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Nekulturny – A Poem

Say it with me: Ne-kul-tur-ny

The Russians look down on us—they claim we in Asia are boorish, uncivilized

And yet,

Ours is not the nation that bends to the will of a rabid madman

Manufactures frozen conflicts

Or starts a fratricidal war.

Moscow sends its ill-equipped young men to die for an imperial fever dream

Then deceives their mourning mothers with this lie:

“Your son gave his life protecting civilians from the Nazis.”

We did not murder families fleeing Kyiv on the Zhytomyr Highway,

Punching bullet holes through a handwritten sign—CHILDREN—taped to the window

Our soldiers do not shoot grandfathers on bicycles, gang-rape women

Nor defecate like animals on the floors and seats of public buildings

Is this what being “cultured” means?

Dropping bombs on schools, hospitals, a theater sheltering hundreds

Targeting Kramatorsk railway station when it was filled with evacuees,

The missile’s side scrawled with a message in pure white paint:

FOR THE CHILDREN.

We are not the ones trying to erase Ukrainian culture, burning books as the Nazis did

Shelling a museum filled with Maria Prymachenko’s priceless paintings

Stealing land and property—watches, jewelry, iPhones, even washing machines

Deporting the unwilling to far-flung corners of an already-dead empire.

The Russians claim all this is “liberation”.

We, the nekulturny, did not smash our moral compass in Mariupol

Nor bury our last shred of humanity in the trenches of Bucha.

What kind of nation accuses a neighbor with a Jewish leader of neo-Nazism

Then declares its intent to wipe that country off the face of the earth?

We are not the ones threatening the whole world with nuclear annihilation,

Attempting to play victim while blaming the other side for our own war crimes

Or stoking global hunger by blockading Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

Moscow complains of “Russophobia”, but what if I told you it was all self-inflicted?

They cannot blame us that their very identity has turned into a byword for barbarism and brutality.

I almost recoil in disgust when I hear the words spoken:

Russian banya. Russian caviar. Russian oil.

Nyet, nyet, nyet.

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. This is very sobering, James. I wasn’t aware of the term nekulturny which was (still is?) used by some Russians to describe Asians. I really think the current war in Ukraine is unnecessary — not that we need war anywhere in the world. It all stems from one man’s ambition who delves too much in the memory of a vast empire. If there is one ‘good’ thing that comes out of this is now many people are curious about Ukraine and want to know more about the country, its history, and its rich culture. One day when the war is over, I imagine droves of visitors flocking to the streets, art galleries, and museums of Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv, Odesa, and — who knows — Mariupol, among other places to marvel at Ukrainian cultural heritage and to soak in the spirit of the Ukrainians.

    May 23, 2022
    • I wish and hope for the same outcome, Bama—a full restoration of Ukraine after the invading Russian forces have been driven out entirely. It is unbelievable to me that there are people outside Russia’s information bubble who actually support Putin in his genocidal conquest. I look forward to the day the dictator and his inner circle stand trial in the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

      May 23, 2022
  2. Difficult to read and “like,” but how I admire your outrage-driven courage to write it. I had to look up the word, but even then, like Bama initially, I didn’t understand that this was used as an insulting term for Asians. The weakest always need to hold someone else down to simulate strength and cover their own wretchedness.

    May 24, 2022
    • Thank you, Lex. I’ve been thinking of writing this poem for weeks now, and certain lines have popped up in my head over time. Then just a few days ago I sat down one morning and it all came together. My own sister is watching the war in Ukraine very closely as she lives in Latvia, so if Russia decides to invade the Baltics then she too—and my kindergarten-age nephew—will be forced to flee for the safety of another country. My understanding is that the Russians generally see all of Asia as uncultured/uncivilized (hence the broad use of the term “nekulturny”) and Europe as the direct opposite.

      May 24, 2022
      • That’s hitting a little too close to home for you and your family! I really hope your sister stays safe.

        May 25, 2022
  3. I haven’t heard that term before. Thanks for posting this – well written and I’m sure you said what a lot of people have been feeling.

    May 26, 2022
    • Cheers, Matt. In my opinion, no decent person in their right mind could possibly support what Russia is doing. It also angers me that certain politicians and so-called experts in the West are arguing for Putin to be given off-ramps so he can “save face”, which would only reward Russian aggression and pave the way for yet another war. Nobody was saying this when the Allies were fighting Hitler and Nazi Germany during World War II.

      May 26, 2022
  4. Reblogged this on Lloyd Lofthouse and commented:
    Putin’s lies cannot hide the truth to those who refuse to become programmed lemmings.

    May 31, 2022
    • Thank you for sharing my poem, Lloyd. I recently watched a video of a journalist interviewing both the Ukrainian and Russian ambassadors to Indonesia (separately, of course). It was sickening to see the Russian diplomat unashamedly parroting those lies from the Kremlin, and how she painted her country as the victim in all this.

      May 31, 2022
      • Who are the Nazis in this war and how can we tell?

        The BIG LIE was promoted by Nazis before and during WWII, and Ukraine isn’t lying but Russia is … through their FALSE teeth.

        June 1, 2022
  5. Such a powerful poem, James. Another strong reminder of the continuing tragedy occurring in Ukraine and the relentless, unforgiving government of Putin and Russia. And the horror of this is how this war is fueling tensions and creating chaos ~ especially for the children and innocents who are dealing with this now and will carry it over long into the future. As strange as it is, art in the form of your poetry and all we’ve seen pour out through this war, is one of the pillars of support that will in the end be the strength of the voices of the majority. The voices of people who make this world a better place.

    June 27, 2022

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