Lera Malchenko: I Notice the Extension

„A mine has a long whistle. A howitzer projectile sounds almost like a mine, but there is less time for escape. „Grad“ in good weather can be heard from afar. A tank. Its shot can be heard along with the hit. „Smerch“ sounds like a take-off fighter“.

These are excerpts from popular advice on Ukrainian social networks. If you haven’t been under fire yet, you’re trying to remember, but in vain. Everything gets confused. However, when your city comes under fire, you just get this experience, the worst possible media experience, which is immediately embedded into everyday life.

still from “new information: The big diffusion theory” by fantastic little splash

„The sounds of war are always reminiscent of the sounds of everyday life, the sounds of everyday life will forever resemble the sounds of war“, — Ukrainians Dima Tolkachov and Maria Matyashova wrote on Instagram. They also wrote that various weapons may sound as if something was rumbling on the construction site, or neighbors were pushing furniture, or a garbage truck overturned a container, or a door slammed in the hallway. And vice versa.

The sounds of the city also become the sounds of war. When you go outside, after air raid sirens, for example, to find water, your heart stops at a hum of a trolleybus, a barely audible electric car engine, or a small power station near a supermarket (“when it appeared here, I didn’t notice?”). A phantom siren is heard everywhere. Weapons are suspected in all machinery.

In the early days of the war, I was thinking about Ernst Junger’s „The Glass Bees“. His narrator is a retired cavalryman who went to war with his horse. He loved his horse, considered it the dearest creature with whom he shared the most horrible moments of his life on a battlefield. Two living creatures before the fear of death became one — the desire to live. And here the main character remembers this first in the history of mankind horror of meeting an inhuman, with the personification of war in a machine — a tank. This is the main thing I remember after reading „The Glass Bees“ — the human and the animal horror of the machine which were merged into one, in this horror they were one. In the same way I’m afraid of „Grad“, „Kalibr“, „Tochka U“ — what else do they have? I find a quote from Junger:

“What was the meaning of this thunderous roar, when on the ground turtles of steel and serpents of iron rolled past, while in the sky triangles, arrows, and rockets shaped like fish, arranged themselves with lightning rapidity into ever-changing formations? Though the display was continual, in this silence and these shouts something evil, old as time, manifested itself in man, who is an out-smarter and a setter of traps“.

I feel more and more like this primitive man for whom danger is now everywhere. NATO has repeatedly refused to „close the skies“ over Ukraine. And the Ukrainian sky, full of Russian missiles, has become a prehistoric danger, almost an element: total and inevitable. Civilian objects, streets, squares are under fire. Civilization no longer promises to get rid of dangers. “The sky is licensed, but not at my home”, — Ukrainian designer Ujn3000 signs his work.

illustration by Ujn3000

I am now in a relatively safe western Ukrainian city, where air raid sirens are sounding, but there have been no bombings. I was taken in by friends of friends, M. and L., people whom I had not known before the war. But they sheltered me, and I still keep thinking how I can thank them. I’m watching how M. plays „Forbidden West“, the second part of “Horizon”, which was published a week before the war.

still from “Horizon: Forbidden West” videogame

The protagonist Aloy, dressed as a fictional indigenous person, fights against powerful animalistic machines. Among other things, in her arsenal — „focus“. It is a device like a thermal imager, which is able to display information about all living and nonliving things around: animals, resources and machines here find continuation in each other.

I notice that the sounds of Aloy’s militaristic gadgets disgust me. All experiences are rapidly shrinking, and then I feel the same rapid extension from within myself. I feel nauseous.

For the first time, I noticed such an extension clearly and consciously on February 22, while watching Putin’s hour-long gaslighting speech. It was a verbal annexation that felt like a real unauthorized aggressive invasion. Hatred, anger, denial of my existence were relayed in a symbolic space — in Russian language. Then it was relayed by technological space — fiber optics made this threat possible. And then I felt like I had become a semiconductor of this hatred. I started to get the jitters. It was repeated on the 24th, with the sounds of explosions in my city, and then had been continuing sporadically for the next four days, during a continuous reading of the news.

