Documenting Ukraine

A project to support Ukrainians who are recording the horrors of war

published by Timothy Snyder, an eminent scholar of European history, the Holocaust, the history of the Soviet Union, and the history of Ukraine, author of numerous books and fervently publishing on the ideological backgrounds of the current war, on May 8, 2022, via his newsletter “Thinking about …” We consider this call to support the recording of history in line with the Harun Farocki Institut’s politics of evidence and documentation and thus wanted to share/document it here.

Today we commemorate the end of the Second World War in Europe, the defeat of Nazi Germany and its allies.  We do so in the midst of another major conflict.  The Russo-Ukrainian war recalls the Second World War in more ways than one.  Now, as then, the chief prize is Ukraine.  Now, as then, the aggressor sees Ukraine as a land to be dominated and colonized.

As a historian of the Second World War, I have spent years of my life — quite literally — searching for and reading documents about the period.  Two of my books, Black Earth and Bloodlands, are based upon sources from that time and place, collected by other historians or by me.  Sometimes the process of locating a source can cost not just hours but days or weeks.   If there is anything heartening about the present war, it is that it can be very well documented.  If we make the right preparations now, this could be the best documented war of all time.

One reason the Second World War was hard to chronicle was that it was immediately followed by cold war.  This separated researchers not only from sources but from perspectives and worldviews.  During the cold war, a young Polish philosopher founded an institute for advanced studies to try to overcome such divisions.  The first action of this Institute for Human Sciences was documentation: the preservation of the archive of Jan Patocka, a Czech philosopher who died after interrogation by the communist secret police.  This year, the Institute for Human Sciences  celebrates its fortieth anniversary.  For most of the time that it has existed, it has served me as an intellectual home, including during the time I was working on Bloodlands and Black Earth.

Eight years ago, I helped to establish a program at the Institute called „Ukraine in European Dialogue.“  The work on Bloodlands and Black Earth had convinced me that the absence of Ukraine in historical consciousness made the European past impossible to understand.  The Maidan revolution in Ukraine and the Russian invasion of early 2014 showed me that this was also true of the present.  The invisibility of Ukraine had terrible political consequences.  Even as Russian troops poured into Ukraine, Russian propaganda portrayed Russians as the victims, and Ukrainians as somehow deserving of attack.  This worked thanks to our own weaknesses and ignorance, but also because Ukraine had not been established as a historical subject.  Back then, Ukrainians themselves had a difficult time telling their own story.

Since that debacle, for the last eight years, my colleagues at the Institute have brought Ukrainian scholars, reporters, artists, and activists to Vienna and, more broadly, into larger European and American and international discussions.  Amidst the atrocities of the latest Russian invasion, it has at least been gratifying to watch the alumni of our programs at work.  If the image of Ukraine is clearer in 2022 than it was in 2014, it is in some measure thanks to them.

Almost all of the alumni of Ukraine in European Dialogue program are in Ukraine.  All of them are doing something in this war.  They and countless other Ukrainians have talents and skills that put them in a position to document this war.  This is work that must be done.  The battles and the war crimes must be documented to be understood.   Ukrainians (and the rest of us) will need to be able to write the history of this war.  Lies and disinformation must be resisted and overcome.  There will be trials, and these trials will require evidence.  This is a war for oblivion, where Russian weapons target archives, libraries, museums, monuments, and schools.  More broadly: human experience remains only so long as other humans care for it.  And even as people struggle and risk their lives, they feel a need to leave a mark, to try to make sense of things.

My colleagues and I had all of this in mind — the world war, the cold war, our Institute’s traditions, the war of 2014, the Russian atrocities of 2022 — when we established a new program:  „Documenting Ukraine.“ It supports people inside Ukraine — reporters, archivists, scholars, and others — who are documenting this war.  In the first stage of the program, we fund documentary work in Ukraine in various media; in a second stage, we will archive and share.  Given our wide network in Ukraine, our knowledge of the languages and the country, and our experienced staff, we are in a position to make grants quickly.

We have made the first few dozen grants already, and by the end of this month we will have awarded about one hundred grants.  Some of the projects in Ukraine that we have supported thus far include: ecologists monitoring environmental damage in marine ecosystems; a sociologist conducting interviews with medical professionals; anthropologists looking at mutual aid among religious communities; historians of the Holocaust documenting events in specific localities; soldiers engaged in combat fighting capturing their experience employing their professional experience (as sociologists, photographers, and so on); and leading Ukrainian writers reflecting on the war.

