Cain’s Mark

No longer even a commodity, the idea has become a phantom pain[1].

It was very difficult to start writing this text, because now in Ukraine the well-known idea is becoming especially convincing: “When the guns roar, the Muses are silent.” This expression is a paraphrase of another old Latin saying “Inter arma silent leges,” that literally means, “For among arms, the laws are silent”, but which is more popularly rendered as, “In times of war, the law falls silent.” The aphorism was likely first written in these words by Cicero in his published oration Pro Milone (a speech made by Marcus Tullius Cicero in 52 BC on behalf of his friend Titus Annius Milo).[2] This saying states the fact that when the laws are violated (for example, the prohibition of murder during wartime), art and creativity fade into the background. It is difficult to be creative during wartime; physical mundane existence hinders creative energy and ideas. Psychoanalysis, in so far as it is an art and form of creativity, also fades into the background of a day-to-day struggling  to deal with the simplest “basic” matters related to  survival.

Adherents of crisis psychology (popular and in demand during wartime) write that psychoanalysis and other methods of depth psychology are not in demand in periods of war or life-threatening situations. Today, being in Kyiv, we are daily convinced of this fact. Due to the existing circumstances, psychoanalysis as a practice has been reduced to a minimum for my colleagues and me, psychoanalytic creativity has been put into cold storage, postponed until better times. However, I should note that psychoanalytic theory and principles are a lifesaver for me. “Who has tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge…” (gave himself/herself to psychoanalysis) can no longer imagine life without it. Freud’s Thoughts for the Times on War and Death (written in 1915 at the height of the First World War) may serve as an excellent example of this fact. This paper describes the states and feelings of people immersed in war, as well as social processes taking place at such a time. Freud’s language is persuasive and precise. One cannot better express the disappointment, confusion, “blindness of logic”, nor the loss of values that are habitual in times of peace.

Viewing what is happening in the significant part of European territory, you can’t help but remember Lacan, who developed Freud’s thoughts in his Х Seminar L’angoisse, by noting that a person and humanity are not aimed at their own good, but are moved by destructive drives. Today this idea is vividly illustrated every moment.

In this text, I wish I could refrain from considering politics or globalistic processes and scenarios and stay in the field of psychoanalytic reflections. Indeed, the events of this war radically and completely changed the ideas about the world, the values, as well as awareness of oneself and other people at the epicenter of the tragedy. However, in this difficult time, it is psychoanalysis that really takes my mind off the fear, anxiety, uncertainty and ephemerality of every moment; I mean the few sessions that I have with my analysands (setting and free association), my personal analysis and the texts by Freud, Lacan and other psychoanalysts. These activities seem to move all that’s happening away from me. Needless to say that this is an illusion, since there is no distance between me and the ongoing events: here, in Kyiv, we hear explosions, the roar of cannonade, we fall asleep with wailing sirens, and throughout this horror psychoanalysis is a saving respite in the experience of reality. I would like to think that it is a real resource and future in order to get through what is happening.

As already mentioned, in this text I would like to stay in the psychoanalytic space. Although, today it is very difficult to keep “an equidistant position regarding different sides of the conflict”, not to affirm the dichotomy of the good and the evil. I will only note briefly that the invasion of our country caused strong resistance from all Ukrainian citizens. But, of course, it is nothing to be surprised about! However, as has been happening in previous times, the attacking side had the illusion that the “military special operation” would happen with lightning speed. It seems as if history teaches us nothing!

My beloved city of Kyiv is mutilated by anti-tank hedgehogs, concrete bollards, shot cars and other shambles and destruction. And that is to say nothing of the building (especially dear to me), where two weeks ago the International Institute of Depth Psychology and the Ukrainian Association of Psychoanalysis were located – the organizations that have been reviving and developing psychoanalysis in Ukraine for more than twenty years. Now everything is in accordance with the laws of war. This is my heartfelt deep pain and loss. Kyiv looks like a huge stage-setting for a military tv-series. While moving around the city, I wondered why war movies do not belong to the horror movie genre? Indeed, in real life, the war is truly terrifying.

It is especially hard for me to talk about this war, because it is literally tearing me in two parts. I lived for a long time both in Russia and in Ukraine. The period of my training and education is associated with Russia; and my formation, development and professional implementation is linked to Ukraine. And both these parts are incredibly valuable and dear to me. My closest relatives and friends still live on the other side of the confrontation – in Russia. But in Ukraine there are also near and dear ones, relatives, colleagues, fellow employees and friends. And I cannot leave them in search of “somewhere quiet”, because they won’t be able to come with me. As for my national affiliation, this is also a very complex issue that does not allow drawing a line of demarcation (corresponding to today’s confrontation). I recall Anna Freud, who refused to speak German after the Second World War (perhaps, the family spoke Yiddish – a mixture of German, Ukrainian, Russian, Polish and other languages spoken in the territories where the Jewish people lived at different times), and the rest of her life she spoke English. However, it should be noted that after the Second World War, Freud’s texts were translated into English by James and Alix Strachey, and The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud was published. Thus, psychoanalysis “could speak” English at full breath. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same about Ukrainian yet. In March 2022, the Dictionary of Psychoanalytic Terms  was supposed to be published in Ukrainian. Today there are very few translations of classical psychoanalytic texts in Ukraine. And we are forced to note that Ukrainian psychoanalysis is mostly based on the Russian translations. This is the fate of inextricable linkages.

