An Edge of Ukraine: Linguistic Micro-Landscapes of Kharkiv Oblast

Authors: James Baker*, University Of Nebraska - Lincoln
Topics: Cultural Geography, Political Geography, Qualitative Methods
Keywords: Ukraine, geopolitics, materiality, semiotic, visual, artefacts, landscapes, contested, territoriality,
Session Type: Paper
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Lemaire (2007, 22) writes: “a landscape is the visually represented form of a certain culture at a certain moment. A painted landscape is a represented form of a culture, an explication culturae, a self-explanation and self-representation of a culture.” This paper considers micro-landscapes of Ukrainian nationalism in Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine, as sites of interpretive linguistic landscape research. I contend that Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, is illustrative of a European “borderland” identity (Zhurzhenko 2015), resting on a geopolitical fault-line (Gentile 2019) twenty minutes from the Russian border and 330 km from separatist-occupied Luhansk. Following Stroud and Mpendukana’s (2009) and Juffermans’ (2018, 203) call for “material and ethnographic linguistic landscaping as a resource for ‘the study of social circulations of meaning in society,’ in June, 2019, I visited two locales which serve as sites for the production of a spatial and material discourse of Ukrainian nationalism. First, I investigate public and private buildings and commercial advertising space around Freedom Square, in the city of Kharkiv, including recently decorated cinderblocks which protect the ‘All for Victory’ tent, pitched by Ukrainian volunteers after Freedom Square’s statue of Lenin was pulled down in September, 2014. Second, I analyze linguistic landscapes approaching one horizon of the Ukrainian state: the Hoptivka crossing linking Ukraine and Russia, 36 kilometers north of Kharkiv city. I argue that these sites and objects testify to a constant (re)territorialization of cultural and geopolitical (b)ordering processes, compressed within the semiotic horizons of everyday micro-landscapes.

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