A Ukrainian soldier in France speaks about writing and recovery

Ahead of the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, Ukrainian soldier and author Oleksandr “Teren” Budko spoke to FRANCE 24 about his path to recovery after losing both legs, his approach to writing and his patriotism.

On a recent evening at the Ukrainian Cultural Institute in France, Oleksandr “Teren” Budko stood with his interpreter before a large audience of Ukrainians and other nationalities. Blond and with a boyish face, the 27-year-old Ukrainian soldier was on the French leg of his European book tour for “Story of a Stubborn Man”. The autobiography interspersed with memories from the front lines recounts his road from civilian to soldier and then to battle-scarred veteran.

Budko began writing the book in October 2022, just two months after losing both legs after a shell landed near him in a trench during the counteroffensive for the city of Kharkiv. “I found inspiration for my writing on the front lines,” he said. Even before the injury, he had been publishing short texts accompanied by pictures of him and his buddies in combat gear as they worked to repel the Russian enemy.

Athletically built and wearing a quilted blue shirt and shorts that showed his prosthetics, Budko was as comfortable as a stand-up comedian in front of a crowd. “There is no truth in the leg,” he said, repeating a Ukrainian proverb that suggests a person who has walked a lot cannot tell the truth because they are tired.

Appreciation for a war hero

Yet he wanted to get as close to the truth as possible while writing his book. He wanted to capture the voices of his comrades and the sights and the sounds of what he experienced in eastern Ukraine. He would try to write, but then get stuck with month-long bouts of writer’s block. A trip to Florida, where he went to get fitted with sports prosthetics so he could participate in the Invictus Games, finally changed something in him. “I was there under the sun, I swam in the sea in Miami, I ate at McDonald’s – and this gave me the perfect circumstances to write this book,” he said.

Thousands of miles away from Ukraine, he revisited his prior experience as a Ukrainian soldier. His days were filled with rehabilitation but, at night, he would write. Like plunging into the nearly clear waters off the Atlantic coast, he immersed himself in his memories of fighting the war and typed them up on a computer.

“Some of the people I wrote about in the book are dead, and that’s why it was so hard to write the text,” said Budko. Luckily, many people in the book did survive, “including my comrade Artem”, he said, nodding toward a young man in a wheelchair sitting in the front row. The audience responded with lengthy applause in appreciation of the two young men for their sacrifice – and for coming home alive.

Memories from the war

Budko agreed to an interview the next day to talk about what led him to fight in the war and his memories from that time. After a visit to Paris‘s Carnavalet Museum, with its elaborate displays dedicated to the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, the young man in a black hoodie settled at a kebab restaurant on the Rue des Rosiers, an eclectic street in the Marais neighbourhood of central Paris. He was accompanied by his editor and a lively group of young Ukrainians who, judging by their level of excitement, appeared to be visiting the French capital for the first time.

Sitting with his back against the wall, a bit apart from the group, Budko suddenly seemed less like a comedian and more like a wise old man. “I wrote this book for civilians and for people who had never seen war, so they could understand what happens on the front lines,” he said. 

Through his interpreter, Budko said he was in Kyiv when the war began on February 24, 2022. “I signed up as a volunteer because I wanted to defend my country from the enemy and help it gain independence,” he said.

Although he had never held a weapon before in his life, he joined the Carpathian Sich 49th Infantry Battalion, a battalion of the Ukrainian Ground Forces established in May 2022. After some training and taking part in the defence of the capital Kyiv, Budko was deployed to northeastern Ukraine near Izium.

Most people in the battalion were volunteers who accepted the consequences of their choice, remembered Budko. “Of course Bakhmut and Avdiivka exist (two besieged cities known for scenes of the most ferocious violence of the war), but the life of a soldier is not only about fighting,” he added.

Budko recalled one moment when he ate a slice of foie gras for breakfast: “For me, it was a sign I was still alive,” he said. Despite being trained as killing machines, Budko said he and his fellow volunteers continued civilian life to the best of their ability, preparing traditional meals like borscht, a red beetroot soup, and taking the time to enjoy them with each other. This also meant saving abandoned cats and dogs and evacuating elderly people from zones that had become too perilous for them to stay.

