty. Their early release in December 2013 as part of the Russian Constitution anniversary occurred just in time to gain positive media momentum before the Olympic Games.  Although approved martyrs of a postmodern epoch, PR performance itself has been disliked even by the most liberal supporters of their cause. Not to say, that popularity was ever on their agenda. As the members of the group said in their awkward first out-of-prison interview, they do not act to be liked, they act to make people think. And so it is. It is hard to think of someone left indifferent or without a say on the matter, as the irony shows. From being seen as hooligans, blasphemers and psychotic feminists, to becoming venerated as  ‘prisoners of consciousness’, human rights defenders and secular martyrs….they have even been compared to Jesus Christ himself, as their equally eccentric colleague Pyotr Pavlensky (yes, the one who nailed his private parts to the Red Square) suggests.

I too share ambiguous feelings towards the group. At the same time I cannot help realising that it has done a lot more than it has anticipated: it really did make people think and discuss. Not just about the nauseating cliché subjects in Russia-related news (human rights, Putin, totalitarianism), but the social experiment itself. That of the merging of the three foundations of human social life: politics, religion and art, and the bizarre outcomes it can lead to.

SLOVO Journal has come to UCL Blogs

Slovo29 December 2013

Research_-_Library_Shelves

So this may be the first time you have ever heard of SLOVO Journal or the ambiguous codeword SSEES. Well, as it’s time for New Year’s resolutions and all things off for a fresh start, it’s probably a good time for us to meet.

Here at SLOVO Journal, a postgraduate academic journal at the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies, we have decided to start  the year with a new trend of informal and lively discussions and interpretations of Russian, Eurasian, Central and East European news. By blogging with UCL we wish to keep up with postmodern speeds and deliver express ideas, discussions, thoughts and interpretations to supplement our formal research e-journal.

SLOVO Journal’s history goes back to 1988 and we are proud to continue the tradition, in new forms and with new ideas. Covering the  fields of anthropology, economics, film, geography, history, international studies, linguistics, literature, media, politics and sociology, you can expect to never have a dull moment with contributions from our inexhaustible contributors, editors and other generators of wonderful ideas.

We hope you will support us in our humble blogging beginnings and we are really only too happy to hear back from you.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!