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Ukraine Journals
Introduction: Witnessing in Ukraine, from Lviv to Kharkiv
By Peter Lippman
October 2023

One can start a story about Ukraine in 2014, 1991, or even all the way back in the ninth century. The following three journals, however, present a snapshot of Ukraine from October 2023, a unique moment in the course of Ukraine's defense against Russian aggression. It is a time that Ukrainians remembered their army's success of the previous year in pushing Russian forces back ("de-occupying," as they say) out of significant territories around Kherson and Kharkiv. Along with a burning anger against the cruelty contained in Russian atrocities, there was also a large measure of hope and expectation for an ultimate Ukrainian victory.

It was a period not destined to last long, because it falls at the beginning of the winter military lull. One way or another, things will change in spring 2024.

As of winter 2023, there has been a military slowdown due to cold weather. This leads to the use of tactics other than ground-based assaults, on both sides. In late December Ukraine destroyed (or seriously damaged) a Russian warship moored in Crimea; soon afterwards. Russia launched its biggest-ever bombing campaign against many Ukrainian cities, from Lviv to Kharkiv and from Chernihiv to Odesa.

One can try to predict what will happen in 2024, but that is not the goal of this writing. Rather, I wish to represent the hopes, the ideas, and the attitudes of Ukrainians as I heard them for four weeks in Lviv, Kharkiv, and other parts of the country. These journals share portions of many conversations packed into that short period. Some of the words of my respondents are raw and emotional; however, often a simple sentence tells more than any analysis I could offer. People have a natural eloquence when speaking about their own lives.

I have changed all of the names of my respondents to protect their privacy.

When my brother asked me why I wanted to go to Ukraine, I answered, "The usual reasons: solidarity and witnessing." This answer came naturally to me, since I have visited postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina many times, and I have spent time in Palestine/Israel as well. You'll notice several references and comparisons to life and war in Bosnia.

I already had a beginning familiarity with Ukraine, having traveled there with my brother in 2019. Among other cities, that visit took us to the western region called Galicia, and to a town near Lviv, where our grandmother was born.

People in Ukraine asked me why I returned during the Russian escalation; I answered that one can stay home and read endless news articles and opinion pieces about Ukraine. I have my own opinions: that a nation under assault has the right to defend itself and fight against occupation, and that sympathetic nations have the responsibility to assist them—especially powerful states like the US. But it was important to me to make first-hand contact with ordinary people in Ukraine, to see what they were experiencing, and to hear what they were thinking about their lives in wartime conditions. Besides opinions, I had questions.

Now I have more questions, and a few tentative answers.

Patriotic monument at Maidan Square

First article: Normal vs. trauma; language shifts; the Third Answer

Trauma vs. "normal life"; language shifts; the third answer
2 Nationalist history; grim monuments; new heroes

3 Volunteerism in wartime Ukraine


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