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Blaming Russian Literature for the Ukraine War!?

Ukrainian Writer Oksana Zabushko

A week ago, I was reading a back issue of The Times Literary Supplement when I encountered an article that made me sit up straight. A Ukrainian author of some note—Oksana Zabushko—was blaming Russian literature and Russian culture for Putin’s invasion of her country.

While I regard Vladimir Putin personally responsible for the war, I do not go so far as to blame Russia as a country. Even when the man on the street in Petersburg or Moscow appears to back up Putin, I write that off as being careful what to tell a foreign journalist in view of the Draconian punishments in store for those not backing up Putin.

Why blame Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Gogol, Pushkin, and Chekhov for an invasion that they would in all likelihood opposed? Ukraine is certainly suffering from the invasion, which is targeting innocent civilians. At the same time, Russia is suffering, perhaps equally, from a war Putin did not expect would drag on for so long. He did not anticipate the disproportionately high Russian casualty rates, the incompetence of his generals, the sudden backbone shown by NATO, the global isolation of Russia from the world economy, and the disinclination of young Russian men to fight the war.

As much as I loathe Putin, I continue to read Russian literature and see Russian films. Although most of my fellow Americans avoid Russian literature like the plague, I think it is one of the great world literatures. Currently, I am reading a book of essays by Polina Barskova about the German siege of Leningrad during World War Two.

When Russia invaded Ukraine last February, I didn’t stop reading Russian literature. Instead, I made a point of adding more Ukrainian literature to my TBR (To Be Read) pile—including Oksana Zabushko herself, who is a pretty good author herself. Even when she makes an error in judgment.