Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

Redefining Ukrainian National Form after the Soviet Annexation of Western Ukraine, 1939-1941

Fri31  Mar02:30pm(15 mins)
Gilbert Scott Room 253
Mr Stefan Lacny


Stefan Lacny1
1 Slavonic Studies Section, University of Cambridge, UK


When the USSR annexed eastern Poland in September 1939, it came to control ethnically diverse lands with no history of Soviet power or, in some cases, of belonging to any Russia-dominated state. 1939 was not, however, the first time Soviet filmmakers had depicted the populations of these territories: over the previous 15 years, the Ukrainians and Belarusians living under Polish rule had been shown in Soviet cinema as belonging to the Soviet community of nations by means of their national culture and ethnic kinship with their compatriots in the USSR. Accordingly, films made to publicise the annexation after 1939 emphasised pre-modern national culture over any sense of technological progress as a rationale for territorial expansion. 

This paper explores how early Soviet culture consistently accentuated and mobilised national differences in the USSR's western borderlands. Focusing on cinematic portrayals of western Ukraine in 1939-1941, I show how the region's annexation resulted in a resurgence of Soviet interest in Ukrainian folk culture, such as national dress, dance, architecture and manual crafts. The visual, tactile and aural indulgence in such pre-modern examples of Ukrainian national culture found in films of the period construct a vision of Ukrainian primitivism that both bolsters Ukraine's position in the USSR and accentuates its developmental distance from the Soviet centre.