The War of the Worlds. The War of Cultures

The War of the Worlds. The War of Cultures

While Ukrainian cultural figures have to hide in bomb shelters, or take up arms to protect their loved ones and their homeland, the Russian creatives are actively chanting “art without politics,” “art without war.”

The art of every country and nation does not just exist on its own, detached from reality. Art not only is formed by the society in which it is born, but also helps form this same society.

I hope that today everyone can recognize the humiliation of national and human dignity as a crime. Russian propaganda has created an image of Russian artists and cultural figures as detached from all earthly sins and, most importantly, from the sins of their authorities, politics, and society.

In this regard, the famous poem by the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky “On Ukrainian Independence” comes to mind. Here are excerpts in the original language and translated by Artem Serebrennikov (


Скажем им, звонкой матерью паузы метя, строго:

скатертью вам, хохлы, и рушником дорога!

Ступайте от нас в жупане, не говоря в мундире,

по адресу на три буквы, на все четыре стороны.

Пусть теперь в мазанке хором гансы

с ляхами ставят вас на четыре кости, поганцы.


С Богом, орлы, казаки, гетманы, вертухаи!

Только когда придет и вам помирать, бугаи,

будете вы хрипеть, царапая край матраса,

строчки из Александра, а не брехню Тараса.

 We’ll tell them, filling the pause with a loud “your mom”:

Away with you, Khokhly, and may your journey be calm!

Wear your zhupans [12], or uniforms, which is even better,

Go to all four points of the compass and all the four letters.


God rest ye merry Cossacks, hetmans, and gulag guards!

But mark: when it’s your turn to be dragged to graveyards,

You’ll whisper and wheeze, your deathbed mattress a-pushing,

Not Shevchenko’s bullshit but poetry lines from Pushkin [14].

Is this not in tune with today’s propaganda coming out of the Kremlin’s mouthpieces? Aren’t there any chauvinistic and Ukrainophobic ideas here? This text was read by the author for the general public in the 1990s. It seems that Russian culture is not only in tune with the policy of the Russian authorities, but is itself an effective tool for encouraging nationality-based discrimination and oppression.

In the lines of this poem, this prominent and even cult-inspiring Russian poet uses a humiliating nickname of Ukrainians – Khokhly. This is typical not only at the domestic level of Russian society. Attributing derogatory labels to other peoples is not uncommon and is even a norm for Russian literature. The word “Khokhly” can be compared with ‘N-word’, the slur against African-Americans. The hypocrisy is shocking. After all, Russians have applied the labels of “churki, khokhly, chernomazye, etc.” not to enemies, but to representatives of peoples who became part of the Russian Federation and earlier of the Soviet Union. That is, this duality is typical of Russian culture – to call Ukrainians brothers and Khokhly at the same time. And this paradox immediately testifies that there can be no natural brotherhood. This is a maniac-prisoner relationship.

Joseph Brodsky finishes his poetic manifesto with his thesis about the superiority of Oleksandr Pushkin over Taras Shevchenko. He predicts that Ukrainians, despite their national pride, will still be forced to recognize the Russian poet as superior to the Ukrainian one. Categorically and rudely, he accuses the classic and symbol of Ukrainian literature Taras Shevchenko of lying, calling him “lying Taras”. He does not hesitate to put two artists of different peoples on the scales, forcing a comparative assessment. Don’t you think it is a bit primitive and barbaric? In fact, the only inflexible vertical in which Russian artists are always higher than artists of all other cultures is very characteristic of the Russian cultural environment. In their opinion, they are higher as representatives of a unique chosen people. And this is not a natural love for something of their own, but some perverse aggressive position of defaming everything that is not native.

Interestingly, in this very paradigm, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has evolved. Russians do not consider it equal among other churches. They see it solely as the main, exclusively true, and superior church, rebelling in their absurdity against the original mother church and the Ecumenical Patriarch.

Let us return to literature. Were the great figures of Russian culture really so apolitical? Is it right to separate them from state processes, from the processes of forming the people’s consciousness and, accordingly, the actions and development of these people? I want to give a fairly common example. The famous Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky was not limited to writing literary works. He actively spoke about political processes and quite clearly developed his participation in the formation of public opinion. You can see a few excerpts from the “Diary of a Writer” from 1876 (hereinafter, the translation is ours):

“…According to my inner conviction, which is the most complete and insurmountable, in Russia there won’t be and have never been such haters, envious people, slanderers and even outright enemies like all these Slavic tribes, even if Russia liberates them and Europe agrees to recognize them as liberated!..” 

