Keith Gessen, a co-editor of the NYC journal n+1, a novelist, and a brother of Masha Gessen, sent this dispatch from Donetsk last August or September. It is an insightful piece, although colored by Gessen’s New-Yorker prole-o-philia. He seems to dislike the middle class but admits – an important admission – that the Maidan was a middle-class uprising. I would add that the character of Ukrainian nationalism has changed: the dominant strain appears to be civic rather than ethnic, middle-class urban rather than rural or small-town, and bilingual or Russophone, requiring knowledge rather than mandatory use of Ukrainian.
On the Donetsk regime, Gessen says this:
In Donetsk I had expected to find a totalitarian proto-state, and I did. The Kremlin liked calling the government in Kiev a ‘junta’, but here you had a real one.
On the other hand, Gessen seems to think that if the middle class of Kyiv could quietly, painlessly wipe out the chavs of Donbass, they would gladly do so – hence the title of his field report, “Why Not Kill Them All?”
In the Letters section in the latest LRB issue, a Ukrainian lady from Maryland protests:
He [Gessen] quotes gossip and supplies misrepresentations. Among them is his ‘story’ that a Kharkiv professor showed him ‘an order from the Ministry of Education demanding that all senior university officials take part in mobilising staff for the ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation]. Those who “sabotaged” the process, would be found guilty of “separatist tendencies”.’ This is very difficult to believe. The Ukrainian minister of education is the highly respected former rector of the National University Kyiv Mohyla Academy, Professor Serhiy Kvit. I sent him Gessen’s text, and he responded saying that the claim was ‘complete and utter nonsense’.
My apologies. The order in question, warning against ‘sabotage’ of the partial military mobilisation, came from the Ministry of Defence. It was accompanied by orders for speedy compliance from the university administration, under a Ministry of Education letterhead.
That’s a rather Soviet reaction from the Ministry of Defense, betraying panic in the face of a Russian military offensive. But Ukraine can’t just snap out of being the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. You have to dismantle the Soviet institutions, and neither Russia nor Ukraine has quite achieved that.