Making sense of the murderous muddle in Ukraine through touching personal stories and a historical reality check.
Economist reporter Judah (Kosovo: What Everyone Needs to Know, 2008, etc.) was not content to accept at face value the stories he heard from the Ukrainians on either side of the recent “Maidan Revolution” of 2014—either from pro-Ukrainian nationalists or pro-Russian rebels. So he traveled the country, asked uncomfortable but necessary questions, and heard vast differences between the country’s west and east in terms of each side’s skewed sense of history, especially regarding the Soviet Union’s role in Ukrainian history and World War II. While the rebels see Russian president Vladimir Putin as a savior, a strongman who harkens back to a triumphal and unified Soviet state, the pro-Ukrainians champion Stepan Bandera, a controversial nationalist leader from WWII whose party was by turns German collaborationist, anti-Soviet, anti-Polish, and anti-Semitic. For these reasons and for the pro-Ukrainian adoption of the red and black flag from this problematic time, the rebels now denounce the nationalists as “fascist” and neo-Nazi. The pro-Russian rebels, on the other hand, conveniently downplay much of the gruesome Soviet treatment of Ukraine, including the Holodomor (the great famine years after collectivization of 1932-1933, in which more than 3 million died), the gulags and secret police, the roundup of Jews, and the huge displacement of peoples during and after WWII. In his brief chapters, Judah moves from west to east, from Lviv (once heavily Polish and Jewish and connected to the Austro-Hungarian Empire) to Chernobyl to Kiev to Bessarabia to Donetsk, the heart of the separatist region. Everywhere, Ukrainians conveyed to the author their sense of yearning for something lost: huge numbers of people have fled the country, mostly the educated youth, leaving in their wake an “economic death.”
An enlightening, timely study of a misunderstood region of the world.