Languages were closely intertwined in the destinies of many people in our territory. For example, my maternal grandmother spoke Ukrainian, or rather, Surzhyk – a mixture of Ukrainian and Russian languages; and my paternal grandmother spoke Russian, or rather, its Kuban dialect – a result of the mixing and interpenetration of the Russian and Ukrainian languages, southern Russian and Ukrainian idioms, and also dialects of residents from other regions of Russia who migrated to the Kuban. And, frankly speaking, as a child, I absolutely did not notice any language differences. My grandmother, who spoke Ukrainian, cultivated a love for the writings of Gogol (and I read them in Russian). Since then, Gogol has been my favorite writer. And with my grandmother, who spoke Russian, we read many books by Ukrainian writers: Taras Shevchenko, Ostap Vyshnya, etc. Both of my grandmothers are buried in Ukraine. My maternal grandfather went missing somewhere in Europe, and the grave of my paternal grandfather is in Russia. Both of my grandfathers have died before I was born, but they defended one and the same Motherland in the Second World War. Is it possible to divide all of this into two parts?

One can consider Internationalism to be among the greatest achievements of the Soviet era. It united people of different nationalities and leveled down (in a positive sense) national, ethnic and racial differences. I remember, while studying at school, when asked about nationality, you had to answer: “In our country a special community of people has been formed – the Soviet people”. And I liked this idea, because in my family different nationalities were intertwined, and it was not necessary to choose any one, refusing the rest.

However, today all symbolic ranks, values, supporting myths, family and human ties are collapsing; the accents are being placed in a new way. And even these days, we observe with particular clarity the difference between war and revolution. In Ukraine, during the years of its independence, we experienced two revolutions: in 2004 and 2014. Neither in the first, nor in the second case was the psychoanalytic work in the office and the teaching of psychoanalysis in the classrooms  interrupted . Now all psychoanalytic activities are possible ( not in full) only in online environments (what quarantine has taught us). It is as if a war that directly threatens human life takes the body out of psychoanalysis. The body, which is involved most notably in ongoing events, responding both to psychic manifestations, such as fear, anxiety, grief for the lost, and to material discomfort. As Lacan would say, with  fear the Symbolic disappears, and the subject functions in the register of the Real.

In the early days of the war, an unusual thing happened to me that can be called an erroneous feeling or a hypnagogic hallucination (as Freud calls it in The Interpretation of Dreams). My unconscious, so to speak, signalized what was happening. When falling asleep on my side (in the fetal position), suddenly I clearly felt that someone was holding me by my heel. This only lasted for a few moments, but it was so clear that I could not get rid of the reality of this feeling, and I immediately began to think of what that might mean. The first thing that came to my mind was the biblical story of Esau and Jacob.[3] The name Jacob means “holder of the heel”, he was born holding his twin brother Esau’s heel. They were fraternal twins, but later on a deadly enmity erupted between them because of Jacob’s deception of their aged and blind father in order to receive Esau’s birthright/blessing, and therefore he had to flee, trying to escape from his brother’s retribution. Probably, in such metaphors one could consider the history of relations between Ukraine and Russia. As I continued my associations, a mistaken recall or contamination happened. I erroneously recollect the names of these brothers as Isavov and Iyak, and these two erroneous names rang insistently in my head. Analyzing this, I came to the conclusion that by rearranging the syllables in this way, one can see that the ending “ov” (which is typical for Russian surnames) was added to the name Esau (Isavov), and the name Jacob (Iyak) can be read as a question in Ukrainian “I yak?” (And how?). Thus, this small “erroneous sensation” in my body was able to show a scream coming from the unconscious, addressed to the “Russian half-brother: “I yak? And how, how could that happen?”

“In the confusion of wartime in which we are caught up, relying as we must on one-sided information, standing too close to the great changes that have already taken place or are beginning to, and without a glimmering of the future that is being shaped, we ourselves are at a loss as to the significance of the impressions which bear down upon us and as to the value of the judgements which we form. We cannot but feel that no event has ever destroyed so much that is precious in the common possessions of humanity, confused so many of the clearest intelligences, or so thoroughly debased what is highest. Science herself has lost her passionless impartiality; her deeply embittered servants seek for weapons from her with which to contribute towards the struggle with the enemy”[4] – Freud wrote about the war in 1915.

