From A Radical Guide. This is a guest post series from the writer Ilya Kharkōw. Ilya reached out to A Radical Guide to share his story about being a Ukrainian war refugee.
Ilya Kharkōw is a writer whose journey and perspective are as compelling as they are unique. Originating from Ukraine, he has faced significant challenges due to their stance against military conscription, which unfortunately led to criminalization in their homeland. Amidst a backdrop of forced mobilization, which has seen many Ukrainian men persecuted, Ilya has made the difficult decision to seek refuge in Europe.
His story is not just one of escape but of resilience and defiance. Ukrainian authorities have pursued their deportation, and they face animosity from those who support the war. Compounding their struggles, their native town now lies under Russian occupation. Despite these harrowing experiences and the daily trials of emigration, he finds a silver lining in their writing.
What sets this writer apart is his desire not to be pigeonholed as a ‘Ukrainian writer.’ Their identity and work transcend geographical and political boundaries, offering a universal appeal that resonates with a global audience.
LOOK, THE BORDERS OF THE COUNTRY, CULTURE AND PERSONALITY ARE ROTTING
“Homeless. Grenade. Should i kill them out of pity for them, or pity them to remain indifferent to them… I don’t like the way I think about it at all. And I think about it because of the war. I’m afraid to imagine what those who return from the front will think about.”
On the Internet, you can find many discussions about borders and where they should actually be drawn. Should Eastern Ukraine go to Russia, and Lviv to Poland? Hungary could also claim some territories, including Uzhhorod, where, along with Russian, even Hungarian was abolished, considering that there is a large population of ethnic Hungarians. Accusing Ukraine of Nazism, for many Ukrainians, means siding with Russia, but doesn’t Ukraine itself show its negative side by suppressing ethnicities living on its territory?
As for borders and where they should be drawn, I have one solution. Occam’s razor, which will cut off all the unnecessary. My solution to the border issue is this: war unites people, but the acceptance of historical shame will create a real border for any country. For example, Ukrainian rhetoric contains the idea of collective responsibility. That is, according to the average Ukrainian, every Russian is guilty of the war. But let’s try to apply the principle of collective responsibility to Ukraine. It’s no secret that Polish people are concerned about the events of the Volhynian massacre. If collective responsibility exists, then every Ukrainian should acknowledge that they themselves are guilty of the Volhynian massacre, just as every Russian is guilty of the war. Where people stop acknowledging this guilt is where the real border of Ukraine will be, as the Volhynian massacre was committed by real Ukrainians, whom Ukrainian propaganda now sets as an example for residents of eastern Ukraine.
The question of borders doesn’t particularly bother me, just like the question of nationality. On the gravestone of the Russian poet Velimir Khlebnikov, it is written – Chairman of the Earth. A mocking title, but there is more rationality in it than it seems at first glance. Being abroad, I don’t feel any particular discomfort because the cultural space today is shared. I still read Dostoevsky and Thomas Mann, the Marquis de Sade and Kōbō Abe. Russian literature is still sold in bookstores across Europe just because it has made a significant contribution to world culture. Ultimately, it is world culture that occupies me. I write not for Ukrainian or Russian readers, but for a global audience. Works of art, be it a painting, a book, or a film, are created at too high a cost to give up on it for political reasons. Well, propaganda in art has existed before, and it’s not so difficult to detect and dismiss it.
Over the past year and a half, I have written a novel titled THE MINING BOYS and a collection of stories called HOLES IN THE SHAPE OF HUMANS. Both the first and the second book tell a story of struggle, hatred, sex, freedom, and submission. They delve into the realm of fabricated crimes, depicting a narrative where an entire country becomes what it fights against.
To be honest, I look at the events unfolding quite pessimistically because everything happening in both Russia and Ukraine seems to be driven by distorted pretexts of propaganda rather than the pursuit of peace and justice. In Europe, I observe a sea of cynical curiosity.
“Why didn’t you go to fight?”
“Would you go?”
The very framing of this question seems monstrous to me, as essentially, I am being asked why I didn’t want to die. One day, I decided to find statistics to confront the audacity of such questions.
What percentage of soldiers die during active combat? I posed this question to ChatGPT. The artificial intelligence responded: “It is impossible to provide a definitive percentage, as it depends on numerous factors.” I then clarified that I was interested in the death statistics in the war between Russia and Ukraine. The response I received was: “As of the end of my data in January 2022, Ukraine is not in active war, and I cannot provide up-to-date statistics.”
It turns out that the ChatGPT knowledge base is unaware of the war in Ukraine. Like a deceived parent unaware of what happens to their child when skipping school, ChatGPT thinks everything is fine with Ukraine—no attacks, no deaths, nothing happened. And I don’t exist until I speak. Until my story is published. And if there is no reaction, it means crimes can be multiplied. And they are multiplying. Meanwhile, the world stands in line for a morning latte with coconut milk, oblivious to it all.