An invincible optimism

From the trenches, the soldiers watched Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speeches and followed news reports on military support from abroad. “We were interested in how the war was going to end, but of course the weapons situation was important too, because without weapons it was going to be impossible to end the war,” said Budko. “Despite the many weapons given, it was never enough.”

Writing the book also allowed Budko to relive some of the moments from “one of the best times of my life”, he said. The adventure, the camaraderie and the moments of peace, such as when he would lie down on the ground with a book, seem to have left Budko with a sense of nostalgia devoid of any bitterness. But today he preferred not to talk about the day he suffered the injury that caused him to lose both legs: “There is no trauma, but I’ve told the story too many times.”

Budko said he has always been endowed with an invincible optimism. He said what changed after the injury is that he “became braver and more open to people”.

Thinking back to his time in the service, the young man recalled the discovery of a small kobzar (a Ukrainian bard) figurine he made one day while digging trenches in the Kharkiv region. The statue was more confirmation that the lands were Ukrainian, he said, because kobzars never existed in Russia. It further convinced him of his role in preserving Ukrainian territorial integrity.

Ahead of the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Budko likened the war to a “David against Goliath” struggle and voiced a warning about the existential nature of the threat: “The less support Ukraine gets, the closer the enemy gets to other European countries.”

With this in mind, his goal today is to “contribute to the Western population’s understanding of the war, and encourage them to support us so that they can help obtain a Ukrainian victory as soon as possible”.

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Florida Schools Now Protecting Kids From Smut Like Sexy, Sexy ‘Paradise Lost’

In exactly the sort of development you’d expect in the midst of a moral panic and censorship campaign, we learn this week that one Florida school district isn’t limiting itself to removing modern-day smut like sex ed or books about gay penguins. The Orlando Sentinel reports that, thanks to a new state law that requires the removal of any school materials for review as soon as someone files a complaint, books like A Room With A View, Madame Bovary, and even John Milton’s 1667 biblical fanfiction epic Paradise Lost have been pulled from Orange County Public Schools, at least until media specialists can check to make sure they’re not porn. Hell, even Ayn Rand has been censored, instead of allowing high schoolers to find out for themselves what a terrible writer and human she was.

The story notes that several works that have regularly been used in classes are on the rejected list, like The Color Purple,Catch-22,Brave New World, and The Kite Runner. Naturally, the district has also removed both The Bluest Eye and Beloved by Toni Morrison, who can’t seem to help herself terrifying white parents with books that are entirely too much about Black women how dare she.


Virginia Mom Begs Voters Not To Let Toni Morrison Kill More White Children With Words

100 Year Old Lady At Florida School Board Better Patriot Than All Book Banners Put Together

Ask The Gay Penguins How ‘Limited’ Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Law Is. YOU CAN’T THEY’RE BANNED

The district hasn’t yet finalized its lists of what books will be permanently banned or restricted to certain grade levels, and which will be allowed back into classrooms; the district’s “media specialists” are spending the whole summer reviewing every single book in classroom libraries to make sure children aren’t corrupted by mentions of sex, gay people, or Black people who don’t smile obligingly enough, we assume.

The Sentinel explains,

Some books rejected earlier this summer, among them “The Scarlet Letter” and Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” have since been approved, according to the lists shared with the Orlando Sentinel by a district teacher and by an advocacy group that obtained a rejection list through a public records request. Other books have been approved but only for certain grades.

Four plays by William Shakespeare, including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” are currently listed as approved for grades 10 through 12 only, as is Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” and Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the lists show.

Fans of The Simpsons will recall that Streetcar! is a musical spectacular featuring the sexy, muscular Ned Flanders and the cheery closing number, “You Can Always Depend on the Kindness of Strangers (A Stranger’s Just a Friend you Haven’t Met).”

Many books are being rejected — temporarily or permanently — because for some reason there’s mention of sex, which Great Literature never mentions but smut like Othello does. The explanation listed for many titles on the rejected list is simply “Depicts or describes sexual conduct (not allowed per HB 1069-2023,” which Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed as part of his presidential campaign. Pretty cruel to have a censorship law with 69 in it, if you ask us.

The new law makes book challenges easier and, if the concern is sexual content, requires the books to be removed from the shelves within five days and remain inaccessible to students while being reviewed. Republican lawmakers said they passed it to make sure pornography and books that depict sexual activity are kept from children.

