“Dormitory” by Sergey Zadan of Ukraine: How the war affected the lives of ordinary people

The war against Ukraine did not begin on February 24, 2022, but since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, supported separatist forces in the Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk and occupied large parts of them. Fierce battles took place between the Russian and Ukrainian sides during 2014 and 2015 and sporadic clashes did not stop between them until 2021.
War is war: Death, Blood, Pain and dilapidated houses. This devastating war had a catastrophic effect on the fate of many people in eastern Ukraine, during which time at least 45,000 soldiers and civilians were killed. However, no one could have imagined that Ukraine would become the target of a large-scale Russian military attack. And that Europe will witness the first real war since the end of World War II. Ukrainian writers during that period wrote dozens of books about what was happening in the East (Donetsk and Lugansk) and one can study this period of Ukrainian history by reading them.
Sergey Zadan is one of the most famous Ukrainian writers and the author of many books in various literary genres – including novels, short stories, poetry, drama and essays – and is also a translator and musician. He was born in the town of Starobilsk, Voroshilovgrad Province (present-day Lugansk region). He graduated in pedagogy from Kharkiv University in 1996. Needless to say, the topic of war is closely related to him and especially painful for him, as he has spent his entire life in eastern Ukraine. He is aware of the conditions in the region and the lives of its inhabitants before and after Ukraine’s independence in 1991. Zadan is an activist who helped coordinate pro-EU demonstrations in Ukraine and in 2014 was attacked by pro-Russian separatists. . They broke his nose and forced him to kneel and kiss the Russian flag.
In 2017, Zadan published the novel “The Board School”, in which he describes the impact of war on the soul of an ordinary civilian. Unlike some of his other works of art: The structure of the “dormitory school” is characterized by simplicity and clarity. The protagonist is a divorced teacher named Pasha, who lives in a relatively quiet town, called only Mahatta, on the outskirts of a larger city, where a fierce fight is taking place between two unidentified parties.

With the fighting raging, Pasha must enter the occupied territories, where his infant nephew (Sasha) studies and lives, and bring him home safely. Pasha represents the majority of society in eastern Ukraine. He does not know which side he is on in this war, what the country should be like, which language should be dominant, Russian or Ukrainian? And how to understand the country’s Soviet past and its relationship to current events. Pasha teaches Ukrainian in the classroom, as required by law, but he speaks Russian outside the classroom, a small detail that immediately shows to every reader the essence of Pasha’s character, who says: “No one fights against me. I’m not on anyone ‘s side “… I do not even know who is shooting.” Pashai is accustomed to a quiet life, has nothing to do with politics and thinks only about his quiet life and how to get his nephew out of the dormitory. But one day he saw that war is not just a word, it is not something that happens somewhere far away, war has reached its threshold. Power changes, other forces come and it is already difficult to determine on what land his house is located … The novel describes only three days of Pasha’s life, but clearly reflects everything that ordinary people have to go through. There is no description of battles or fighters. Here we are talking about ordinary people, whose lives are being involved in war. Does war bring them closer or distract them? The hero experiences feelings of fear, anger, pain, confusion and despair.

Sergej Zadan

At the beginning of the novel, Pasha does not want to think deeply about these issues. He preferred to live as if nothing had happened: he did not listen to the news, he did not read the newspapers. It was a kind of inner escape because it was easier not to hear and not to see anything. Then nothing hurts you. This is a kind of self-defense that the protagonist uses, because there is no other solution. Even if Pasha wanted to go to war, he could not because of an old hand injury and heart failure. Pasha himself would never have decided to go and bring Sasha if his father had not insisted. The teacher is reluctant, reserved, unaccustomed to making decisions or being responsible for someone or something. He leads a close life: from home to school, from school to home: so life passed and nothing new or interesting happened: “He loved home life; He lived here all his life and planned to continue living that way. The house was built by German prisoners of war shortly after the end of the war – a fairly spacious apartment on the second back road from the train station, their densely populated village was built around this station, where most of the railway workers lived . But the war came. It may be Pasha’s only chance to change and change his lifestyle, but the question remains: Will Pasha accept the challenge? Is not it a very difficult task for a shy and cowardly man – even the prostitutes in the novel are bolder and more manly than Pasha – to face the war and try to save someone else? It is interesting that the young Sasha, unlike Pasha, feels the war more deeply and knows from the beginning which side he is on in the middle of this conflict. The task of rescuing Sasha changed Pasha. He is not a blind patriot, but rather sees events in the center than in the suburbs, even he, the common man, turns and becomes a small hero among the great atrocities he witnessed, and a great hero to himself, though dreams and desires correspond to his previous life: “Everything will be different tomorrow, everything will be as always, as before. Relaxation day at home, where everyone is busy with their own things, where everything is where it is supposed to be and nothing is superfluous, but you have everything you need.

