DIARY OF AN INVASION
by Andrey Kurkov (Mountain Leopard Press £14.99, 304pp)
Sometimes reality defies the novelist’s art. So it is with Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov, whose fictional works, most notably Death And The Penguin, have been translated into 37 languages. When Vladimir Putin’s army invaded Ukraine, Kurkov felt completely unable to continue his latest novel.
Instead, he produced his Diary Of An Invasion. Due to the logistics of publication, this book ends in early July, before the more notable successes of the Ukrainian military (to whose soldiers Kurkov dedicated the book). Nevertheless, in the midst of the horrors, this incomplete diary imbues a remarkable confidence that Ukraine will win.
The work of Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov has been translated into 37 languages. He has now made his Diary Of An Invasion, about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. In the photo: Ukrainian children sing the national anthem
In early March, Kurkov describes some of the atrocities committed in the early weeks of Putin’s “special military operation”: “The shooting of young volunteers who brought food to a dog shelter, the murder of postmen who delivered pensions to elderly residents in Sumy Region, the execution of two priests en route… the list goes on’.
He then adds: “We certainly don’t know all the crimes that have been committed yet, but they will all be discovered and the list will be presented at the new Nuremberg trial.”
I wish I could be so sure; but perhaps that trust is an essential survival mechanism when your nation falls victim to a sadistic, more powerful neighbor.
Neither Kurkov nor his English wife Elizabeth have left Ukraine; they moved from Kiev to the generally safer far west of the country, close to Makariv. There the family enjoys ‘our favorite Makariv bread – a soft, white, brick-shaped loaf baked at the well-known Makariv Bakery’.
In early March, Kurkov describes some of the atrocities committed in the early weeks of Putin’s “special military operation.”
But in the March 8 entry 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 workers were killed and nine others injured. The bakery is no more. Makariv bread is a thing of the past.’
The fact that Moscow not only destroys lives, but also the source of life – wheat, bread – reverberates in this country, which is often called the granary of the world.
In 1932-1933, the Soviet authorities caused the 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 who refuse to join their collective farms.” ‘. He mentions this when he reports how ‘Russian missiles are aimed at Ukrainian food depots. The largest warehouse on the outskirts of Kiev has been blown up. Many tons of frozen meat and others [food] products are blown up.’
In an instant, 13 bakery workers were killed
In a later contribution he is fiercely poetic: ‘This year a large area of Ukraine will not be used for agriculture. In the east and south, the Russian army sows death instead of wheat.’
There are also glimpses of remarkable resilience in the Ukrainians’ struggle to keep baking.
Kurkov tells how an 83-year-old woman from Horenka, who made ‘paskas’ – a special sweet bread eaten at Easter – managed to keep them running, even after her house was destroyed by Russian artillery: ‘The stove is almost over. survived intact. You can still cook food in it, but there are no walls or windows around it and no roof over it.
“This grandmother, who now lives in the ruins of her house, has baked nearly a dozen Easter paskas in this oven. No doubt she then took them to her church so that they could be blessed. That is, if the church itself survived the Russian bombardment.’
The book also shows glimpses of remarkable resilience in the Ukrainians’ struggle to keep baking
Aside from the struggle for survival, there is another common thread running through this diary, one that I have come to know personally as we have Ukrainian guests. The mother, Vera, is Russian and most of her close relatives live in that country. She often tells me, ‘Putin says he’s acting to protect the Russians in Ukraine, but he’s killing them with his bombs. If he wants to protect the Russians, he has to stop bombing.’
Kurkov is also Russian speaking. He was born in what was then Leningrad, but moved to Kiev as a baby. He also points out the grotesqueness of Putin’s claim that he is acting in the interest of Russians and Russian culture: ‘The majority of civilians killed by the Russian army in Kharkov, Mariupol, Melitopol, Chernihiv are Russian-speaking or ethnic Russians. .
It’s like living with a tumor you can’t remove
“This war is not about the Russian language. This war is about the aging Putin’s last chance to fulfill his dream of recreating the USSR or the Russian Empire. Neither is possible without Kiev, without Ukraine. That’s why blood is being spilled and people are dying, including Russian soldiers.’
Not surprisingly, Kurkov is now ashamed to speak the Russian language in Ukraine (thankfully, he speaks Ukrainian fluently). He notes bitterly: “Everything that is Russian now only causes hatred. Yes. I am also filled with hate.’
This, as Kurkov so eloquently explains, is the complete horror of war, beyond its immediate physical destruction: “I feel the war is in me now. It’s like knowing you’re living with a tumor that can’t be removed.”
No one with the slightest interest in this war, or the nation it is being waged on, should not read Andrey Kurkov.