“…Russia needs to responsibly accept the fact that all these liberated Slavs will gladly rush to Europe, lose their identity, get infected with European political and social forms and thus will have to experience a long period of Europeanism, before realizing at least something in their Slavic essense and their special Slavic mission in the heart of humanity…”

“…yet they will always feel instinctively (of course, in cases of danger, not before) that Europe is a natural enemy of their unity, as it was and always will be such, and that they exist in the world, of course, only due to a huge magnet – Russia, which irresistibly attracts them all to itself, thereby restraining their integrity and unity…”

Yes, of course, everyone has the right to have their own opinion. But don’t you feel the rhetoric of incitement to hostility in these words? A text like this could well be banned today in some social networks. The author again singles out Russia as an exceptional power, declares its missionary importance in this world, as well as some special position of Slavic peoples. Contrasting Russian culture to European culture, he simultaneously accuses Ukrainians and probably Belarusians of seeking sovereignty, identity, and freedom. He labels entire peoples the “enemy” based only on his own vision of the geopolitical structure of the world by referring to a hypothetical future betrayal he invented himself, while not giving any strong arguments or facts of the real evil caused by Russia in relation to Slavic peoples. And at the same time, he separates Russia from Slavic peoples.

This idea is very characteristic of the Russian narrative: “We, Russians, will hold you back, even if you don’t want to; we will decide what you need and what you don’t need, even if you want to decide it for yourselves. We are your brothers, and it is up to us to decide how you should live.” Guided by this principle today, the Russian Federation wants to decide the fate and course of development of an independent sovereign country and demands the consideration of Russian desires when it comes to Ukraine’s accession to NATO. According to opinion polls, not only the political authorities, but also about 80% of Russian citizens today consider their president’s policy appropriate. But, importantly, ordinary Russians have no idea why they have the right to decide the fate and development of another nation.

Interestingly, Russians have named Ukrainians their brothers themselves. Having no historical or cultural background for that, they use a single argument – force. But you will agree that this is more like the behavior of an occupier than a relative.

Russians have no common ethnic origin with Ukrainians because they are not Slavs. They do not understand the Ukrainian language and throughout their history they have only denied its existence and tried to eradicate it. The whole history of Ukrainian-Russian relations during the previous three hundred years is a history of wars, uprisings of Ukrainians against the Russian invaders, and repression and terror aimed at destroying the culture and identity of the Ukrainian people.

Today, many people mention another prominent Russian writer – Turgenev – and his short story called “Mumu”. If Brodsky and Dostoevsky reflected the attitude of Russians towards other peoples and cultures, the essence of Russians themselves is perfectly evident in Turgenev’s text. The writer actually describes the image of Russian people and seems to program their behavior and the model of social interaction. The main character of the work is Gerasim, a strong but dumb serf. He is unable to get outraged or voice his own opinion. He obeys his mistress–the symbol of power that totally controls him.

He silently endures all injustice. But the culmination is that Gerasim kills his only friend – the dog Mumu, who needed his protection and loved him. Gerasim drowns the poor dog following the order of his mistress who tells him to get rid of Mumu without any reason, just for the sake of some sadistic pleasure.

Gerasim does not kill his mistress, he kills a devoted defenseless friend of his instead. He does not escape to save Mumu. The dumb serf escapes after executing the criminal order and becoming a murderer and a traitor.

Here is the true image of the Russian people – unscrupulous, capable of killing and betraying a friend for the sake of obeying an order. The Russian character is a coward who commits a crime and then seeks understanding. This is the famous “little man”. Not a character who fights for justice or sacrifices himself for a friend. But the one who sacrifices others not even for his own sake, but for the sake of following an order. Weak-willed and voiceless.

Characters like these are a favorite in Russian culture. Russians recognize themselves in such characters. Russian literature is aimed at immersing in the psychology of criminals and finding an excuse for their crime, or at least arousing sympathy for them.

For centuries, Russian culture has promoted and shaped the image of a little man who is not his own master and who should be forgiven for all the crimes he would commit because of his weakness. As a result, today we have a Russian society consisting of millions of such “little people” who cannot resist their criminal authorities; the society that, like Gerasim, is ready to kill those whom it treacherously and hypocritically calls brothers, but not to oppose or rebel against criminal orders of their “mistress” who is, embodied in Putin, sitting in the Kremlin.

Today some say that only the President is responsible for the war crimes of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. For the occupation of the Crimea. But the fact is that he not only finds support in the Russian environment, he commits all these crimes in response to demands of the Russian society.

Russian presidents and tsars have replaced each other, but they have always been adherent to a single course: none of them disdaining genocide as an instrument of asserting their power. Russian people have never blamed them for this.

We can recall how diligently and unprecedentedly relentlessly Russians exterminated Ukrainians during the time of Tsar Peter I. Destruction of Baturyn, the then hetman capital city, actually parallels what Russian officers and soldiers are doing to Mariupol today. This is a complete destruction of the city. Mass and sadistic killings of women, children, the elderly, both the military and civilians alike. These destructions and killings are of no military significance, they are committed purely for sadistic pleasure.

Mykola Markevich, a Ukrainian historian, wrote about the massacre in Baturin in 1708:

“The Serdiuks were partly massacred, partly roped in one crowd. On avenging what had been done the day before, Menshikov ordered the executioners to put them to death by various kinds of execution; the army, everywhere and always ready for plunder, scattered into the residents’ homes and exterminated civilians with no distinction between the innocent and the guilty, sparing neither women nor children. Quartering, breaking on the wheel and staking still alive people – those were the most ordinary deaths, while some new kinds of torment were invented, terrifying to even imagine”.

