Between Physicality and Symbolism: Kyiv as a Contested Territory in Russian and Ukrainian Émigré Letters, 1920–1939

Mykola Iv. Soroka


The paper deals with visions of Kyiv in the writings of Russian and Ukrainian émigré writers during the interwar period. The city became a focal point of intensive intellectual debate whose participants regarded Kyiv not only as a place of a recent battleground but also as a sacral place and a highly symbolic image. Within the methodological framework of ethnic symbolism, this study attempts to explain how this physical/symbolic dichotomy was used to reinforce continuing claims for historical origin and cultural heritage, thus serving the contemporary purpose of national identity and political legitimacy. It also deploys the concept of displacement as a complex process of negotiation between homeland and hostland within an émigré community — whose sense of loss and identity crisis creates additional impetus, though in different forms, for exploiting historical narratives.


Russian-Ukrainian relationship; ethnic symbolism; displacement; émigré writing

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