Ukraine features heavily in today’s news with Russia’s invasion and subsequent hostilities. Yet, many of us know very little of its role in history. This small selection of books may help us have a greater understanding and appreciation for a country and culture that has had, and continues to have, a central place in European affairs.
Good citizens need not fear / Maria Reva – “These immersive linked stories grapple with Ukrainian history through the waning years of the USSR and birth pangs of democracy…Reva’s characters spark off the page as they confront a brutal bureaucratic past with the only tool they possess–hope.”–O, The Oprah Magazine
Don’t tell the Nazis / a novel by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch – It is June 1941 and after the brutal rule of the Soviets the people of Krystia’s small Ukrainian village are inclined to look on the German invaders as liberators; but soon the Nazis start rounding up Jewish Ukrainians, and Krystia is faced with a terrible choice–risk everything by helping her Jewish friends and neighbors to hide, or save herself and her family by doing nothing.
Here, right matters : an American story / Alexander S. Vindman – Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who found himself at the center of a firestorm for his decision to report the infamous phone call that led to presidential impeachment, tells his own story for the first time. Here, Right Matters is a stirring account of Vindman’s childhood as an immigrant growing up in New York City, his career in service of his new home on the battlefield and at the White House, and the decisions leading up to, and fallout surrounding, his exposure of President Trump’s abuse of power.
Ukraine What everyone needs to know® / Serhy Yekelchyk – Conventional wisdom dictates that Ukraine’s political crises can be traced to the linguistic differences and divided political loyalties that have long fractured the country. However, this theory obscures the true significance of Ukraine’s recent civic revolution and the conflict’s crucial international dimension. The 2013-14 Ukrainian revolution presented authoritarian powers in Russia with both a democratic and a geopolitical challenge. In reality, political conflict in Ukraine is reflective of global discord, stemming from differing views on state power, civil society, and
The last empire : the final days of the Soviet Union / Serhii Plokhy – Describes the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, dispelling the myth that the event was spurred on in part by the close relationship between George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev. Drawing on recently declassified documents and original interviews with key participants, Plokhy presents a bold new interpretation of the Soviet Union’s final months and argues that the key to the Soviet collapse was the inability of the two largest Soviet republics, Russia and Ukraine, to agree on the continuing existence of a unified state. By attributing the Soviet collapse to the impact of American actions, US policy makers overrated their own capacities in toppling and rebuilding foreign regimes. Not only was the key American role in the demise of the Soviet Union a myth, but this misplaced belief has guided – and haunted – American foreign policy ever since”
The road to unfreedom : Russia, Europe, America / Timothy Snyder – In this forceful and unsparing work of contemporary history, based on vast research as well as personal reporting, Snyder goes beyond the headlines to expose the true nature of the threat to democracy and law. To understand the challenge is to see, and perhaps renew, the fundamental political virtues offered by tradition and demanded by the future. By revealing the stark choices before us–between equality or oligarchy, individuality or totality, truth and falsehood–Snyder restores our understanding of the basis of our way of life, offering a way forward in a time of terrible uncertainty.
From Cold War to hot peace : an American ambassador in Putin’s Russia / Michael McFaul – In 2008, when Michael McFaul was asked to leave his perch at Stanford and join an unlikely presidential campaign, he had no idea that he would find himself at the beating heart of one of today’s most contentious and consequential international relationships. As President Barack Obama’s adviser on Russian affairs, McFaul helped craft the United States’ policy known as “reset” that fostered new and unprecedented collaboration between the two countries.
Lessons from the edge : a memoir / Marie Yovanovitch – An inspiring and urgent memoir by the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine–a pioneering diplomat who spent her career advancing democracy in the post-Soviet world, and who electrified the nation by speaking truth to power during the first impeachment of President Trump.
The sky unwashed / a novel by Irene Zabytko – Marusia Petrenko lives with her family in a small farming village in the Ukraine. The year is 1986. Her son, Yurko, leaves for his shift at the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl. In a matter of hours, the lives of Marusia, her son, and the rest of the village change forever as they find themselves in a permanent evacuation of their village. Chernobyl has had a meltdown. Marusia eventually returns to the village along with 5 other older women who are determined to live out their days in the village of their birth.
More books which touch on Ukrainian life and history in different degrees