Then I felt this extension attack a week later, in an evacuation train. It was a sleeping railroad car with dimmed lights and draped windows, so as not to betray our movement. There were 12-15 people on each compartment, two or three on a shelf designed for one passenger. The children were crying, it was hot, the smell of hastily gathered food was spreading through the car and mixing with the smells of bodies. When the train left, the conductor turned off the lights completely, everything became dark. All that could be heard was the clatter of wheels and the squeak of the old car parts, the whispering of adults, the shushing at children for sudden loud cries, almost nothing could be seen. Men were allowed into the carriages only if there were seats left, mostly women and children were there. In this darkness, forced intimacy, suffocation, I felt us as one biological mass, uterined inside the train, which was rushed, then stood for a long time and creaked softly. Gender scenarios and mass mobilization have erased us all to basic functions in this event. I began to feel sick again and I went to the train vestibule, where I realized that if I do not begin to clearly feel the boundaries of my own body, I will experience dissociation. Focusing on breathing, squeezing one’s hands and patting on the body returned the feeling of being an individual. I am separate from others, I am.

This frightening and at the same time encouraging collectivity has been a part of every Ukrainian’s life for over a month now. Everything living and non-living is interrelated. And in the air raid sirens as well. The third part of Svitlana Matvienko’s diaries reads: “In moments like this, we are probably all united by the flight of the rocket, with most of us probably sharing the same affect. This is a profoundly cybernetic event of control and communication in the animal and the machine: an intermixing of complex heterogeneous systems at a huge scale”.

And even if sirens don’t sound in a city at a particular time, everyone who follows the news sees it in telegram channels, several times for each city, and on the online air raid sirens map, with auto-updates every 21 seconds.

„The body as a network of „my“ relationships and interactions, the body as a tension between the individual and its environment. In this sense, heaping of individuals united by a common territory forms a united but multiple body – a common membrane, where fear, pain but also hope spread from Mariupol, Kharkiv and Kherson to Lviv and Uzhgorod, and now to Warsaw, Krakow, Berlin and Bucharest — and back“, — writes Olexii Kuchansky in the text „Digital Leviathan and its nuclear tail: notes on the body and the ground in a martial law„.

Following the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Kyiv region and the distribution of photos and videos of the bodies of killed and tortured civilian Ukrainians left on the streets and basements, the pain escalated, own — multiplied by the collective, had become unbearable, but it was impossible to get through it alone. Moving and still images that violate Instagram rules have flooded the feeds. Algorithms automatically had found content inappropriate, #bucha #buchamassacre tags were blocked. The company unblocked them in a day, but Ukrainian feeds continued to be blurred. Ukrainians retranslated the terror, but also tried to convey to the outside world what had happened. Blur is an aesthetic way to present products and services, interest users and, at the same time, abstract them from reality.

When I come out of the basement after the sirens go off, it’s completely dark around, but now stars are very visible. The siren is still ringing, and the neighbor’s dog is shouting at her for a long time and plaintively. Perhaps, a month ago, I would have seen in all this a clear confirmation of Luciana Parisi’s ideas about the technoecologies of sensation. „Changes in technical machines are inseparable from changes in the material, cognitive and affective capacities of a body to feel,“ — she wrote. Now everyone feels it in such mediated nervous tremors, dissociations, panic attacks, anxieties and fears, multiplied suffering, inspiration, love, destruction, tenderness, in military units and volunteer graphs, infrastructural spasms — in this high-intensity event — the war.

I notice how my near-theoretical observations seem to me powerless and untimely. „I have to do something different for everyone, not waste time on this.“ I know it’s not so unequivocally, but I just feel that way right now. I know it’s part of the extension, its human source. Our emotions have become so militarized before the start of this war, that when we try to return to ourselves, it feels like betrayal, guilt, threat.

Ukrainian philosopher Andriy Baumeister wrote on his Facebook page about the shifts in social psychology during the war, about collective emotionality: „The ideal is when everyone feels „as one“, experiences „as one“. It is a question of identity and loyalty. My feelings no longer belong to me. […] A depressed and repressed individuality will experience complex emotions. When each of us will be ashamed of our „individual“ feelings and ask ourselves: is it good, is acceptable, or morally have „my own“ emotions and feelings? Is there no betrayal and moral sin in this?”.

When everyone is now a weapon, semi-automatic / semi-human — the desire of the „individual“ is felt as one of the side effects of humanity. I choose to keep it too. Such forbidden little things as just sitting for 10 minutes on the street and watching the movement of people or river; or to smell a blossoming cherry tree; or write and read alone, when I can, something that doesn’t do any good.

It seems, Ukrainians need to invent a special way to win in cyberwars, where the mental and the physical are not opposed, the rational and the sensual go side by side, where you need to remain deceived and not deceived at the same time, expanding and contracting, automating and humanizing, keep vulnerable — to know where to go and where to return.

Lera Malchenko
March 3 – April 8, 2022

Lera Malchenko, journalist and artist from Ukraine. Member of the art group fantastic little splash and founder of media/research/art project Supermova.