Since it began over a month ago, I’ve gotten letters, candles, chocolate, books, clippings, postcards, a blue-yellow dog collar, buttons, ribbons, offers to walk my dog, offers to sit my dog, 1000s of DMs, emails, insistent tweets to RT, mini-farms of trolls, food and emojis, gift certificates and cleaning supplies. This is so moving, bless you, but you ought to know I don’t want anything. Please and thank you. Make it stop, that’s all. Give us back our unpunctuated sleep. I’m in Texas in 2022, another land of despotism. Yes, I want world politics to be resolved for the better. In my quixotry, it should be said: I’m privileged and safe, relatively speaking. I wake up tilting in North America at 1:30am in support, and I’m back to bed at 4am. For a few hours, anyway. My dog sleeps. If the Kremlin wants me, it will get me.
In the darkness on February 24th, I tried to set a historical tone. I don’t know what was in my mind on Twitter exactly, as I began tweeting. I had a plan to mobilize and connect, by the scholarly hundreds, then by thousands in the streets. I thought of recording protest, using ethical tools for lived history (not “likes” because who cares?) and the living past, a sense of long, knowledgeable causation. In rewind, or as Marci Shore calls it, in loops. Drafts backward, correcting drafts. Warnings of 1939, of 1914. Drawing from Polish Solidarity in 1980/81, Prague in 1968, Belarusian women and labor strikes of August 2020, Mustafa Nayyem in November 2013 (“likes don’t count”), Tahrir, Eurasian color revolutions. Messaging, for I worry about being a propagandist for causes I don’t believe in. Career suicide, too. From modern America into the worlds we’ve ruined since 1898, or 1619, I’m imbricated because I/we dare to call out evil. Revise revisions, by dialogue not pretext. Peppered with Arendt, reviewing Grossman and Ringelblum. Elitism, sadly. Hoping to modulate in middles, to defend cultures against colonial aggression. Therefore, I tweet. And I message in a way that takes Twitter’s toggles to other generationally inflected platforms. I tweet for a transnational, decolonial Ukrainian Studies to share language registers, to invoke choice, aid, accountability and responsibility on behalf of those in silence and fear.
Because it’s emotional. February 24th is a limit experience, a new scale of violence. 1941 and 1939, transposed to Cold War 1962. Forget 1997, the crimson herring. Mariupol in 2022, to Aleppo, Grozny, Yemen, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, Guernica. More loosely, a kind of Noah’s Ark, a biblical time. Two by two, side by each, rescued from Ukraine. Atrocity journalists, taken hostage in panic; disfigured bodies under rubble; targeted schools; distant geopoliticians from DC; more Great Power man-pomposity; power-flattering siloviki from Moscow; future denizens of The Hague. Oligarchs’ yachts and jets. Cross-border prisoners of war (I’m adamant that these not be shown). Dogs, cats, bunnies, roosters and llamas. Children in hospitals, future painters, sliders down metros. Blown up churches and mosques. Blocked trains. Crowded stations. Rabbis, unpretentious. Wasted taxes. Tractors pulling tanks. Jokes and blood-soaked memes. More despair. Flowers and fields of grain poisoned. Profanity unleashed by the brightest fucking minds. Voters and survivors, dead. Scraps of donated Nazi metal Z junk. Near nuclear disaster. Radiation. Sunflowers. Grain. Water. Soil.
Here, I emphasize the pain of Ukrainians. I can’t dismiss the portentous shame of Muscovites, but theirs is not enough. New Yorkers who don’t leave the island, who *choose* not to set foot in sacrifice zones. Lots everywhere is lost—don’t pick on me to pick a fight. I’m a labor and queer studies advocate. I convey messages to resisters. I broker trust in concentric fragmented communities. Into the thaw of 2022, I wish I could send the basics of food, water, clothing, and electricity. Of Ukrainian open-air horrors, Russian torture chambers. I wish I could save hostages and prisoners. Or else stop tanks, the crematoria from rolling. It’s true that there is one psychopath who can stop this from his bunker to the jet. Yet unclaimed dumping grounds. I don’t have the power of ministers to close the skies. Businessmen are like tsars, far away. I push record until I can’t. Broadcast, whenever I can. I have a word-processing machine. It collects OSINT and crunches data. I get invited to speak on the violence of maps. I know people in need.
And I admire the keepers of updates, in simultaneous time. This shows human engagement against apathy and prejudice. Where friends and family are. Real time, truth in post-truth. Journalistic ethics. Portals for war crimes. History books now that were once catastrophic premonitions. Of corruption, up chains. Of money, in shadows. Of crimes documented in Ukraine, committed by (extra)ordinaries. Of children crying across borders, futures ruined, as refugees, on “special” missions. Of mothers’ pain. Ethnic cleansing, histories of famine, civilian deaths, lessons unlearned, genocide prevention that fails. Abuses of the past. Colonialism, imperialism, ethnonationalism, territorial revision. Pornography. Homophobic men, their fantasies of power and revenge. Putler’s rage mimicked by little Putins, little Stalins. Anger against women, LGBTQIA. What fuels us deftly, powerfully in searches for multi-allied truth, reconciliation, progressive peace, territorial defense. Captivity, severity, barbarity that (never) ends against our bodies. What we do. Who is to blame. What is to be done.
I’m a professor and a historian of space. I live and die by geography. As an academic at a pivotal moment, I see the potential for us to do incredible, point-plotted, inspiring work. Who among us will make policy, master digital tools, write to journalists and diplomats, become the best of protesting activists. Gather funds. Build archives. Info, maps, data, intel. Our years of expertise. To seek to assist the victims of unspeakable horrors. Illuminate writers and diarists. Turn off the sirens that will haunt our children’s memories. Hold spontaneous concerts. Share. Anthologize. Pay for violins, dance, accordions, sound systems, pianos. Give refugees education, homes, and health. Have memory. Get out of capital comforts, bubbles, cities. Know which words are useless babble in rubble. Study languages. Focus on the marginalized. The names, too.
In the summer of 2019, I listened attentively to my NGO students in Kharkiv, a pooling of inspired minds for a future Ukraine. Before COVID-19, we held this in common. We loved a place and an experience. As I stopped talking, I listened to the dreams that were drawn from Ukrainian literature and history. It was a turning point in my life: I have long studied countries (Poland-Lithuania, 1795) that are wiped away. In this respect, I am optimistic. I refuse to bid farewell to lands and times shared by 44 million people in Ukraine. My students, peers and I share a wound. We will mourn this unprovoked trauma, outside words and screens. We haven’t lost each other. We are united by voice, tweets or no tweets, shrieking out our rage. And grief. Please don’t ever forget the grief.
As I continue my archive.
Steven Seegel is Professor of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin