Star writer moved to Lutsk: – Humor saves Ukrainians

Star writer moved to Lutsk: – Humor saves Ukrainians

It’s a coffee break in the office community of Lutsk, Ukraine. There are still a few years before Russia goes to war, and Swede-American Johannes Lichtmann is listening to the stories told around the coffee table. Then the Ukrainian took the floor – he is the head of the office community. He has a joke he wants to tell:

Nestled between a gray valley called Germany and the white tundra called Russia, Vårherre has amassed an abundant meadow of yellow flowers. When the Ukrainian people saw their new homeland, they exclaimed: “What have we done to deserve such abundance? Why have you blessed us with such wealth?”

Then God said to the Ukrainians: “Let me introduce you to the neighbors.”

The story of the joke is one of several that Johannes Lichtmann reproduces in his latest book, Invitation to Ukraine, based on his experiences and encounters with people when he was living in Lutsk in 2018-2019. Humor is the focus of the book—as Lichtman believes it is also present among Ukrainians:

— and is doing so even after Russia escalated into all-out war last year. It is clear that Ukrainians use humor as a survival strategy.

Bullied: – Called the fucking gay

Forward with jokes

When Johannes Lichtmann met Dagbladet Bok in New York, he had just attended a meeting of readers in the neighborhood nicknamed “Little Ukraine”. The 37-year-old debuted in 2019 with Good Job. Now he is garnering critical acclaim for his second novel, in which he portrays a well-meaning but slightly arrogant American who goes to Ukraine in 2018 to teach Ukrainian telemarketers English.

See also  They trusted Russia to save them. Now they are used as cannon fodder in Putin's war.

So not quite unlike Lichtman himself, who was part of the moving load when his roommate settled in Lutsk to study for a year. Lichtmann earned a living as a writer. And hit people.

It used to be that people I met were quick to tell jokes. And through jokes you learn a lot about culture, says Lichtman, referring to a Ukrainian acquaintance who posted the following “advice” on Twitter when the Russian bombing started and Ukrainians lost power:

“Don’t use a gas stove as a hair dryer, folks. It leads to unfortunate results.”

Lichtmann chuckled.

– The response to the hint came in the form of lots of “likes” and new jokes.

– What characterizes Ukrainian humor?

– It’s as dark as it is funny. They often contain an element of resignation, says Lichtman, quoting a fellow American writer who is said to have said that the Kiev city coat of arms should show a person shrugging.

Zelensky method

Johannes Lichtmann believes that it is no coincidence that comedian and actor Volodymyr Zelensky assumed the presidency in the spring of 2019 with three-quarters of the vote.

– He is a good talker who showed great courage. But just as important is that you can’t cheat or bribe your way to a sense of humor. Ukrainians know what’s funny, and Zelensky is funny. I think that explains a lot of its appeal.

Comic background: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during the press conference related to the Northern Summit in Helsinki in May.  Photo: Javad Parsa/NTB

Comic background: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during the press conference related to the Northern Summit in Helsinki in May. Photo: Javad Parsa/NTB
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In “Ukraine Call,” Lichtman also indulges in voices critical of Zelensky. This was one of the reasons why the 37-year-old was so afraid of the new venture when the Russian invasion was a reality.

– Total War changed the context of the release. Although I would characterize the narrative as pro-Ukrainian, and that I have attempted to portray an important period in the country’s history, I am not claiming that Ukraine is perfect. I was afraid I was suddenly doing a wartime comedy show.

Have you considered canceling the book project?

– I thought about radically changing it, but the more I changed, the less original I felt.

comic rule

The New York Times calls Lichtman “a prodigious thinker and social satirist.” The 37-year-old isn’t going out of his way to spite his homeland either. In the middle of “Calling Ukraine,” the protagonist gets an American girlfriend who talks so loudly that she “shouts.”

– Her voice symbolizes the self-confidence and superiority of Americans, their inability to respect customs and usage. Most things go quietly and politely in Ukraine — unless you go to the pub after midnight, says Lichtman and continues:

– A lot of what that girlfriend is playing is also not true, like Ukrainians don’t allow disabled people outside. It’s an old Soviet cliché without an iota of truth.

– The Russians also have a tragic history. What makes their humor different from Ukrainian?

– I think the difference is in “ruling humor” vs. Colonial humor. When Russian writers, politicians, or musicians speak out against the war, they rarely speak out for Ukraine. There is an opinion that Russians consider Ukrainians to be peasants or little brothers, and that “you can only stay in the family if you behave.” Much Russian humor revolves around mocking Ukrainians and other former Soviets in the provinces.

How do you think the war will end?

– With the defeat of Russia. As long as the West remains strong and united in its support of Ukraine, there will be no written concessions or peace agreements. I mean, why would anyone trust Russia?

Go to Biden

Lichtman, who was born in Stockholm and raised in California, lives in Washington and still lives with the same partner. He passes the White House on the way to and from the office, closely following the preparations for the elections in the United States.

Biden could shoot me in the leg, and I would still vote for him. This applies whether he faces Trump or DeSantis, or an obscure third candidate. While there have been many disappointments associated with Biden, at least I don’t wake up in the morning wondering if I still live in a democracy.

Jabori Obasanjo

Jabori Obasanjo

"Coffee trailblazer. Certified pop culture lover. Infuriatingly humble gamer."

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