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From Independence to the War with Russia

by Adrian Karatnycky

Pub Date: June 4th, 2024
ISBN: 9780300269468
Publisher: Yale Univ.

An authoritative account of how the Russian invasion, meant to bury Ukrainian culture, has had exactly the opposite effect.

Ukraine’s battle against Russia has become a defining event of our time, testing the limits of Western will and demonstrating how an emerging democracy can fight against a larger, belligerent power. Karatnycky, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and the CEO of the nonprofit Freedom House, is not an impartial commentator, and he clearly lays out his deep, longstanding personal and professional ties to the country. The author examines the development of cultural trends since 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed and Ukraine declared independence. He frames the story by examining the presidential administrations since that time, which have veered between democratic populists like Viktor Yushchenko and corrupt oligarchs such as Leonid Kuchma. Power ebbed and flowed in various ways, from public demonstrations to government thuggery, which meant that no stable model of government emerged. Behind the scenes, writes Karatnycky, a sense of national identity was recovering, drawing on Ukraine’s rich history and cultural distinctiveness. The author devotes two chapters to Volodymyr Zelensky, first examining his early stumbles and overdependence on social media. Amazingly, after the invasion, Zelensky rose to the challenge, becoming a resolute national figure and displaying hands-on courage. Between Zelensky’s leadership and the requirements of war, the Ukrainian identity solidified, becoming the most potent weapon of the conflict. Karatnycky believes that Ukraine will eventually prevail, but it needs continued support, including advanced weaponry and the transfer of $300 billion in Russian assets held in Western banks as reparations. He might be overly optimistic about this idea, but his book is an important addition to the literature, featuring an innovative approach that provides a useful background.

Karatnycky combines eyewitness accounts with historical analysis, adding depth and insight to the bulletins of war.