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31 January, 2016  ▪  Denys Kazanskyi

Donbas Military Fiction

How books turned war into reality

The war that has been underway for almost two years in the East of Ukraine is commonly believed to be hybrid warfare. As such, it is waged not only in the trenches, but also in the virtual space. The role played by information technologies today is important as never before. A good soldier is supposed to be able not only to shoot, but also to spread information: by making a video or writing a post on social networks. Not only real military leaders, but also popular media persons are becoming the most famous commanders.

Another unique feature of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict should also be noted: its ideologists are in fact science fiction writers. They invented the war in the East long before it started in 2014. In numerous books on the subject that were trendy in the mid-2000s, various scenarios for the possible confrontation were developed and analyzed. Mostly pro-Russian writers professing chauvinism and imperial views wrote on the future war. The stories they offered were full of detailed descriptions of atrocities and torture. The Ukrainian side of the conflict, contrary to the long-established clichés about the "brotherhood of Slavic nations" and "eternal friendship," was demonized to the extreme.

Russian writer and literary critic Dmitry Bykov in his article The War of Writers published by Novaya Gazeta in July 2014, elaborated on this phenomenon. "Modern warfare is largely determined by PR strategies. Who, if not science fiction writers, can fabricate compelling and veracious models of reality?" he wrote.

In his article, Bykov argues that these writers were instrumental in fueling the war that has long been glorified in their works:

"The war in the South-East of Ukraine was triggered by reenactors, authors of Zavtra newspaper and science fiction writers: Strelkov himself admits that he brought war to this land. Besides fiction writers and passionate columnists, there was no one capable of igniting the masses."

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Clearly, this is an exaggeration. Kremlin's state-run TV propaganda and local politicians stoked Donbas much more efficiently than those scribblers. And without the support from the Russian "military shops" and "holidaymakers," as the separatists call Russian weapons and servicemen, a protracted military conflict would be simply impossible. However, we should admit that the skeleton, which was later built up by the Russian television using lies and manipulations, was initially developed and first presented in fiction books. Their artistic value has traditionally been very low. However, this was not important to the Russian audiences driven by nationalism. This trash literature created for them the reality, in which they would like to live and which distracted from the monotony of everyday life and the real problems, such as broken roads or dirty hallways.

It's hard to say whether the almost simultaneous release of several books about the war between Russia and Ukraine was the ideological sabotage planned by Kremlin technologists or a spontaneous creative impulse of independent writers. But the truth is that in 2009, several books were published and hit the shelves in Russia that told about the collapse of the "Ukrainian project" and the inevitable war between Russia and the West for the territory of Ukraine. At least three of them were written by today's public figures of DPR and LPR: Sergei Buntovsky, Gleb Bobrov and Fedor Berezin. Even if this was a government contract with the Kremlin, the contractors were, beyond doubt, idea-driven and devoutly and delightedly portrayed the destruction of the Ukrainian state and the "ascent of the red stars over Maidan."

However, most of these opuses had small circulations. Media most often mentioned them not in connection with their literary qualities, but because of their controversial content.

However, not all fiction writers limited themselves to producing texts. Some began to work hard to turn their scripts into reality. Fedor Berezin, a Donbas native who had published several books on the Russian-Ukrainian war, in spring 2014 joined the ranks of the militants, becoming the deputy of the Russian terrorist Igor Strelkov in the capacity of the "DPR Minister of Defense." The novelist hasn't won honor in battle, but will be remembered for a phantasmagoric video address, in which he told about "armed Negroes" in Donetsk and NATO mercenaries marching on Slovyansk. It is a mystery whether these thrilling messages were for him another work of fiction, or Berezin sincerely believed in what he said.

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Either way, he has become a cult character among fellow writers: he is the world's only fiction writer who has turned his fiction into life, even becoming a "dignitary" in the "state" of his dreams.

Long before the "Russian Spring," another writer who exploited the topic of the war in Ukraine became famous, a native of Luhansk Gleb Bobrov. His book "The Age of the Stillborn" was the most successful among this kind of works. Unlike Berezin, Bobrov neither went to war nor held any high posts in the LPR structure. Nevertheless, he found a nice niche for himself on the information front. The writer is currently engaged in propaganda in Luhansk, overseeing one of Plotnytskyi's "official" resources, the Luhansk Information Center.

One can argue how much this literature has influenced the minds of those who took up arms to fight against the Ukrainian Army. Obviously, most Donbas residents simply did not notice it and were much more exposed to TV propaganda. Nevertheless, the release of the "prophetic" fiction in 2008-2009 had a significant effect on the reading public and the propaganda workers. They persuaded thousands of people in the inevitability of the future conflict and put the blame for the future war on the West and the Ukrainian nationalists.

In all Russian books on the Ukrainian war, NATO was the main aggressor. Of course, when the war in Ukraine broke out, Russia traditionally held America responsible. Despite the fact that the armed hostilities were obviously started by Strelkov's Russian fighters, the majority of Russians readily blamed the US and NATO for it.

To support their confidence, Girkin, Berezin and other directors of the apocalyptic scenario had to regularly lie about the "dead Negroes," NATO mercenaries killed near Slovyansk and the atrocities of American soldiers in Lysychansk. Despite the obvious absurdity, all these lies were taken for granted without proof by the readership of Bobrov's and Berezin's masterpieces, because they had read similar stories long before the war.

The fantasies of writers who had dreamed of carnage in Ukraine proved to be no less appalling when turned into reality. They brought nothing but hardship, suffering and death to the residents of Donbas so far. However, many gray area residents still believe that the war and devastation were the only way out for Donetsk and Luhansk, which otherwise would have faced the occupation by NATO mercenaries and the genocide of the Russian-speaking population of the region.

The credit for this should be given to books about the NATO aggression and the Russian-Ukrainian war published 5-6 years before the annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of the hostilities in Donbas. After all, the atrocities of NATO mercenaries were described in them vividly and lovingly.

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