Remarks delivered by Prof. Emeritus Bohdan Kordan at the opening of the travelling exhibit Doors: Through the Horror of War at Ukrainian Museum of Canada until April 29
By Bohdan Kordan
Mar 27, 2023
The Star Phoenix
It came in the dark. It came uninvited. Accompanied by madness and phobia, it came with evil intent. It was unexpected if only because it was inconceivable. And yet it came to every doorstep of Ukraine, bringing with it brutality, suffering, and death.
Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol have now entered the annals of modern-day history alongside the names of Aleppo, Srebrenica, Rakhine and Rwanda as places of unimaginable horror and pain, where crimes against innocents and even genocide occurred.
In Russia’s war against Ukraine, hordes of Russian soldiers arrived, scooping up the trophies of war: washing machines, coffee makers, porcelain toilets. In each town and village, they kept to themselves. When asked, they explained unconvincingly they had come to liberate, only to be denounced as occupiers by locals.
Silence and recriminations soon followed, then anger and rage as the invaders went searching door-to-door for collaborators and partisans, seeking to punish, humiliate and destroy.
Dragged across their thresholds, residents would disappear only to be discovered in nearby death pits, with hands bound, faces battered, bodies broken, a single bullet to the head. Beating down doors, the aggressors entered other homes to commit heinous acts of barbarity.
Museum, gallery, and library doors were pried open — the start of the wholesale assault on Ukraine’s culture and past. Books with Ukrainian content or language were burned. Historical records were scattered to the wind. Treasures carted away. The intent was to wipe away any trace of what went on before, so that there might never be the possibility of its restoration. Where there is no language, memory, or artifacts, there is no history.
This is the face of genocide. It begins with terror and continues with the erasure of what once was, displaced by an alternative narrative of Russian “greatness” made possible through murder, rape, filtration camps, and the abduction of children.
In the story that is genocide, the final act ends in a future without dignity or hope. This, Ukraine will not allow. It is why Ukrainians resist so fiercely. Why Ukraine will never surrender.
In the recovered territories, some 58,000 war crimes have been documented thus far. These crimes are not a consequence of the ‘cruel nature of war’ or random acts of thuggery and thievery. What is transpiring in Ukraine is something entirely different.
War crimes are deliberately committed to ensure that any semblance of normality cannot return. Terror has been used to obliterate the past, to create such trauma as to forget. This, however, is an insane assumption. It underestimates human resilience and fails to comprehend the deep impulses that bind people together. The doors of Ukraine allow us to understand this.
In literature, religion, and psychology, doors are of symbolic importance. As a representation of duality, doors serve as a threshold that marks a transition between inner and outer worlds, light and darkness, here and there. They act as an invitation or barrier, welcoming others into our lives or keeping at bay that which is feared, denying entry to those who mean us harm.
The doors on display are physical reminders of what lurked outside: evildoers, following the bidding of a madman, came to each. Bullet-ridden and battered, they reveal the extent of the rage and hate. But these same doors also acted as shields, protecting, as best they could, those inside, holding until they could no longer.
Despite the terror and brutality, what could not be destroyed or expunged is that which was always behind these doors: the love of families; the delight of children; the joy of fellowship; the earnestness of young scholars. These are not just memories. Rather these are expressions of the real lives of ordinary Ukrainians, made more precious by the arrival of Russia’s vile and abhorrent war.
As we look at these doors, charred and splintered, let us not focus on the horrors of war. Let us recognize the love and faith that took place behind these same doors. Let us not dwell on what these doors failed to do, but what they did do, creating places of sanctuary where trust and confidence flourished, where families grew strong, and learning thrived.
Let us acknowledge that in Ukraine love is in no need of recovery — it endures — and that the heroic efforts of Ukrainian defenders to protect the people is sacred. Let our faith in Ukraine be guided by the example of the patriotism of its people — a form of love.
It would be disingenuous not to recognize the effects of the war on Ukraine. The pain is real. The grief is deep. There will continue to be tears, and the scars will not vanish. But in their sorrow, Ukrainians should take comfort in the knowledge that these doors, shortly one day, will be rebuilt, honouring all that was lost.
As the bonds of family and brotherhood are renewed and the nation finds peace and security, Ukrainians, once again, might think of a future for themselves and their children.
Our job, of course, is to help make this happen, to stop Russia’s genocidal war, to assist Ukraine so that it may succeed, rebuild, and finally heal.
Remarks delivered by Prof. Emeritus Bohdan Kordan, department of political studies, St Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan, and research associate of the Prairie Centre for the Study of Ukrainian Heritage at the opening of the travelling exhibit Doors: Through the Horror of War, Ukrainian Museum of Canada, on Thursday.