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EXHIBITION: “The river screamed, howled like a wounded animal”

On June 6, 2023 , Russian troops blew up the Kakhov reservoir dam, committing another war crime during a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The social and environmental consequences of this event will only be assessed in the future. We return to the past to examine the processes carried out by Soviet modernization: the construction of a cascade of hydroelectric power stations on the Dnieper and the ideological rethinking of Ukraine’s water resources.

Along with other megalomaniac Soviet projects, the construction of the HPP — especially Dniprolstan (1927-1932) — was generously covered in movies and interpreted by artists, including Dzyga Vertov, Oleksandr Dovzhenko, Ivan Kavaleridze, Arnold Kordyum, Yulia Solntseva.

However, Ukrainian Soviet films sometimes showed not only positive images of large-scale constructions, but also pre-modern forms of coexistence with rivers, as well as the negative consequences of industrial exploitation of water bodies.

The current tragedy gives us a reason to look at the cinematic representation of the subjugation of the Dnieper and to ask questions about the future coexistence with rivers and seas. It also prompts us to seek delicate ways of “decolonizing nature” in the context of the political decolonization of the state from the Russian invader and imperial influence.