Understanding Ukraine Master Post

It’s not easy to find unemotive reports about what is happening in Ukraine right now.

The history of Europe and the West with Russia is a long and complex one and the seeds of the current war can be found in this historic relationship. Modern day leaders, politicians, oligarchs, journalists and historians all play a part in promoting their view of the world. It can be hard to make sense of it all.

Living in the West it has been relatively easy over the years to read & understand our ‘side’ of the story. Yet our understanding of history is constantly being revised & updated as new information comes to light and new ways of looking at history are explored. It can be hard to tease out the facts from the propaganda.

Whichever ‘side’ you are on, there are always everyday regular folk who support their political leaders, and those that don’t. Sometimes we know what our leaders are really up to and sometimes we don’t, or not until it’s too late.

Thoughtful readers of history understand and question biases, preconceived assumptions and look for authors to back up their claims with supporting documents, footnotes etc. None of this is easy to do in our current world where emotions run high, where many only get their news from social media platforms that use algorithms to feed them more of the same and ‘fake news’ has become the norm. One tries to ascertain what the biases of the author might be. One checks up on sources and bibliographies where possible. One remains sceptical instead of believing everything related or reported.

Understanding Ukraine is a reading event to help me (and you if you’d like to join in) to resource and read more widely around this topic. Not only the history books and political biographies but novels by Ukrainian & Russian writers, those still at home and those now part of the diaspora.

In the past, I have read many Russian classics that detail life in Russia at various points in history. Books by Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky & Pasternak mostly. Their stories reveal how tender and loving, stoic and fatalistic the Russian people can be. These stories show how the Russian character is formed by their environment. I would like to discover, if and how, Ukrainian authors share or differ from this narrative.

One of the comments made by Sheila Fitzpatrick in her recent book, The Shortest History of The Soviet Union concerned the ways in which Ukraine is/was revising it’s foundational narrative. As a lover of history, revisionism is not a new concept to me. It’s something we all do, on a personal level and at a more global level as we uncover new information, gain further insights, understand our prejudices and biases better, take on another’s perspective etc. But I’ve been mulling over this comment ever since. What was the Ukrainian origin story and how has it evolved?

Lived experience is often different depending on where you are, your age, socio-economic group etc compared to the ‘history’ that is related in text books that deal only with the leaders, politicians and power brokers. They have their place. And I’ve read quite a lot of them over the years, especially the period in the lead up to, and including, the Russian Revolution (an era I studied at school and university).

My TBR pile contains the books below.

Some have been with me, waiting for their turn, for quite some time. Some are books that cater more to Mr Books reading patterns. Some I have no idea how or when they arrived! I don’t expect to read all of them or even find them all useful to this project. This is simply my starting point. And this is a place to collate my reading and my thoughts as I go along.

Fiction:

  • A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian | Marina Lewycka (2005)
  • Stalingrad | Vasily Grossman (1952)
  • Life and Fate | Vasily Grossman (1960)
  • The White Guard | Mikhail Bulgakov (1925)
  • The Master and Margarita | Mikhail Bulgakov (1940)
  • And Quiet Flows the Don | Mikhail Sholokhov (1928 -32, 1940)
  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich | Leo Tolstoy (1886)
  • Axiomatic | Maria Tumarkin (2018)

Non-Fiction:

  • From Russia With Love | Heidi Blake (2019)
  • Red Notice | Bill Browder (2015)
  • October | China Miéville (2017)
  • Secondhand Time | Svetlana Alexievich (2013)
  • Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future | Svetlana Alexievich (1997)
  • The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II | Svetlana Alexievich (1983)
  • A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891 – 1924 | Orlando Figes (1996)
  • A Russian Journal | John Steinbeck (1948)

General Non-Fiction:

  • In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century | Geert Mak (2004)
  • A Short History of Europe | Simon Jenkins (2018)

For more lists of books, please see my original post here.

If you have been listening to any podcasts that you’ve found enlightening, please tell us about them too.

Recent Reviews:

I have dropped the blogging ball this past month or so. Hopefully, now that I am back into my regular routine, things will improve!

Blogger Reviews:

Links:

20 thoughts on “Understanding Ukraine Master Post

  1. I have some Ukrainian novels in the TBR so I’ll be glad to join in.

    I feel very ill-informed about the history and politics of Ukraine, so I’ll look forward to the posts and expanding my to-read list.

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  2. I still haven’t gotten to Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov which does shed light on Ukraine so that will be one I hope to read soon, and a Frederick Forsyth my mom had read recently, The Devil’s Alternative which looks into the Russia-Ukraine scenario.

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  3. I recently posted about a novel that was first published in 1969 in Ukraine (an interesting time in itself), about a momentous time in Ukrainian history, the 1800s, based around a historical person, Precursor by Vasyl Shevchuk. (https://gallimaufrybookstudio.com/a-wanderer-in-the-wilderness-ukraine-glagoslav/)

    Another book I’d recommend to give historical perspective but this time set around the time of the 1917 revolution is Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard.

    I’m definitely going to try and get in some more Ukrainian reading during these few months. A terrific and appealing reading event, thank you!

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    1. Thanks Julé you made lots of interesting points in your reading of this book about the long history between Russia and Ukraine.
      And I also have The White Guard on my TBR pile – I’ll add it to my list – thanks for the reminder.

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      1. Thank you, it’s depressing to realize how often Russia has tried to destroy not only the country but the culture of Ukraine or claim it as its own.

        I’m very much looking forward to seeing what other books everyone includes in their Ukraine reading.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Just made a start on Ukraine and Russia by D’Anieri, hope to post weekly on what ever I learn, I also shared a link to the BBC’s Ukraine podcast for anyone who may be interested. Hoping to learn a lot with this event.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This might not fit, but the protagonist of the biographical, historical, fiction novel “The Diamond Eye” by Kate Quinn was actually from Ukraine (although she considered herself to be Russian).

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    1. That’s one of the things I find interesting now that I’m looking a little closer. Obviously the history of Ukraine and Russia is heavily intertwined. Many of the who authors were born, or grew up in Ukraine, when I’ve looked into their wikipedia profiles, were born of Russian parents, who were living in Ukraine for work, I guess (like Lyudmila Pavlichenko in the Kate Quinn book you mentioned). And many of the authors who claim Ukrainian heritage seemd to have lived in places like Siberia. It’s very confusing.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I admire your determination, but I’m afraid I’ll still be in blissful ignorance when WWIII starts next week or the week after. To be honest I thought it was understandable when Russia seized the Crimea, and when they got angry about NATO encroaching on their borders, but then they got carried away. I hope they – the Russians – are given an out which will enable them to save face, because it looks right now as though they are losing the conventional war and the only option left is ….

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    1. Mr Books has been reading a few of the Putin books on this list as well as way more news and social commentary than I would find healthy! But he is very concerned that this will not end well either.
      Whereas my history brain has kicked in, and I’m desperately trying to unpick the tangled web that surrounds that area of the world.

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  7. So almost all the books you have in the fiction catagory I have in my TBR plus two more non fiction books on history of Ukraine. Needless to say I will join you!

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