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A Ukrainian translator of Noam Chomsky responds to his recent comments on the Russian invasion.

Jonny Diamond

March 3, 2022, 1:44pm

Writer and translator Artem Chapeye sent the following earlier this week in response to recently resurfaced comments by Noam Chomsky about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While Chomsky has been a clear and much-needed critic of American imperialism over the last 50 years, his reluctance to recognize similarly imperialistic inclinations in Vladimir Putin’s Russia has been frustrating to many of his admirers. This includes Chapeye, who has in the past translated much of Chomsky’s writing into Ukrainian.

A short letter to some Western intellectuals. Please share to whom it may concern. I can’t write anything long because we’re still on the run, with my kids who are right here next to me. So, in brief: Ukraine was not “dragged into” war, it was attacked. Without even a pretext like Hitler’s attack on Poland. I know other countries have faced their share of foreign intervention, and right now you’re witnessing overt Russian imperialism. I don’t want to make any flawed historical comparisons, but empires have lost wars against smaller peoples before, and in the end, the Russian imperialist government must lose. When you’re being bombed, when you’re thinking of ways to evacuate your kids, you have a different perspective than when you’re sitting cozy in an office somewhere in Arizona. Yes, Noam Chomsky, I’m looking at you, among others.

I started as a volunteer translator of “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” into Ukrainian—now I’m aghast at how you mention, in one sentence, the lead-up to this invasion: “What happened in 2014, whatever one thinks of it, amounted to a coup with US support that… led Russia to annex Crimea, mainly to protect its sole warm-water port and naval base,” Chomsky said. What if the US occupied Baja, California? Before “overthrowing capitalism,” try thinking of ways for us Ukrainians not to be slaughtered, because “any war is bad.” I beg you to listen to the local voices here on the ground, not some sages sitting at the center of global power. Pleasestart your analysis with the suffering of millions of people, rather than geopolitical chess moves. Start with the columns of refugees, people with their kids, their elders and their pets. Start with those kids in cancer hospital in Kyiv who are now in bomb shelters missing their chemotherapy.

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Artem Chapeye was born and raised in the small Western Ukrainian city of Kolomyia and has spent much of the last twenty years living in Kyiv. He has authored two novels and four books of creative nonfiction, and is a co-author of a book of war reportage. A four-time finalist of the BBC Book of the Year Award, his recent collectionThe Ukraine was one of three finalists in the award’s new nonfiction category in 2018. His work has been translated into seven languages, and has appeared in English in theBest European Fiction anthology and in publications such asRefugees Worldwide in translation by Marian Schwartz.

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