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Youth Culture in a Warzone

Words:

Edd Norval
February 3, 2020

Wherever we are, there are some things that will always be with us. As long as people are around, there will be culture and when there are young people, youth subcultures will emerge. Alongside that, twenty years after the Millenium is the ubiquity of the internet. These two - culture and life online - combine to provide Golden Coal with a platform to document Donbas' youth culture - an area that is torn apart by war - and all of the complications that come with it.

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To say 'complications' is an understatement perhaps. The disputed region situated between Ukraine and Russia has been torn apart by war, houses becoming outposts and streets flitting between eerily quiet and active arena for shootouts.


Donbas' unique geography does men that it is like a cultural Venn Diagram, with Ukraine on one side and Russia on the other - where they meet is the small area whose voices are amplified by the need for its youth to be heard over the gunfire. Golden Coal is their megaphone. The magazine is an anthropological gold mine in terms of documenting underground culture and how such cultures survive and thrive in such a place.


The uniqueness of the situation, such a depository of ideas and inspiration in one of the most dangerous areas on earth, gives the whole thing a sense of beautiful chaos, that this is fertile ground for ideas and that various strands of thought coalesce comfortably on its pages. Nothing is off-limits. These kids just have to look outside their window to see what's going on in the world, their world, to see that not much they do could be any worse, nor, really make a huge impact on such tensions as exist 'outside'. Instead, it's a channel to escape and to build their own future as shaped by their 'post-Internet' existence.

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Creating their own vision doesn't mean hiding from the one outside though. The 'zine, even its name, is deeply indebted to the region's culture. Economically speaking, the Donbas region is heavy industry. Particularly coal. Coal is what keeps people alive, through warmth and wage, allowing an otherwise fractured place some sense of continuity. To them, the harsh blackness of coal is one way out, to them, it's their gold.


Creative outlets and various forms of art have become a source for the area's youth, split into Luhansk and Donetsk, to concentrate the loneliness and isolation experienced from the war into something more constructive. Rather than an overarching melancholy or nihilism, attitudes have instead tended towards resilience. It's evocative of the 2Pac metaphor - the rose that grew from concrete.


Now available in English here, the 'zine has a post-Internet aesthetic, with references to the contemporary culture available online that binds us all together and homogenises us. What sets their cultural tales apart from ours - their identity - is the context, something that is worth bearing in mind for every joke they make or inspiration they cite. It wouldn't be fair to say that their surroundings defined them wholly though, as they were living under more normal conditions pre-2014, when the war began. It has, certainly, conditioned the way they think, behave and act that we shouldn't overlook.

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Not only shouldn't we overlook this fact, but the creators don't want us to. This is a publication born out of the war, because of, not in spite of. This is clear in the way that the conflict is a touchstone throughout, being referenced heavily in the interviews and graphic stylings. When everything, in the annals of history, is catalogued with this conflict - Golden Coal should be seen as a reference point for future sociologists, historians and anthropologists alike.


Bold from the cover, taking a mockingly, almost satirical jibe at the 'post-Soviet' aesthetic of fashion designer Gosha Rubchinskiy's Russian-themed sportswear, with a poorly edited mock-up of a graphic combining a Donbas-themed flag with that of the rebel flag flown in former Southern states in the US. Its statement isn't as overtly political as social, pointing out that here are a group of people who belong to, nor are embraced by, any one culture wholly.


Featuring stories that continue in the same vein, as artists creating patchwork projects through the region's dispora, things like drawing projects that try to redefined their region's identity and squatting in Ukraine as a means of resistance, but more importantly, practicality for survival in a place where nothing is stable - particularly the economy - show its focus on diversity of subject.

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An important voice in their native language, that the magazine has now managed (in its third issue, nonetheless) to expand into an English edition, is telling. It's now not just an outlet for people of the region, but an inroads for those on the outside to get a perspective that goes beyond media interpretations and state propaganda - two subjective insights that have thrived on covering the conflict as a means of further respective agendas.


Combatting this, the artists creating the magazine have given this as a platform for the 'direct speech' of those from the region, as opposed to further fuelling either side's interests. It becomes about personal truths and understandings. Golden Coal allows feelings in there too, gives a face to a name, a full story rather than just a quote in a paper.


For the artists and young creators in the region, the magazine is a means of expression and of documenting their lives as restricted by limited clothing shipments, curfews and the overbearing nature of life in a warzone. Now, for us able to read in English, it's a way to try to understand how these things come to be. How the unimaginable can so quickly become a twisted version of normal and how people are able to make the transformation between survive and thrive in a way that is both interesting and relateable. It's as much about differences as similarities - a sort of utopian vision for how life could be if the youth had it their way. It is, in essence, revolution in PDF form.

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