Romanticization and Demonization: Galician Landscapes in Russian Combatants’ Narratives During the Great War


  • Alexandra Likhacheva



World War I, Eastern Front, belligerent landscapes, war experiences, anthropomorphisation, ecological history, narrative


In terms of environmental history, the First World War represents one of the most significant information gaps of the Anthropocene, where the type of warfare and the fall of empires intensified the destructiveness of the interaction between people and nature, changing the geological and cultural characteristics of Central and Eastern European landscapes. The collision of mass armies with foreign landscapes and militarized natural environments left an indelible stamp on personal accounts of the Great War. The imagery of nature, both as an uncontrollable force and as an object of impact, abounds in a broad diversity of textual and visual sources, which range from official documentation to private correspondence and from propaganda newsreels to personal photographs. It appears that pictures of landscapes destroyed or transformed by war (as well as the related epidemiological and climatic threats) contributed to shaping combatants’ existential experience to the same degree as short military operations. Unlike the universalized experience of the Western Front countries in the available literature on the environmental and spatial history of the First World War, the multiple ways in which mobile belligerent landscapes of the Eastern Front were experienced and perceived are yet to be addressed documentarily as well as methodologically. The article aims to reconstruct the horizons of expectation and environment construction strategies in combatants’ individual narratives and to identify the meaning of belligerent landscapes in the formation of specific behavioral strategies and practices on the Eastern Front of the world’s first industrial war. The analysis of ego-documents (letters, diaries, and memoirs) left by participants of WWI has identified a diversity of models for anthropomorphizing environmental objects and phenomena on the Eastern Front, which range from romanticization to demonization. The author aims to establish the way the perception of belligerent landscapes depends on the cultural baggage, prior experience of warfare, military branch, and the density of contacts with civilians populating the militarized spaces. One of the key messages of this study is the suggestion that the militarised environment’s signification through religious, literary, epidemiological anti-Semitic and other lenses contributed to the normalization of combatants’ mortal terror of war, their negative military experience, mourning, and nostalgia for the lost life-worlds.

Author Biography

Alexandra Likhacheva

Senior Lecturer, Yaroslavl State Pedagogical University named after K. D. Ushinsky.

108/1, Respublikanskaya Str., 150000, Yaroslavl, Russia.


Bakhturina, A. Yu. (2014). Galitsko-russkoe blagotvoritel’noe obshchestvo i galitskie “moskvofily” v nachale XX veka [Galician-Russian Charitable Society and Galician “Moscowphiles” in the Early 20th Century]. In Bezborodov, A. B. (Ed.). Trudy Istoriko-arkhivnogo instituta. Vol. 40. Moscow, Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi gumanitarnyi universitet, pp. 17–28.

Belov, V. M. (1915). Litso voiny: zapiski ofitsera [The Face of War: An Officer’s Notes]. Petrograd, Knigoizdatel’stvo byvshee M. V. Popova. 182 p.

Burchak, L. I. (1915). Galitsiya, ee proshloe i nastoyashchee [Galicia, Its Past and Present]. Moscow, Chitatel’. 38 p.

Ekk, E. V. (2014). Ot Russko-turetskoi do Mirovoi voiny. Vospominaniya o sluzhbe, 1868–1918 [From the Russian-Turkish War to the World War. Memories of Service, 1868–1918]. Moscow. 573 p.

Fussel, P. (1975). The Great War and Modern Memory. N. Y. Oxford Univ. Press. 368 p.

Hobsbawm, E. (1992). Terence Ranger: The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge, Cambridge Univ. Press. 309 p.

Il’in, I. S. (2016). Skitaniya russkogo ofitsera. Dnevnik Iosifa Il’ina. 1914–1920 [The Wanderings of a Russian Officer. Diary of Joseph Ilyin. 1914–1920]. Moscow, Knizhnitsa, Russkii put’. 480 p.

Koselleck, R. (2016). “Prostranstvo opyta” i “gorizont ozhidanii” – dve istoricheskie kategorii [The “Space of Experience” and the “Horizon of Expectations” Are Two Historical Categories]. In Sotsiologiya vlasti. Vol. 28. No. 2, pp. 149–173.

Lewin, K. (1917). Kriegslandschaft. In Zeitschrift für Angewandte Psychologie. No. 12, S. 440–447.

Mamin, R. G. (2011). Ekologiya voiny [Ecology of War]. Moscow, Ekonomika. 492 p.

Petrone K. (2011). The Great War in Russian Memory. Bloomington, Indiana Univ. Press. 385 p.

RGIA [Russian State Historical Archive]. Stock 834. List 4. Dos. 605. Rasskazy soldat i unter-ofitserov tsarskoi armii o boevykh epizodakh vo vremya 1-i mirovoi voiny 1914–1915 godov.

RNB [National Library of Russia]. Stock 1139. Dos. 340. Ognev Ivan Nikolaevich, letchik, pis’ma Nikolayu Vasil’evichu i Tat’yane Ivanovne Ognevym 1916–1917.

Smirnov-Runskii, A. (1914). Na voine. Zapiski stroevogo ofitsera [At War. Notes of a Combat Officer]. Petrograd, Tipografiya M. I. Akinfieva. 48 p.

Stein, O. (2016). “Orientfahrten”. Deutsche Soldaten im Osmanischen Reich und der Krieg als Reiseerlebnis 1914 bis 1918. In Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift. Vol. 75. No. 2, S. 327–358.

Stepun, F. A. (1926). Iz pisem praporshchika artillerista [From the Letters of an Ensign of an Artilleryman]. Prague. Plamya. 267 p.

Tanfil’ev, G. I. (1915). Galitsiya i Bukovina. Geograficheskii ocherk [Galicia and Bukovina. A Geographical Essay]. Odessa, S. n. 52 p.

Tornau, S. A. (1923). S rodnym polkom (1914–1917 gg.) [With His Native Regiment (1914–1917)]. Berlin, S. n. 144 p.

Vergun, D. N. (1915). Chto takoe Galitsiya? [What is Galicia?]. Petrograd, Lukomor’e. 65 p.



How to Cite

Likhacheva, A. (2023). Romanticization and Demonization: Galician Landscapes in Russian Combatants’ Narratives During the Great War. Quaestio Rossica, 11(2), 603–616.



Problema voluminis