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Oleg Shynkarenko: Кагарлик (Kaharlyk)

Shynkarenko initially wrote this novel on Facebook, at the rate of a hundred words a day, before it was published in book form. It is described as an alternative reality, describing Ukraine some time in the future, following Russian occupation. Exactly when in the future it is set is unclear. One character suggests it is 2101. Other characters have other ideas. Whatever the date, it is clear that Ukraine is not doing well and has become essentially medieval, in that machinery, computers, electricity and so on have disappeared. Transport is primarily by horse (or bullock) and cart or on foot. The population has been massively depleted. More interestingly, time has been altered in that it moves slower in some places, such as the eponymous Kaharlyk, than others.

Our hero is Oleksandr Sahaidachnyi, a direct descendant of Petro Konashevych-Sahaidachny, a seventeenth century Ukrainian political leader. In the introduction, the translator,Steve Komarnyckyj, explains a few things, including in-jokes, the language and some of the historical references.We learn that Oleksandr Sahaidachnyi, is, in fact, three fold. he is firstly a normal human, secondly that of an uploaded mind to the rebellious satellite known as Funny Russian Satellite (FRS)which opposes the power of the Kremlin and, thirdly, of him operating again as an uploaded mind known as Yuri Gagarin and controlling a satellite which is hostile to Funny Russian Sputnik. This element is completely loyal to the Kremlin and espouses a simple primitive orthodox fundamentalism. The Trinity aspect and its relation to Christianity is not coincidental. Indeed, we will actually meet God or, as he prefers, god, who dies during the course of the book.

The business of up- and downloading minds is also key to the novel. There exists a device called a morphone, whereby the consciousness of a human can be download to this device and that consciousness will continue to function. Its disadvantage is that it will not evolve like the mind of a real human but remain as it was when it was downloaded to the morphone. This is what has happened to Oleksandr which is why, when we meet him he has lost much of his memory. We will also come across several people through their morphone personas, though their human body is dead, including Putin.

The book starts with Oleksandr finding himself in a room with white walls. He has no idea where he is, when he is and why he is there. Wandering down the corridor, he finds Birgir Hansen who is from the Faroes and the reason behind this is another in-joke explained in the introduction. Oleksandr does remember he had a wife called Olena and wants to find her. Birgir tries to dissuade him (Find a good relationship, grow vegetables, milk a cow) but Oleksandr is determined to look for her. Birgir advises him that the only worthwhile place to look for her is in Kaharlyk so off he sets.

En route he meets an old man, Petro, who offers to take him in as he is lonely so Oleksandr lives with him for a while hunting, shooting and milking. However Petro dies so Oleksandr sets off to Kyiv. The Bohirodytsa Russian Liberation Army rule the road to Kyiv (according to them at the request of the Ukrainian government) but Oleksandr gets through. He finds a dying priest called Mikhail Kalashnikov. i.e. same name as the inventor of the Kalashnikov gun, who dies but says Pure Ukrainians are Russian people. Everything else is just Polish manipulation before he dies. He also has his consciousness transferred to a morphone which accompanies Oleksandr on his travels. He is looking forward to the seventy-two virgins he will have in paradise.

We follow his adventures in Kyiv (population: 124) including the war of the former mayors, an environmentally conscious Putin and more about the Ukrainian-Russian war. But Oleksandr’s search for his wife is not going well, though he gets clues about her whereabouts. The problem, is that it seems he has not seen her for twenty-five years and is not sure that he would recognise her.

While his search is going on, we are following not only his travels around what is left of Ukraine, such as to a town entirely underground, which halted the Russian advance, and a town where people constantly disappear and re-appear, but we are getting interjections. These can be from people’s morphones, from Yuri Gagarin and Funny Russian Sputnik, and, apparently from comments from his Facebook readers.

We also learn that things have been or may have been more complicated. The Kremlin has been destroyed and the Chinese have successfully invaded or is this all part of a five-dimensions novel? We also learn that Birgir actually lives on Mars and is part of a project to make the planet habitable for humans. Birgir is not too happy there as his nearest neighbour on Mars is a thousand kilometres away. However he is not too happy in Ukraine, either.

This is certainly a very original and complicated novel, even if somewhat bitty. As it was written well before the illegal Russian invasion it is somewhat prescient though who knows how accurate it will turn out to be. Accurate or not, it was a very enjoyable read.

Publishing history

First published in 2014 by Serhiy Pantyuk Publishing House.
First published in English in 2016 by Kalyna Language Press
Translated by Steve Komarnyckyj