Out this month: Mr Jones

mr. jones is a 2019 drama film directed by agnieszka holland. soviet union ussr ukraine stalin's genocide holodomor in ukraine movie poster

Historical film Mr Jones – about a Welsh journalist who risked his life to tell the truth about Stalin’s 1930s genocide in Ukraine – is out this month, beginning with a premiere at the Berlin Film Festival.

Unlike the Holocaust, the Kremlin’s forced famine genocide – known as the Holodomor – escaped the world’s notice mostly because Western journalists, many of them advocates of communism, spent decades denying it.

Conservative estimates of the death toll put it on par with the Holocaust, while others place the numbers much higher; up to ten-million Ukrainians killed between 1932 and 1933. The numbers vary so much because, unlike the Germans who documented every aspect of the Holocaust, the Russian authorities have done everything in their power to hide their crimes.

(It should be noted that the Kremlin committed another genocide, in Kazakhstan, at the same time, killing 42% of their population.)

Gareth Jones, played in the movie by English actor James Norton, saw the Holodomor firsthand, and went against the lead of Stalin-friendly journalists like The New York Times’ Walter Duranty to try and get the truth out beyond the Iron Curtain.

Jones was only twenty-nine when he was murdered, one day shy of his thirtieth birthday.

This film seems incredibly important in this day and age, with people once again reacting to rising fascism by identifying as communists and sympathising with Russia. As this Variety article points out, we live in a similar age to the 1930s, with propaganda and “fake news” dominating much of the press, and most of the world turning a blind eye to atrocities being committed by the Kremlin, and by the regimes in countries like Syria.

Out Now: The Story of Us by Lana Kortchik

The Story of Us by Lana Kortchik

I can’t wait to read this one. Ukraine suffered more death and destruction in the 1930s and 1940s than any other country in the world, and I’m so glad to see some mainstream publishers picking up books (also this one) with these themes.

The Story of Us by Lana Kortchik

Love can’t be defined by war. Watching the Red Army withdraw from Ukraine in the face of Hitler’s relentless advance, Natasha Smirnova realises her life is about to change forever.

As Kiev is cast under the dark cloud of occupation, Natasha falls in love with Mark, a Hungarian soldier, enlisted against all his principles on the side of the Nazis.

But as Natasha fights to protect the friends and family she holds dear she must face up to the dark horrors of war and the pain of betrayal. Will the love she and Mark share be strong enough to overcome the forces which threaten to tear them apart?

Memorial to the Great Purge

KurapatyforestgravesnearMinsk,Belarus_%2Today is Dziady in Belarus, which is both a Slavic feast day and the day Belarusians commemorate hundreds of thousands killed in St

Today is Dziady in Belarus, which is both a Slavic feast day and the day Belarusians commemorate hundreds of thousands killed in Stalin’s Great Purge during Soviet control of the nation.

Not long before the collapse of the Soviet Union, historian Zianon Pazniak revealed the extent of the executions in the Kurapaty forest near the capital city, Minsk.

At least 30 000 people were killed in Kurapaty between 1937 and 1941, but some estimates put the number as high as 250 000.

People who attended the first commemoration – in 1988 – were attacked by the police, and to this day Kurapaty is not publicly mentioned by the pro-Russian government (run since the 1990s by dictator Alexander Lukashenko).

Pazniak fled the country in 1996 and was granted political asylum in the United States.

Happy Birthday to an Icon

Today is Oksana Chusovitina’s birthday. She is now forty-three.

In a world where female athletes rarely get the attention they deserve, I want to mention this seven-time Olympic gymnastics star who also happens to be the mother of an adult son.

Chusovitina was:

* Born in the Soviet Union (Uzbekistan), and is quite possibly the last active Soviet-trained athlete in the world.

* She won her first World Championship titles for the USSR in *1991*, and Olympic gold the next year competing for the CIS.

* Surviving the breakup of the Soviet Union with her career intact (when many others lost funding and coaches), she competed for Uzbekistan at the 1996 Olympics, got married in 1997, and had a son in 1999.

* Immediately after having her child, she competed at the 2000 Olympics. And we’re talking gymnastics here: the hardest sport in the world.

* She won World silver in 2001, and then became World Champion again in 2003 – twelve years after her first win.

* Chusovitina’s son had major medical issues, and the family moved to Germany to access treatment.

* While competing for Germany, Chusovitina won Olympic silver in 2008 – sixteen years after winning her first Olympic medal.

* Since then, she has continued to compete, and compete, even though she is now forty-three and in such a physically demanding sport. She has also worked as a coach.

* She was supposed to retire after the 2012 Olympic vault final (where only the top eight gymnasts qualify – and she made it), but she turned up again at the 2016 Games.

Every gymnnastics generation has their “It Girl” the media goes crazy about when the Olympics come around, but if we’re talking about the greatest ever, my vote goes to Oksana.

