The Death Collectors: The Material Culture of War as a Means of Reclaiming Agency in Eastern Ukraine

Alisa Sopova


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This article explores the material culture of war in the civilian context in eastern Ukraine. Preserving, collecting and creatively transforming pieces of armament and other military objects has become a very common activity among the population of the war zone in the region of Donbass. Military conflict here continues for more than five years directly affecting about four million people on the ground. Drawing on data from my fieldwork on both sides of the frontline enduring since the outbreak of the conflict, I investigate the cultural and social meanings behind the engagement with war artefacts in the frontline communities. I scrutinize this phenomenon through four angles: (1) collection of material objects as a means to deal with trauma and gain symbolic power over these objects, (2) material culture of the Second World War and its special meaning in post-Soviet Ukraine, (3) physicality ofmatériel as evidence of human rights violations in the war zone, and (4) recontextualization of the objects of war by assigning a different function to them. I conclude that engagement with material objects of violence serves for the people affected by the war as a symbolical reassertion of agency and control over their lives.


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