«With this book I want to dispel the “myth” of Donbas, the most mythical and at the same time most demonized Ukrainian region. I want to demystify the lies and clichés that most people believe, including Ukrainians, I want to decolonize this preconception.” So he says Kateryna ZaremboUkrainian political analyst and university professor who deals with foreign policy, security policy and studies on civil society in his country, author of “Donbas is Ukraine”subtitle “The true story of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and the colonialist myth created by the Soviet Union”, published by Linkiesta Books.
A courageous, clear, investigative book accessible to all (so she wanted it to be) that Zarembo, together with the translator Yaryna Grusha, professor of Ukrainian Language and Literature at the State University of Milan, will present today, for its only Italian stop, at the University of Catania as part of the seventh edition of the Mare Liberum Geopolitical Festival (two days full of meetings and debates in the presence of academics, scholars, journalists and students).
But Zarembo hopes that her book will have a long journey, because, she says: «If you think that Donbas is a coal region inhabited exclusively by Russian miners, who speak only Russian and are always ready to welcome the Russian “liberators” sent by Vladimir Putin, then it means that the lying Soviet and post-Soviet propaganda was effective. Forget it.” And the same goes for the simplification of the common feeling «that that region should be given to Russia and there will be peace; this too is propaganda”, because what Zarembo defines as the “Russian steamroller” would demand and advance more and more.
But what is Donbas? we ask her. «The term “Donbas” is so rooted in the Ukrainian and international narrative that it has now become the only term to indicate the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. But Donbas is a toponym coined in the 19th century by the Russian engineer Kovalevskiy, and stands for “Donetsk coal basin”, to indicate an industrial region that did not correspond to the current administrative borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, but to the eastern part of ‘Ukraine, which the Soviet leaders and then the local political leaders of independent Ukraine filled with myths and stereotypes, such as “Russian-speaking Donbas”, “pro-Russian Donbas”, “land of the miners”, “homeland of the Party of Regions”” . «But I – continues Zarembo – digging into history I understood that there was a wrong perception of the history of those places itself: a geographical area with a stratification of peoples, languages and religions, with ancient links with Western Europe and cultural and political traditions of Ukrainian and pro-European origin, lands with their diversity and promptly repressed by Russian arrogance who wanted them as a monolithic whole”.
Born in Kiev, where she lives, Zarembo has thus collected, in her travels, many stories that “arrived one after the other, and others were left out”, and she learned about Ukrainian human rights movements, activists , university professors, students, eco-activists and even believers of some religious denominations active in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the period between 2000 and 2014, but also of stories relating to the business environments of Donetsk and Luhansk and of political party histories. «And in any case, whether you speak Russian or are a Russian native speaker – she adds – does not mean necessarily taking sides with the expansionism of the Kremlin instead of democracy and freedom».
He considers his book a work of resistance, «but which cannot be compared – he says – to the resistance with weapons of men and women fighting for freedom. When the war ends, it is important that in the post-war period the feeling of Ukrainianness also passes through the knowledge of history.”