Iryna Shuvalova: ‘Donbas is my Sparta’: Identity and Belonging in the Songs of the War in Donbas

The goal of this project is to map and assess identity work in the communities affected by the war in Donbas through the prism of war songs. The study will result in a book addressing the previously unstudied corpus of over 200 songs from Ukraine, its occupied territories and Russia. The project seeks to provide a much-needed examination of the War in Donbas through the prism of cultural processes and the war’s mythologies. In particular, it offers the first in-depth study of the response to the war through popular culture. The songs are first examined at the level of ‘syntax’ before the coming together of these individual syntaxes is traced into the prevalent ‘grammars’ of ‘selfing’ and ‘othering’. The dominant grammars, in turn, are found to reflect two different world-view paradigms persisting in the communities that circulate the songs – one loosely associated with the colonial outlook (as largely identified in the Russian material), the other more closely corresponding with the postcolonial approach (mostly found in the Ukrainian songs). Using multimodal discourse analysis, I will investigate the ways in which the visual, textual and musical vocabularies of the songs reflect and affect these competing grammars.

Iryna Shuvalova is an independent scholar. She holds a PhD in Slavonic Studies from the University of Cambridge where she was a Gates Cambridge scholar. In her current research, she explores how the songs of the war in Donbas reflect identity work in the communities that produce and consume them. Her most recent publication in the Journal of Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society (2020) examines multiple strategies of multilingual expression in contemporary Ukrainian war songs. Meanwhile, her upcoming article in East/West: Journal of Ukrainian Studies explores varying representations of the enemy in the popular songs of the war in Donbas. In addition to her academic work, she is an award-winning writer and translator, and has authored five books of poetry. Her research interests include popular culture and identity studies. She is particularly interested in the contemporary strategies of identity construction in the Eurasian space.

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