And here are a few words of Mykola Osychenko about what the Russian military are doing in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol in 2022 (source:  DW.COM):

“As we were leaving the city, we did not see one intact building ­— there were shattered windows and destroyed walls between apartments everywhere. Some of the buildings had no top floor left at all. There were corpses everywhere, women, men and children. We tried to distract our children in the car so that they would not see. It is simply terrible.”

As you can see, both in the 18th and 21st century, Russians have been equally cruel, maniacal, and unscrupulous in waging war. The period between these events was not an era of harmony and friendship either. Tsarist Russia and then the Soviet Union exterminated Ukrainians by hundreds of thousands and millions, or deported them to Siberia, settling Russians in their abandoned homes. It is worth mentioning such tragedies like the artificial famine of 1932-1933 and mass repression of Ukrainian intelligentsia climaxing in 1937. It was due to the repression of Ukrainian art that the term “Executed Renaissance” arose. Ukrainian writers, artists, composers, scientists, directors and actors were physically liquidated by the Soviet regime in concentration camps and secret torture chambers. 

The wave of repression of Ukrainians in the 1960s and 1970s is not so well known but equally terrible and it gave rise to a movement of dissident intellectuals. The policy of further national oppression of Ukrainian culture and even the war that is currently appalling the entire civilized world did not begin in 2022, but eight years earlier with the Russian occupation of Crimea. Immediately following this came the repression of Ukrainian language and literature teachers and consistent oppression of pro-Ukrainian residents and the indigenous Crimean Tatar people. In the occupied Ukrainian city of Donetsk, the “Izolyatsia (Isolation)” concentration camp came into being in the place of a onetime art center.

Observing mass crimes, Russians are traditionally silent today. Moreover, they are happy to use their results. Until 2014, forums and workshops of Russian theater artists were regularly held in Ukrainian Crimea, in the city of Yalta. There is a whole complex there which was used by the Union of Theatrical Figures of the Russian Federation. Before the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity, I even participated in such an event once. But did Russian intellectuals, who are bearers of the conscience of Russian culture, find the strength to refuse to use the stolen property after occupation of Ukrainian Crimea by the Russian Federation? Did they refuse to hold their congresses in the occupied and stolen Crimea? No, they didn’t. They continued to enjoy communicating about art, high ideas, goodness and justice relaxing in a Crimea seized by military force. Perhaps they even resent their authorities a little. But it is very comfortable to resent the authorities under the cypresses of Yalta.

Today, after a month of large-scale bombings and missile attacks on Ukrainian cities by the Russian military, there are recorded numerous acts of destruction of historical, cultural and artistic heritage of Ukraine. Museums, religious buildings, theaters, art schools, and historical architecture are now destroyed. Ukrainian figures in theater, literature, book publishing and science have been lost.

A direct air strike destroyed the Mariupol Kuindzhi Art Museum located in the 1902 manor. The museum’s collection comprised about 2,000 exhibits.

Missile attacks and bombing have destroyed the 19th century buildings of the Museum of Antiquities in Chernihiv, the Okhtyrka City Museum of Regional Ethnography, and the Ivankiv Museum of Local History and Ethnography. Russian soldiers looted the historical and architectural reserve “Sadyba Popova (Popov’s manor)” which was damaged by shelling. The manor, located in Vasylivka, was built in 1894.

The Russian military completely destroyed the wooden Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, built in 1862 in Viazivka, Zhytomyr region, which was listed in the register of national monuments.

The wooden St.George’s Church built in 1873 in Zavorychi, Kiev region, burned down in a fire caused by shelling.

An air bomb destroyed the Mariupol Drama Theate, where children and women evacuated from the maternity hospital were taking shelter, despite large warning inscriptions of “DETI (CHILDREN)” to protect against accidental airstrikes.

These are just a few examples among hundreds of other crimes that Russian troops continue to commit on the territory of Ukraine while you are reading this text.

And what can you hear today from Russian cultural figures? In a recently published wordy material with comments by Russian museum workers you may find that they all worry about disrupted previously agreed international exhibitions, about the financial and information crisis, about the loss of the art market. But they in no way express solidarity with museum workers and gallerists of Ukraine. They do not worry at all about museums and art institutions in Ukraine destroyed by Russian bombs and missiles. They are not at all horrified by destruction of works of art in the fire of war – the war waged by their country. They are only concerned about their own image. So do you think art and culture are really valuable to these cultural figures? Do they really overlook egregious crimes in the field of culture and art committed under the flags of their country?

The more Ukraine and other eastern European countries go beyond the influence of the tyrannical center – Moscow, the more their true faces are seen.

It is the war of cultures that is taking place in Ukraine today. The natural, deep, European-by-nature, original Ukrainian culture versus the culture of dark times, built on lies and terror. It is the cultural front that will determine the further course of world history, because what wins in the heart can no longer be defeated by weapons. This is a real war of the worlds.


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