Today we are particularly aware that our war has started well before the Russian troops crossed the borders of Ukraine. It had already started in the virtual media space; discord and confrontation were sown and fueled for quite a long time. Even now, crushing battles are taking place in online social networks and the media. In this virtual war there are many “dead”, because people are like zombies: “relying on one-sided information” they crawl out “from their graves”, and with their “sightless eyes” they are “wandering around” in search of “living blood”.

However, it is impossible to allocate guilt for what is going on in any one field. Peoples, formed from the same source, are always marked by the phenomenon that Freud called “the narcissism of minor differences”. As you know, this term appeared in his work Civilization and Its Discontents in 1929: “I once discussed the phenomenon that it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and in ridiculing each other – like the Spaniards and Portuguese, for instance, the North Germans and South Germans, the English and Scotch, and so on. I gave this phenomenon the name of ‘the narcissism of minor differences’, a name which does not do much to explain it. We can now see that it is a convenient and relatively harmless satisfaction of the inclination to aggression, by means of which cohesion between the members of the community is made easier.”[5]

In our case, it is impossible to get by with a “harmless satisfaction of the inclination to aggression”, and it is also hard to talk about what happened, relying only on the narcissism of minor differences, since there are many people on either side of the front, possessing different, closely intertwined national characteristics. That is to say, it is absolutely impossible to draw the line of territorial distinction.

As we know, minor differences are expressed by language, by variations in pronunciation, in writing, in traditions and generally in so-called “techniques of the body.”[6] In related languages, many words can be reversed or replaced by others while keeping the same meaning. The link that unites the signifying and the signified aspects of the linguistic sign in various related languages is baseless and random. The study of “minor differences” therefore belongs to “semiology” – that is, the science of “the class of systems based upon the arbitrary nature of the sign.”[7] Since minor differences are arbitrary by nature, it would seem that we could be easy-going about the possibility of their replacement by others, because in doing so we enrich ourselves by multiplying our cultural capital. Nevertheless, the war shows us the seamy side of human culture.

In real time, in our case, today we are witnessing how the harmless smoldering of hostility and rejection, devaluation and mockery, based on the narcissism of minor differences in the past, triggered a colossal explosion, all the effects of which can be assessed to the full only in the distant future. I really want to believe that the end of this fratricidal madness is near and contrition is inevitable.

It is curious that the words “raskayanie” (contrition), “kayatsya” (to repent) both in Russian and in Ukrainian languages, etymologically and in sound, are traced back to the name of biblical Cain, who killed his brother Abel, whereas in other languages these words have a different origin. The English word “contrition” comes from Latin “contritio” (grief, contrition). This word passed from Latin into the Old French “contriciun” (French “contrition”), and then into English, meaning the act of grinding or rubbing to powder; attrition; friction; rubbing. These are the hidden contents of contrition in English, French and other Romance languages.

In the linguistic field of the related Slavic peoples the biblical myth of fratricide is hidden. Being hidden in the depths of the language, today this myth is unfolding with all its inexorability and cruelty in our country, breaking off relations and ties, destroying ideas and beliefs, rehashing human destinies. I really want Someone to stop this terrifying fratricidal bloodshed and to restore the Law.







[1] Žižek, S. Nakanune Gospodina: sotryasaya ramki. – M.: Europe, 2014. (A collection of papers by a Slovenian philosopher, published in Russian as an independent book).


[2] M. Tulli Ciceronis Pro T. Annio Milone Oratio,


[3] I would like to draw your attention to the transliteration of these names from Russian, since this fact will be important in my interpretation: Isav stands in for Esau, Iakov stands in for Jacob.


[4] Freud, S. (1915) Thoughts for the Times on War and Death. SE, Volume XIV, pp. 274-300.


[5]Freud, S. (1930) Civilization and Its Discontents. SE, Volume XXI.


[6] Mauss, M. (1968) Techniques of the Body in Marcel Mauss, Sociologie et Anthropologie (with introduction by Claude Levi-Strauss), 4th edition, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.


[7]Saussure, F. de (1986) Course in General Linguistics, trans. Roy Harris, ed. C. Bally & A. Sechehaye, New York: Open Court.


Svetlana Uvarova – Ph.D., psychoanalyst, Master Degree in Psychology (Strasbourg University), founder and rector of the International Institute of Depth Psychology (Kiev, Ukraine), President of the Ukrainian Association of Psychoanalysis (Kiev, Ukraine); a Board member,
a certified training analyst and supervisor of the European Confederation of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapies (Vienna, Austria); a member of the World Council for Psychotherapy (Vienna, Austria); President of the International Federation of Psychoanalysis (Strasbourg, France); editor-in-chief of the journal Psychoanalysis. Chronicles (Kiev, Ukraine); a member of the Editorial Board of the European Journal of Psychoanalysis (Rome, Italy) and editor-in-chief of its Russian language version, the author of books and numerous papers on psychoanalysis.

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