One of the most powerful images of the novel are the numerous stray dogs. Maybe this is again a reference for those hesitant people who are worried and wandering around the world (because they do not feel that Ukraine is their home) and do not know where to settle.

A busy morning: the work you are used to. Quiet evenings. Indeed, there is much joy and much warmth in all of this. You had to be here, in the middle of hell, to feel how much you had and how much you had lost. “All you have to do is go home as soon as possible, finally get out of other people’s disaster circles and get home quickly.”
The names of regions and cities are not specified in the novel, however the reader knows where everything is happening and who the enemy is, but at the same time this novel can be “applied” to other wars as well. Donbass, which includes Donetsk and Lugansk, is described as a marginal province of Ukraine, and the boarding school is described as an image of this marginalization: desolate, ruined, closed.
We can say that the “dormitory” also belongs to travel literature, because the journey of Pasha and Sasha changes and cleanses them. The path is a kind of purgatory, a space that leads to catharsis and healing. One of the most powerful images of the novel are the numerous stray dogs. Maybe this is again a reference for those hesitant people who are worried and wandering around the world (because they do not feel that Ukraine is their home) and do not know where to settle. This is a kind of metaphor for anxiety, denial and homelessness. Are we all homeless like stray dogs when we do not know where we are and where our home is?
Sergey Zadan in the “boarding school” does not know and should not know, and moreover, he should not show which side to take in the war. Zadan described the ordinary marginal Ukrainian, the foreigner in his own country. There are millions of such people in Ukraine, probably everywhere. Zadan does not condemn anyone and no party, he is just talking about a “point on the map” for a small man in a big country. This war more clearly showed the large number of people like Pasha in Ukraine. At the end of the novel, son Sasha convinces his uncle Pasha to let him take a new puppy with him. This polite act symbolizes the brightest days to come.
Zadan talks about “boarding school”
In an interview with the BBC, Zadan said that he wrote this novel about the civilian population, about ordinary people, about their choice and lack of choice, about their position and its absence, the need to take responsibility, the lack of a habit of taking responsibility. And there are very complex and painful issues that many people worry about when asked what he thinks about the fact that someone calls this novel “the main novel about the war”, he replied: It is not true. I do not like when the “dormitory” is attributed to such things that have nothing to do with the text of the novel, but more with the promotion. I never thought of writing the most important book on war. For me it was important to say a few things and I tried to say them. And he added, “I wanted to show in this situation the need to choose and change your attitude towards the world.” Probably not directly related to the war. When a person faces the need to make a decision, he is forced to choose, otherwise he risks losing himself. It is good that here Zadan did not write about the deeds and heroism of a brave warrior, but about a simple teacher. Zadan, of course, is not the first to do so. It was preceded by the French writer Louis Ferdinand Céline, in the novel “A Journey to the Edge of the Night”, which was published in Paris in 1932 and later brought him world fame. As well as the American writer Joseph Heller in his novel “Amendment No. 22”, published in 1961, a novel set during World War II. He is often cited as one of the greatest novels in American literature. “Dormitory” reminds us of the novel by American writer Kurt Vonnegut “Slaughterhouse No. 5” or “Children’s Crusades” published in 1969, which is an autobiographical novel against the war. But the novel “Dormitory School” has a special taste, because it deals with a hot topic even today, and perhaps that is why the Polish Academy of Sciences nominated Sergey Zadan for the Nobel Prize in Literature 2022. Ukraine is a prose wonderful writer. His works have been translated into several international languages ​​and he has won prestigious international awards. In our opinion, this is how a Nobel writer should be. His voice as a writer was of particular importance to his compatriots. A free Ukraine talks a lot and thinks about Zadan’s words, listens to him with interest and today he is fighting in Kharkiv.

Iraqi writer

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