Letter to a Turtledove

Artists Dana Kavelina
Genre Video
Edition Survival 20
  • 20’55”
  • 2020

In “Letter to a Turteldove”, Kavelina intertwines her graphic work, animation and writings with archival films showing coal mining in Donbas from the 1930s to 1970s as well as the footage of the Russian military invasion in 2014. An important inspiration and crucial source of material is the anonymous five-hour documentary “To Watch the War” published on You-Tube in 2018, which consists of 422 video clips shot by different authors in the conflict zone in Donbas over five years.

By bringing together the images of coal extraction, military conflict and an intercepted letter to a lover, Kavelina points at mechanisms of domination that violate both a woman’s body, a nation and the earth. As she declares, the film “is an invitation to understand the war not through the lens of the ‘friend-enemy’ distinc-tion, but through the ‘rapist-victim’ dichotomy” and an attempt to build an alternative optics of viewing the war in Ukraine. For Kavelina, the victim, who is often perceived as someone whose subjectivity has been taken away, possesses agency by absorbing and encapsulat-ing violence, but without transmitting it.

The themes addressed in this video from 2020 have recently become only more urgent, in particular the notion of a nation’s self-determination and reckoning with its past. The introduction of the historical footage proposes a dialogue in which Ukraine’s Soviet legacy is not erased but interrogated. While resisting the revisionist politics, the juxtaposition of the archival and recent footage – and the heritage carried by them – creates a space for the emergence of a contemporary Ukrainian identity.