A Castle Built on Sand? Ukrainian Literature and Crimea

Yet at the heart of the story is the suggestion that another way of being is possible beyond the roles imposed on women by imperial society. “On Stone” (“Na kameni,” 1902), one of his wonderfully evocative Crimean tales, is a well-observed account of a patriarchal Tatar community, which is shaped by the arid landscape it occupies. The technology deployed in Crimea was subsequently utilized in the US presidential election and Britain’s EU referendum.” The writer Sergei Fursa says that “Putin affected the destiny of thousands when he seized Crimea. And, of course, this aesthetic choice carries political implications: Ukrainian, unlike Russian, emerges as a distinctly European language, belonging to a distinctly European realm. “There will be a storm,” he said, without turning round. She argues that this “creates the impression most Crimeans are Russian nationalists. “I don’t want to speculate about the language question,” she says. If for Alexander Pushkin, Russia’s national poet, Crimea was just another part of the empire, which “smelled” of Russia, for Ukrainian authors it was, like Heaney’s Ireland, “the ground possessed and repossessed.”
It is only after World War II that a truly indigenous Ukrainian literature began to emerge on the peninsula, thanks to an influx of Ukrainian immigrants. “The wind’s getting up. The opening paragraphs evoke the haunting desolation of this imperial playground. His poems allude to Scandinavian and German artists, presenting the Crimean seascape through the prism of North European culture. Maxim Butchenko, a Luhansk miner turned writer, says that the annexation “opened the war for hybrid aggression elsewhere. She has now left Crimea, but her legacy — upheld by the students she taught in the Ukrainian Language department at Yalta University — remains. There were also those who preferred to identify as Ukrainian citizens, or as both Ukrainian and Russian.” Tatars who identified as Ukrainian citizens are also part of this mosaic. A small number of Ukrainian-language authors who are natives of the province are still published in the pages of the journal of the Crimean Writers’ Union. The boundless sky seemingly spoke to the sea in words of flame and the sea sang its powerful, majestic, and eternal poem to the solemn night. In the concluding paragraphs, Ukrainka imbues a beautifully sketched landscape with profound symbolic significance. Alla has no profession and speaks contemptuously of the female Tatars she meets. The number of students taught in Ukrainian in Crimea has declined by 97 percent since 2014, according to the UN. AUGUST 19, 2018

UKRAINIAN AUTHOR Vyacheslav Huk has the fixed stare of the Ancient Mariner as he tells me about the seizure of his Crimean birthplace. This attack on Ukrainian language and identity has dramatically transformed the situation of Ukrainian literature in Crimea, as well as how Ukrainian authors elsewhere regard the peninsula. The annexation was mainly resisted by young people who didn’t accept Russia’s political mythology. And the poems’ nameless protagonist swims out sea, where she is lost, like one of the characters in the Finnish epic The Kalevala. Oleg Sentsov, a filmmaker and author, was tried in Russia on highly spurious charges of terrorism in 2015 and sentenced to 20 years in prison. If Crimea had remained in Ukraine, it is likely that Ukrainian Crimean literature would have put down deeper roots and tackled wider themes. “Russian is a language of democratic Ukraine. “I was in Kyiv when I saw those little Green Men with guns on the news,” he says. However, prior to 2014, many didn’t identify simplistically as ethnically Russian and many refused to identify ethnically. Madeline Roache, a journalist reporting on the status of Crimean Tatars, notes that “arbitrary arrests, disappearances, torture, and at least one execution are documented. Peter and thus neatly unites the pagan and Christian traditions of the peninsula:
It has been evening for a while
Outlines engraved in metal
Fires burning above
And cypresses entombed in silence. Putin’s Crimea is struggling, if not crumbling, economically, and is barely able to supply itself with water. Crimea fell victim to Russian aggression for military and political, rather than linguistic, reasons.” For her, the main issue facing writers in Crimea is “provincialism” and cultural isolation. Nevertheless, Ostap Slyvynsky, a poet and member of Ukrainian PEN’s board, argues that this stymied literary tradition is more significant than it might appear. Mikhailo Kotsiubynsky (1864–1913) offers a similarly nuanced perspective on Crimea’s physical and cultural landscapes. Nevertheless, it evokes a richer landscape than that of Russian imperial mythology. Tychyna’s new Crimean myth, which includes autobiographic fragments, defies straightforward interpretation, but it locates Crimea at the heart of European culture. ¤
Stephen Komarnyckyj is a poet and literary translator. It is, however, the peninsula’s fragile Ukrainian-speaking community that faces the greatest threat. Nevertheless, one of my students, Denys Mokrentsov, will shortly publish his second collection of Ukrainian language poems in Crimea. A prominent example is the work of the poet Svitlana Kocherha. Memet looked out to sea. Yet even this Crimea, to which Greeks and Turks sailed without visas, seems less isolated than today’s militarized peninsula. Even the simple image of a totemic Ukrainian cherry tree in the shadow of a mosque presents a rebuttal to the Putinist conception of Crimea. For instance, Lesia Ukrainka (1871–1913) provides a feminine take on the holiday romance Chekhov describes in her tale “By the Sea” (“Nad morem,” 1898). “It’s heading for us!” said Dzhepar. The poem “Arnold Schönberg” relocates the Austrian-American composer to a Crimean seascape:
You believed in the fragility of the sea, and female hands,
Your car ran smoothly along the shore, the sea’s sound
Muffling the clumsy noise of its motor. It’s catching the sails on the boat.”
