Ukraine in the world today - with David Rieff

August 8, 2023

Our guest is David Rieff, a famous intellectual and war correspondent. He is the author of many books, including Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West; A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis; At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention; In Praise of Forgetting: The Ironies of Historical Memory, and numerous others.

He is also the editor of the journals and notebooks of his mother, Susan Sontag, published after her death. He is currently living between New York and Argentina, but regularly visits Ukraine.

The host is Volodymyr Yermolenko, Ukrainian philosopher and chief editor of UkraineWorld.

Here are David Rieff's key-points of this conversation:

  • "What's different in this war is the pretense, I think. The idea that actually you [Russians] claim not just to be a superior civilization and culture, but you also claim you're rescuing [the others]."
  • "There weren't Pushkin statues in every town of Ukraine because he was a great poet, they were there because it was the Russian world."
  • "Even the Serbs, who did all kinds of unspeakable things during the Bosnian War, they never said "you Muslims, you're not really Muslims", they didn't do what's being done here, [when Russians say] that "there's no such thing as Ukraine, there's no such thing as Ukrainian language, there's no Ukrainian culture, there's just Ruskii mir."
  • "One could have a discussion about how much of brutality is in the DNA of not just Russian politics, but of Russian culture. I think it's the war of the culture that wants to dominate."
  • "The European Union had, in my view, a kind of utopian fantasy that you could have soft power without hard power, and it's just not true. And they have discovered this very, very late."
  • "My friend from Germany thought this German-Russian condominium was fabulous: they'll be the cheap energy; we'll be the manufacturers, and this is a great deal. We don't have to worry about, you know, silly things like tanks and self-propelled artillery pieces. And they benefited from it until, in a sense, the bill came due in Ukraine."
  • "I don't share the optimism of some people I meet in this country, Yaroslav Hrytsak for example, who seem to think that Russia can be democratized. I think Russia's hopeless. I think you need an enormous wall of missiles and all that stuff because I don't think it's going to change."

Thinking in Dark Times is a podcast series by UkraineWorld. This series seeks to make Ukraine and the current Russian war against Ukraine a focal point of our joint reflection on the world's present, past, and future. We try to see the light through and despite the current darkness.

UkraineWorld ( is brought to you by Internews Ukraine, one of the largest Ukrainian media NGOs.

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