“Patriotic” fanfares near Borodino

Russia marks the 200th anniversary of the famous battle and victory over Napoleon in the “best” imperial traditions. And what about Ukraine?

The 1812 Patriotic War (as it is usually referred to in official Russian historiography) is, for some reason, on the fringes of the Ukrainian mass media, whereas all the Russian media have been conducting, for several months on end, a high-profile propagandistic campaign in connection with this anniversary to glorify “Russian arms,” clearly on the “insistent advice” of and sanctioned by the authorities.

Yet the relative silence of Ukrainian journalists on this occasion is hardly acceptable, for the Ukrainians also have something to do with the events 200 years ago. And the point is not even in the fact that dozens of thousands of Ukrainian peasants joined the ranks of the army of Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov (there is a very interesting and dramatic thing here: the French emperor, a foe, abolished archaic feudal practices in the Italian, German, and Slavic countries he occupied, while, as is known, serfdom dominated in the Russian Empire, including Ukraine. Yet most of the Ukrainians viewed the attack of the French or, to be more exact, all-European army as foreign invasion rather than as arrival of liberators) and not in the fact that, for example, the first classic of modern Ukrainian literature, Ivan Kotliarevsky, took an active part in forming an anti-Napoleonic militia (partly consisting of Cossacks) in Poltava in 1812. We think we should focus on some more conceptual things.

The French ruler made a fatal error. (Incidentally, 129 years later Hitler also fatally “burned his fingers” on this. Still, these two historical figures are incomparable.) He absolutely disregarded the social problems of the huge Russian Empire, and a considerable number of historians believe that if the emperor had promised – at least purely for effect – to carry out in Ukraine and Russia the anti-serfdom reforms that had been already carried out in Europe, there would have been an entirely different result. But this problem has one more aspect: after the victory over Napoleon, Russian army officers, who had battled their way to Paris, could compare and make conclusions about the living standards and the degree of being free “over there” and “down here.” This begot those who later became known as Decembrists and triggered a slow century-long process of the collapse of a huge empire whose monarchs failed to reform the autocratic system (compare this to 1945, when the winners over Nazism could also come to somewhat similar conclusions). And let us not forget about the tragedy of Russian and Ukrainian peasant serfs who had to get back to erstwhile slavery after overcoming such a strong enemy.

But we are unlikely to hear about this from the screens of Russian pro-governmental TV channels. Instead, we hear “Let the thunder of victory sound!” President Putin has visited the Battle of Borodino field. Is this the right tonality for the Ukrainian media to tell Ukrainian citizens about the 1812 war?


The Battle of Borodino was depicted in by far the best way in the Soviet feature film War and Peace directed by Sergei Bondarchuk in 1967. Very few remember today that Bondarchuk himself was born in the steppe-bound Kherson region. The Day asked the artist’s fellow countrymen if they remembered his cinematic heritage, particularly War and Peace.


Andrii ROSTOV, leading specialist, advertisement and repertory section, public communal company Kinovideoprokat, Kherson:

“The entire Kherson region, without an exaggeration, knows and remembers our talented fellow countryman Sergei Bondarchuk. And although he was born not in Kherson itself but in the village of Bilozerka, not far from the oblast center, we will do our utmost to get the older generation to remember the artist’s invaluable contribution to cinema and young people to know about him. There is a cine club, Old Films about the Main Thing, in Kherson’s Yuvileiny concert hall, which shows Bondarchuk’s always topical movies. Incidentally, there are a lot of young people among the club’s audience. The oeuvres of the well-known master, who was both an actor and a director, have been crowned with the most prestigious cinematic awards, including the highest one, Oscar, for the epic War and Peace.

“The local government of Bilozerka and managers of the district Community Center always care about honoring the memory of Bondarchuk. The village area studies museum has an exposition devoted to the artist, and a commemorative plaque was installed near the house he lived in.

“Two years ago the Kherson region solemnly celebrated the artist’s 90th birth anniversary. Kherson and Bilozerka received some well-known actors, directors, and scriptwriters on this occasion. Bondarchuk’s daughter, the prominent actress Natalia Bondarchuk, also visited our place.

“Kinovideoprokat recently showed senior school pupils Bondarchuk’s films Taras Shevchenko (1951) and War and Peace (1965-1967), the fourth part of which, Pierre Bezukhov, focuses on the Battle of Borodino.”

Interviewed by

Vadym LUBCHAK, The Day