The Tatars turned their heads to the waves. The West’s failure to hear Ukraine’s literary voice and understand the consequences of the annexation of Crimea has geopolitical repercussions. The story focuses on a desultory friendship between its female narrator and Alla Mikhailivna, a young Russian. If his regime abandons its imperial dream, Crimean literature may thrive again and escape its provincialism. The poet Pavlo Tychyna (1891–1967), by contrast, inscribed Crimea in a broader European context. Russia promised to make Crimean Tatar a state language but its use in education is increasingly restricted.” Russian-speakers who identify as Ukrainians are also targeted. Unfortunately, the suppression of Crimea’s native Ukrainian culture has received far too little attention abroad. Dubynianska’s work reflects and responds to Ukraine’s own native Russian-language culture, whose most prominent literary representative is the international best-selling author Andrey Kurkov. Their poetry often eschews difficult political issues and is affected by their isolation from the literary mainstream. The sea will burn,” said the sailor. The peninsula’s once thriving resorts stand empty. Their encounter with the peninsula was, however, generally more complicated than that of Chekhov, who used it as a beautiful setting for “The Lady with the Little Dog” (1899). His translations of popular and literary Ukrainian fiction and original poetry are published by Kalyna Language Press. But in the past four years, the Putin regime’s annexation has imposed a simplistic Russian narrative on a landscape where Triremes once berthed. But this is about as radical a gesture as Ukrainian Crimean authors can allow themselves. The shore was invisible in the dark — only far, far away the communal fires burned like the Pleiades. But Auntie Clara from Yalta who greeted the Russian troops enthusiastically now has no tourists and is broke. Ukrainian writers, whatever language they use, rarely gain a platform outside of their country. “Then crowds waved Russian flags in the streets I knew. This was certainly the case for Huk, one of the most notable Crimeans writing in Ukrainian, who had to come to Kyiv in order to engage with the peninsula imaginatively. Svitlana Povaliaieva’s collection Pislia Krymu (After Crimea), for example, evokes the feeling that part of Ukraine’s identity has been amputated.”
However, Yana Dubynianska, a Russian-language author from Feodosiya who now lives mainly in Kyiv but often returns to Crimea, notes that Ukrainian identity is more political than linguistic. It felt like part of me had died.” Vyacheslav, who is of Jewish, Russian, and Tatar descent and writes in Ukrainian, embodies the Crimean Peninsula’s glorious complexity. And indeed a delicately blue phosphorescent band trembled beyond the stern, and the oars seemingly paddled in fire. Terror is supported through repression. The blend of exquisite lyricism, imagery, and metaphor calls to mind the ending of The Great Gatsby:
“It will be a dark night. Dolphins splashed, battering geysers of light from the black surface and stars fell into the sea. Sadly, in order to escape the crippling restrictions on their self-expression, they may have to emigrate. The lyric in which they appear is entitled “Ai Petri,” after the Crimean mountain that bears the Greek name for St. The wind really was swirling the sails on a large black boat, which appeared to be turning towards the shore, blowing them till they tore from human hands like vast white birds: the boat listed and lay with its side against the delicately blue waves. The sea’s tranquility is contrasted with the raucous soldiers at the Tsar’s summer retreat, Livadia Palace. He sees Ukrainian as a vehicle for importing European literary modes into his verse. The coast extended to where they built the lighthouse,
And the cape looked into the sea, where a seagull flirted,
And you, cigarette squeezed tightly in your fingers, smoked,
Until only the filter remained between your lips. Ukrainian literature is still taught at Simferopol, but it is negligible. Like the Russian-born Anton Chekhov, one of Crimea’s most famous residents, Ukrainian authors who have written about the peninsula were, historically, not native Crimeans. Huk grew up in the predominantly Russian-speaking community of Saky; for him, writing in Ukrainian is both an artistic and political choice. This may be because Crimea “is often viewed through the lens of Russian nationalism,” suggests Ellie Knott, a British academic who has researched ethnicity in Crimea. Ukrainian language education has fallen sharply and the Ukrainian faculty at Yalta University has closed. “I even recognize the boat, it’s the Greek bringing salt here.”
Ukrainka’s and Kotsiubynsky’s stories depict a colony hovering between modernity and a wealth of dying local traditions. Unfortunately, Kurkov remains a rare exception. Those who believed his promises are now silent.” Indeed, many Russian Crimeans are now disillusioned. I scooped the water in my hand casting it aloft, and a fantastic fountain of cold flame glittered. The title of his 2013 collection, Krymskyi Elehiyi (Crimean Elegies), anticipates the 2014 annexation. Her banal romance symbolizes the emptiness of the lives of the Russian Empire’s disempowered noblewomen. As she reports,
Ukrainian culture was strengthening very slowly in Crimea. The very notion of Ukrainian identity is, according to Alexander Bogomolov and Oleksandr Lytvynenko’s paper for Chatham House, “meaningless, second-rate or blasphemous to a large number of Russians.” The notion that Ukrainians are deluded members of a single Russian people dominates Russia’s attitude toward Crimean Ukrainians. The sand was too white, reminiscent of the first snow. In his “Crimean Cycle” (“Krymskyi tsykl,” 1927), the peninsula serves as home to Daphnis and Chloe, the lovers from Longus’s second-century Greek tale. He emphasizes “striking literary examples of Ukrainian nostalgia for Crimea by authors from outside the peninsula. For Kocherha, the Ukrainian Crimea that had been her home was a “castle built on sand.” But it may yet return. In the meantime, the unique landmarks of the peninsula’s fragile Ukrainian literary tradition should be made available to readers worldwide. However, many Crimeans were comfortable with the imperial discourse. Putin’s mythological Russian Crimea is being violently imposed on this diverse population.