Mind you, there’s really not any porn in schools, and the law includes an apparently useless clause noting that even works with nudity or boinking can only be considered pornographic if they lack “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” Of course, once there’s a complaint, that has to be determined by the school media specialists.

The Sentinel spoke to a teacher who said, “The last thing I would have expected to be rejected is Milton,” what with Paradise Lost being a “cornerstone of Western Literature” and all that. Yr Wonkette hasn’t looked at it since comparative lit in grad school (Dante and Chaucer are way more fun), but yeah, there are indeed sex scenes in Paradise Lost, including Adam and Eve Doing It before the Fall (and unmarried at that, because there’s no sin in the Garden) and after. Hope you’re ready for some hot fuck action:

Handed they went; and eased the putting off
Those troublesome disguises which we wear,
Straight side by side were laid; nor turned, I ween,
Adam from his fair spouse, nor Eve the rites
Mysterious of connubial love refused

They was NAKED. Then after the Fall they screw again, only lustfully. Yeah, yeah, we know, you’ll be in your bower.

The ninth grade teacher said he believes the new laws imply that “I have horrible intentions for my students,” when he simply wants to get kids excited about reading and understanding literature, and isn’t that always the excuse they give when they’re peddling smut like Kurt Vonnegut and Alice Walker and Edgar Allen Poe?

“We are in this because we really care about the stuff that we teach and really care about the content we get to introduce our students to,” he said.

If the rejected list doesn’t change, he said, he will have to remove novels like “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream” from his classroom bookshelves as they are rejected for all grades, as well as “Crime and Punishment” and “In Cold Blood,” which are now rejected for 9th grade, which he teaches.

Yeah, that Dostoevsky, what a creep. Another teacher said she was “gobsmacked” to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream rejected, even temporarily, and was downright angry at the rejection of works she had used in advanced placement classes, like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, which like virtually all the books mentioned here has yet to be adapted into a porno.

She selects novels “to engage my students, to offer them literature that makes them think,” and some books meant to describe “the adolescent experience” contain sexual content. But they are not pornographic or inappropriate and it upset her to see them on the rejected list.

“It’s just so frustrating and disheartening,” she said.

You know, it’s almost as if writers think sex is an important aspect of human life and motivation, an essential part of literature, even. That’s what kids have to be protected from, for sure. Fahrenheit 451 had it right: Books just make people unhappy, so best we get rid of them.

[Orlando Sentinel / Image generated using DreamStudio AI and Photoshop]

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Florida School District Will Protect Little Kids From Joe Biden’s Socialist Inauguration Poem

In the latest news from the school censorship battlefield — along with the Washington Post investigation (gift link) which found that most challenges to books in US schools were filed by just 11 people, yes really — we learned yesterday that Miami-Dade County Public Schools restricted access to a book version of “The Hill We Climb,” Amanda Gordon’s poem from Joe Biden’s inauguration in 2021.

Remember what a joyful, beautiful reading Gorman gave us that day?


Previously: After Vogon Poetry Years Of President Before Biden, Let’s End Our Day With Amanda Gorman’s Inauguration Poem

But darn it, the poem and some books about Cuba and Black history were simply too much for one angry parent, who demanded that they all be removed forever so they wouldn’t fill little kids with Wrongthink, according to documents released by the kick-ass anti-censorship nonprofit The Florida Freedom to Read Project. Specifically, and ungrammatically, the complaint about the poem explained it “is not educational and have indirect hate messages.” The parent who complained also listed “Oprah Winfrey” as the author, apparently because Oprah’s name is on the cover — she wrote the foreword.

In a statement, Gorman said she felt “gutted” by the action against her poem, noting that book censorship frequently targets those “who have struggled for generations to get on bookshelves,” and that the “majority of these censored works are by queer and non-white voices.”

She said that she’d written “The Hill We Climb”

so that all young people could see themselves in a historical moment. Ever since, I’ve received countless letters and videos from children inspired by The Hill We Climb to write their own poems. Robbing children of the chance to find their voices in literature is a violation of their right to free thought and free speech.

Well sure, but what about all the hidden hate messages, which were in fact so well hidden that we couldn’t even find them in the text of the poem that the parent complained about:

We’ve braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,
And the norms and notions of what “just is”
Isn’t always justice

And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
A nation that isn’t broken, but simply

I guess it must be CRT because discrimination is in the past so why bring it up? Or the Mad Mom thought it invoked the chant “No Justice, No Peace”?

