Friday, May 12, 2023

Q&A with Greta Uehling




Greta Lynn Uehling is the author of the new book Everyday War: The Conflict Over Donbas, Ukraine. She also has written the book Beyond Memory. A cultural anthropologist, she is a lecturer at the University of Michigan.


Q: What inspired you to write Everyday War?


A: Everyday War explores the lives of civilians in a country at war. I was inspired to write the book by my experiences living and working in Ukraine. Interviews with people all across that country revealed civilians were engaging with the war in conscious and creative ways like delivering fresh milk, meat, and bread to fighters on the front lines.

Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: As a cultural anthropologist, I carried out ethnographic research in Ukraine. That meant participating in the daily lives of Ukrainians and extensive interviewing. Because the people who were displaced by war – one of the main subjects of the book - were spread out across Ukraine, I traveled a lot using the Ukrainian rail system.


I aimed to speak to as wide a spectrum of different people as I could. My research funding enabled me to live and work in Ukraine during three consecutive summers and over this time period, I carried out over 150 interviews. I wrote Everyday War based on the data I gathered in Ukraine that three-year period.


What surprised me the most as I embarked on my study was how often people told me their greatest concern was that friend and family relationships were being adversely affected by the war. On top of the humanitarian crisis brought about by Russian aggression, there is a relational crisis in which families and friendships have acquired their own fault lines.

As just one example, a woman who was recently married told me her marriage ended because she wanted to evacuate her pro-Ukrainian parents to safety and her husband wanted to stay in Russian-controlled territory with his parents. My book uses the stories of non-combatants to show how personal relationships could become not only an important source of support for survival, but the site of a different, everyday kind of war.


Q: The scholar Maureen P. Flaherty said of the book, “Greta Uehling sensitively, and with nuance, highlights the often-misunderstood early stages of the war in Ukraine and the toll it has taken on its people. In her exploration of the Ukrainian conflict and thoughtful consideration of contextually complex language and culture, she brings many universal struggles to light.” What do you think of that description?


A: I appreciate Dr. Flaherty’s description of the book and it aligns with comments I have received from other people since the publication of the book. Refugees from Serbia, survivors of civil war in Mozambique, and soldiers returning from deployments to the Middle East, to name just a few examples, have told me that reading my book reminded them of some aspect of their own experience during war.  


In bringing universal struggles to light, I hope the book can forge a path towards a new way of understanding war. Considering the number of places in the world where residential areas become targets of military aggression and there are violations of international humanitarian law, it is reasonable to surmise the everyday kind of war I describe in my book isn’t isolated to Ukraine.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: Many people will have heard about Ukrainian resilience in the face of Russian aggression. My book demonstrates the significance of this resilience through stories about the lives of civilians. I hope readers will take away appreciation for how civilians’ activities matter for survival, the dignity of the dead, the peace of mind for the bereaved, and so much more.

Q: What are you working on now?


A: Right now I am working on a book manuscript about indigenous peoples in Ukraine. I’m in the final stages of writing, with just one more chapter to complete. I’m especially looking forward to the future publication of this project because I have enjoyed connecting with the readers of Everyday War. I can’t wait to share my next book with readers when it’s ready!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Thank you for asking. The full title of the book, which contains the word “conflict,” is not a commentary on the significance of the war. Rather, it was developed to adhere to the internationally agreed upon nomenclature. For the first eight years following the outbreak of hostilities, “conflict” was the official term. The full-scale Russian invasion of 2022 marks a dramatic shift in the hostilities, which have now officially been deemed “war.”


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment