1 UCL, UK
DiscussionIf we want to understand the early 20th century urban text of Ukraine, we come up against a series of complexities. First, Ukraine’s cities appear in the work of writers working in multiple languages (including, but not limited to, Ukrainian, Polish, German, Yiddish and Russian) and belonging to several (loosely defined) national literatures. Second, these writers are not writing in the same political context, but across a variety of shifting states and empires with varying degrees and types of ideological strictures. A third complicating factor is that in all these states, cities in Ukrainian-majority territories, whether Kyiv, L’viv or Odesa, were often dominated by non-Ukrainians, meaning that Ukrainian urban narratives were limited and marginalised. A century later, how can we understand the literary existence of Ukraine’s cities in the context of crumbling empires, war, and the redrawing of borders? Is a multifaceted understanding of this literature possible today? Is it even desirable? What are the politics involved in searching for this perspective in the context of Russia’s war against Ukraine and the calls for decolonization that have arisen since February 2022? Taking a series of case studies from across Ukraine, the paper will investigate how early 20th century urban literary narratives are being/might be read today as Ukraine’s cities reappraise their identities and their pasts.