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Five uneasy pieces
Igor Pomerantsev
translated by Frank Williams
22 November 2023
published in Issue Four

I was five years old when my parents brought me from beyond lake Baikal in Siberia to Chernivtsy in western Ukraine. The whole family came: mother, father, my older brother Valentin, and me. In Chernivtsy I was the younger brother, but because I was an emissary of imperialist Russia in colonial Ukraine, I became an older brother to ancient Hutsul men with grey beards and wizened Hutsul grandmothers with sagging breasts. It made me feel good.

As I grew up, I was a model older brother: I sympathized with the younger ones. I didn't look down on them, and I even took an imperial interest in learning their language. But when I was about eighteen, I realized I no longer wanted to play this game, or count myself among the infinite millions of Russians who, without a trace of irony, called themselves a « great nation ».

In 1965, at almost my first lecture as an undergraduate of Chernivtsy University, I understood precisely why. The professor teaching the « History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union » course asked what language we wanted him to use, Russian or Ukrainian.

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