I would like to see this continue.  Anyone can make a credit card donation now to support „Documenting Ukraine“ by clicking these links or hitting the botton below.  Americans can take a tax deduction for doing so — we have established through a partner a U.S. 501(c)(3).  If you would like to make a large donation through another means than a credit card, feel free to write me at my Yale email address with the subject line „Documenting Ukraine“ and I will follow up.  As you all know, I have been publishing lists of organizations doing good work in Ukraine.  This is the project I have helped to design and am working on myself.  If you are able, I would appreciate your support in helping Ukrainians to document the war.

A good way to commemorate the Second World War is to create the conditions whereby this war can be remembered and understood. This war can be documented better than any prior war in history. Perhaps this will make future war less likely.

Donate to Documenting Ukraine



May 10th, 2022 — Rosa Mercedes / 05

Tatsiana Shchurko on the War in Ukraine, Entangled Imperialisms, and Transnational Feminist Solidarity, via LeftEast (May 2, 2022): “[An] uneven knowledge production and the many implications of the war against Ukraine reveal the dire need to develop a feminist anti-capitalist critique of multiple imperialisms. This language should grow from within the occupied and suppressed communities of Eastern Europe and Eurasia. An anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist feminist positionality grasps that the local is part of a global in an effort to build transnational connections of mutual aid and support against state and corporate violence. For example, statements of solidarity with Ukraine expressed by the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia and Native American communities along with the anti-war feminist march in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) on March 8, 2022, pointing out that the war in Ukraine should be of concern for a broad transnational community, may serve as instrumental examples of alternative anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist solidarities that stretch beyond state regulations and macro-politics and foreground decolonial perspectives, necessary in addressing entanglements of multiple imperialisms. Such solidarities also bring to light hidden interconnections of the past that allowed for distant communities to survive and support each other against the violence of imperialist intervention and its attendant capitalist exploitation. Thus, the march in Bishkek reminds of the socialist roots of the International Women’s Day to call for internationalist, intersectional, class solidarity against imperialism and militarism.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn on that “It’ll take more than tanks to ease Germany’s guilt” (via Politico): “Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, Germany has been imposing neocolonial optics on its Eastern European ‘peripheries,’ and on the post-Soviet space in particular, where Ukraine was long considered a gray buffer zone about which the EU was ‘deeply concerned.’ Germany didn’t bother itself much with differentiating between former Soviet countries’ pasts. Even until recently, any Ukrainian agenda in Germany was often ‘balanced’ with a Russian perspective, so as to not exclude the latter by any means.”

An unnamed anarchist and art scholar, who joined the Territorial Defense Forces, quoted by Olexii Kuchanskyi in an essay on “Digital Leviathan and His Nuclear Tail” (via Your Art and e-flux notes): “At dawn, Dima and I talked about cinema. Dima believes that cinema is inferior to literature as a means of expression because you spend much more time with a book than a film. It’s a really interesting point, something to dig into. I studied at the department of art theory & history and I never thought of it. Dima served in the military after school and worked at the factory all his life. He listens to rap, smokes pot, and tries to have fun. He is thirty-eight, his child was born last year. He likes Wong Kar-wai and is a fan of Asian cinema in general. Dima communicates by quoting Omar Khayyam, Confucius, and other awesome guys.”

April 20th, 2022

Vasyl Cherepanyn (Visual Culture Research Centre, Kyiv) on Putin’s “World War Z” and the West’s deadly “foot-dragging”, via Project Syndicate: “The main feature of this Western condition is constant belatedness. The West has always been too late, incapable of acting ahead and instead just reacting to what has already happened. As a Ukrainian joke went at the time, ‘While the European Union was taking a decision, Russia took Crimea.’ Then as now, Ukrainians wondered, ‘What is the West’s red line? What will compel the West to act instead of waiting and discussing when to intervene?’”

Barbara Wurm on Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravičius, killed in Mariupol, via Die Welt: “Kvedaravičius unfolded a whole spectrum of visual anthropology over a decade with only three films [Barzakh, Mariupolis, Parthenon]. It now awaits evaluation and exploration. The time will come. The films themselves make possible an infinite immersion in the matter of the world, between dream and reality, horror and everyday life, facts and phenomenal imagology.”

April 5th, 2022

Statement by #AfricansFromUA on Equal Treatment via e-flux notes: “Non-Ukrainian nationals from the war in Ukraine arriving in Germany have been facing very different terms of treatment—both in different federal states and cities but also within the very same city throughout time and different facilities. While some received so called ‘Fictitious Certificates’ for one year without further procedures others were pressured to submit an asylum application with their finger prints registered and passports seized. Again others were given a so called “Duldung” including the threat of deportation.”

April 5th, 2022
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