Moscow Correspondence (3): ‘Donbas: 365 days of the ATO’

On one of my last days in this trip to Moscow, I went to the VDNKh (no one seems to call it by its new, post-Soviet title of VVTs, even the posters read VDNKh). It was a cold, wet day and most of the people around were workers sprucing the place up for the later spring and summer, but my objective was the Ukraine pavilion which, with a certain vicious irony, is now the home of ‘Donbas: 365 Days of the ATO‘ [Anti-Terrorism Operation — what Kiev calls its military campaign against the rebels]. Past some of the toughest security checks I encountered this trip, I found an exhibition which took the undoubted horrors of the campaign (and let’s be honest, Kiev pulled few punches, and the often-indiscriminate shelling of civilian targets has helped harden rebel sentiment in the region) but often turned it into a haunted house-style horror show in the name of propaganda. We’re talking replicas of bombed out strobed with red lighting, pictures of dolls in rubble, the works. In many ways, I suppose, this is a metaphor for much of the worst kind of Russian propaganda: taking a basis of truth, but then turning into a macabre spectacle of one-sided caricature. An interesting experience, and worth the time spent schlepping there through the rain, but an unsettling one for both the intended and unintended reasons.

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9 Comments

  1. “Debaltsevo” Stella was a real one removed from the town

    Reply
  2. Very interesting as always; thank you! Just taking a few words to point out that the name VVTs has actually been officially changed back to VDNKh (one of a number of retro name changes). Cheers!

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  3. Nice to see the sign from Debaltseve again. Last time was while hurriedly driving to Artemovsk in early February.

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  4. “We’re talking replicas of bombed out strobed with red lighting, pictures of dolls in rubble, the works. In many ways, I suppose, this is a metaphor for much of the worst kind of Russian propaganda: taking a basis of truth, but then turning into a macabre spectacle of one-sided caricature.”

    To be fair I don’t see much difference between this and the suffering squaddie WWI trench warfare montages, WWII London blitz scenes, and one particularly haunting exhibition concerning the horrors suffered by US tunnel rats during the Vietnam War, that I saw in my childhood. Every nation does it, even if its been supplanted nowadays by slick media reporting or blockbuster movies.

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    • Mark Galeotti

       /  April 20, 2015

      But I think there is a difference when the conflict is still going on, and it so explicitly presents it as an evil attack from one side on another…

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      • Is there? So how would you categorise the reporting on Gaza last year, Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Syria, or the tragedy of MH-17 for which we are all still waiting on the official report?

        We both know that civilian deaths are an unavoidable consequence of war. Time and again they are used to garner support for national acts or policy decisions… then afterwards as rationalisations for the fact. Not at all savoury, but every government does it. Can you honestly say that 9-11 wasn’t shamelessly milked to launch a war (justified or not) against Iraq?

        Personally I do consider the deliberate or indiscriminate shelling of civilians an evil act, and indeed according to several international treaties an illegal one. So I for one cannot condemn Russians portraying it so, even though simultaneously I can see the cynical (and dangerous) manipulation behind it.

      • Mark Galeotti

         /  April 21, 2015

        Of course there is biased reporting and government propaganda. But no one was, to the best of my knowledge, making a public exhibition “come and see a mock-up of the MH17 crash” or setting up a Gazaworld theme park… It’s the difference between seeking to rationalise and spin, and making a one-sided spectacle of a tragedy, while it’s still unfolding, and with no hint of balance or context. That, I found depressing.

  5. Thing is, there are no right or wrong in this conflict. Every participant has done something questionable from the moral point of view, with Russia and Ukraine being at the tip of the spear. Believe me, I know exactly what I am talking about – after all, I am the one who suffered directly from this geopolitical nonsense.

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