The West just does NOT get it.

MKR-russian-ad-social Hammer and Sickle Communism

This week, there’s a suggestion someone finally might act on the disgusting ad for My Kitchen Rules that has been running on Australian television. Anyone who is okay with this hammer and sickle symbol but is horrified by a swastika needs to learn their history. Millions more people died just in Ukraine under that symbol of the Soviet Union than people did through the whole of Europe in the Holocaust – just let that sink in.

Both are evil. Both the Soviet and Nazi symbols are banned in some countries, but both should be banned everywhere.

That Westerners are fine with the hammer and sickle is utterly horrifying. That the world seems to think the symbol of Stalin’s genocidal acts is retro and cute is shocking. The deficiencies in people’s knowledge of history need to be fixed.

We are in a place in the world at the moment where we’re fighting a resurgence of Nazism. However, the very same people who are fighting neo-Nazis seem to be okay with ^^that^^. Being anti-Nazi doesn’t make Stalinism or Communism fine.

On this day: the death of a prima ballerina

In Times Gone By...

Maya_Plisetskaya_-_1974Plisetskaya performing in Carmen (1974)

As Carmen in 1974.

Soviet ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, one of only a handful of dancers in history to hold the title of Prima Ballerina Assoluta, died on the 2nd of May, 2015.

Born into a prominent family of Lithuanian Jews, Plisetskaya completed her ballet training in Moscow, first performing at the Bolshoi Theatre at the age of eleven.

Maya Plisetskaya Grand Jete Ballet Vintage

Despite being one of the most respected dancers in history, she was treated badly by the anti-Semitic Russian authorities. For her first sixteen years of her career she was banned from leaving the country.

Her father was executed during the Stalinist purges, and her mother, a famous Lithuanian film actress, spent several years in a gulag in Kazakhstan.

Maya Plisetskaya Ballet Vintage

Plisetskaya followed in the footsteps of another great Soviet ballerina: Galina Ulanova, and took over her position as the Bolshoi’s star dancer upon Ulanova’s retirement. Plisetskaya was a member of the…

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Six Days in Leningrad by Paullina Simons

Six Days in Leningrad by Paullina Simons

The journey that inspired The Bronze Horseman.

From the author of the celebrated, internationally bestselling Bronze Horseman saga comes a glimpse into the private life of its much loved author, and the real story behind the epic novels. Only a few chapters into writing her first story set in Russia, her mother country, Paullina Simons travelled to Leningrad (now St Petersburg) with her beloved Papa. What began as a research trip turned into six days that forever changed her life, the course of her family, and the novel that became The Bronze Horseman.. After a quarter-century away from her native land, Paullina and her father found a world trapped in yesteryear, with crumbling stucco buildings, entire families living in seven-square-meter communal apartments, and barren fields bombed so badly that nothing would grow there even fifty years later. And yet there were the spectacular white nights, the warm hospitality of family friends and, of course, the pelmeni and caviar. At times poignant, at times inspiring and funny, this is both a fascinating glimpse into the inspiration behind the epic saga, and a touching story of a family’s history, a father and a daughter, and the fate of a nation.

Six Days in Leningrad by Paullina Simons

Pretty much everyone in the world seems to have at least heard of Paullina Simons’ book The Bronze Horseman, which tells the love story of two young people caught up in the Siege of Leningrad during the Second World War.

Six Days in Leningrad is a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the author’s trip to Russia prior to writing the book. It is interesting in its own right, offering a peek into the disastrous experiment that was the Soviet Union and what it was like to live inside it.

Leningrad, now back to its original name, Saint Petersburg, is an amazing, gorgeous place (as long as you avoid the Soviet-era parts!), and a city I have visited more than once. The contrast between the glamour of Russia’s most impressive city and the mess communism created and left behind is extreme, and illustrated wonderfully both in this book and in The Bronze Horseman.

Recommended for fans of the other book as well as anyone interested in the darkest part of the history of Russia.

 

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

 

The Genocide Nobody Knows About

The Western world is largely ignorant about pretty much everything to do with the countries of the former Soviet Union.

This year it is eighty years since Stalin began one of the deadliest genocides in history: the Holodomor. Forcing a famine on the Ukrainian people, conservative estimates of fatalities hover around 10 million, running from 1932 – 1933.

The Western world largely chose to ignore the Holodomor for their own political interests, and then after World War Two, everyone was so horrified by Hitler’s activities, Soviet atrocities were all but forgotten.

Tonight at 7:30 people around the world are lighting candles in their windows to honour the millions of Ukrainians killed in this genocide. The – quite frankly, puny and pathetic – genocide memorial in Kyiv will be the centre of commemorations.

I visited the site last year, and will again next year. It stands in front of the rebuilt St. Michael’s Monastery, one of many structures destroyed by the Soviets. Rebuilt, it is a truly spectacular sight.