The Miami Herald, which first broke the story (subscriber-only link), explains that as a result of the challenge, four of the five titles the parent was unhappy about were placed on the middle school shelves at one school that houses kindergarten through 8th grade, but not removed entirely — just de facto unavailable to kids up to fifth grade. Stephana Ferrell, director of research and insight for Florida Freedom to Read, told the Herald that moving the books

underscores a growing trend to redefine what is considered age appropriate, “especially regarding books that address ethnicities, marginalized communities, racism or our history of racism.”

“Books written for students grades K-5 are being pushed to middle school [libraries and] out of reach for the students they were intended for,” she said. The books aren’t being banned from the district, she argued, “but they’re banned for the students they were intended for.”

Before you know it, schools will be insisting that moving the Gay Penguin book to county nursing homes isn’t censorship, it’s simply about making it available to an “appropriate” age group.

The Herald spoke to Daily Salinas, who is not a newspaper in California but actually the parent who complained about the poem and other titles, and who wanted them removed “from the total environment,” although she also said she isn’t for censorship, no, not at all. In addition to “The Hills We Climb,” she objected to four other titles, The ABCs of Black History,Cuban Kids,Countries in the News: Cuba, and Love to Langston,all four of which are aimed at elementary school readers.

After the Herald story published, the Florida Freedom to Read Project posted to Twitter the complaint forms for the four books, in which Salinas complained the Cuba books indoctrinated students with “socialism” and “communism” because duh, it’s Cuba and “Castros are the dictators.” The other two books have Black people in them, so they are of course filled with “CRT” and “indoctrination,” because little kids are ripe for critical race theory, the law school area of study. Also, The ABCs of Black History allegedly includes both “CRT and Gender Ideology,” whatever that might mean to Ms. Salinas.

A review committee examined the books and found that none of them were guilty of “indoctrination,” hooray, but the committee also decided that only one book, Countries in the News: Cuba, was “balanced and age appropriate in its wording and presentation,” so it could stay in the elementary section of the library. The other four were found to be “more appropriate” for middle schoolers, although how exactly that was determined seems iffy.

The committee sent Gorman’s poem to the middle school shelves because its “vocabulary” was “of value to middle school students”; it was also found to be “of historical value” and therefore not too indoctrinatey.

Despite Love to Langston being labeled for ages 8 to 11, it too was sent up to middle school, because the “content and subject matter of poems in this collection were determined to be better suited to middle school students.” The poetry, we’ll add, is by the author, Tony Medina, as a biography in verse of Langston Hughes. Maybe it’s just too incendiary for nine-year-olds. The content in Cuban Kids was also found to be better for middle schoolers, although it’s mostly just a collection of, as the title says, photos of kids in Cuba.

Finally, the most absurd decision sent a freaking alphabet book, The ABCs of Black History, to the middle school shelves, with the bizarre logic that

although the book’s illustrations, presentations, and book jacket indicate this book was written for ages 5 and up, the [committee] determined the vocabulary and subject matter presented was more appropriate for middle school students.

We all know how jazzed kids in grades six through eight are about learning their ABCs, or perhaps in the minds of the committee, their BLMs and their ACABs.

So let’s all celebrate that instead of being banned, these works have been relegated to the middle school shelves of the library, where only the Gorman poem is likely to ever be picked up by an actual student. (Have you met middle schoolers? They tend to react to anything they think is for little kids like it was Kyryptonite Jr.)

The Herald asked Ms. Salinas, who is not for censorship, what she thought of the decision to retain one book in the elementary section and move the others to the middle school section. She wasn’t too happy, saying that

the books should have been removed for all students. School libraries are meant “to support the curriculum of the school and I don’t see how these books support the curriculum,” she said.

And finally, we should note that, according to a Twitter thread, with photos, posted by “Miami Against Fascism,” Ms. Salinas isn’t only a would-be schoolbook censor who rallies with Moms for Liberty/Censorship; she’s also attended Proud Boys events and appears to have posted to Facebook a summary of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” so that’s nice.

[NBC News / Miami Herald (subscribers only) / Florida Freedom to Read Project / WaPo (gift link) / Amanda Gorman on Twitter / Florida Freedom To Read Project on Twitter]

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