The war in Ukraine has been going on for almost a year and it seems that there is little progress toward a lasting peace. Lest the world forgets, here are seven books that can help you understand the history and cause of the conflict in Ukraine.
The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine
By Serheii Plokhy
A New York Times bestseller, this definitive history of Ukraine is “an exemplary account of Europe’s least-known large country” (Wall Street Journal).
As Ukraine is embroiled in an ongoing struggle with Russia to preserve its territorial integrity and political independence, celebrated historian Serhii Plokhy explains that today’s crisis is a case of history repeating itself: the Ukrainian conflict is only the latest in a long history of turmoil over Ukraine’s sovereignty. Situated between Central Europe, Russia, and the Middle East, Ukraine has been shaped by empires that exploited the nation as a strategic gateway between East and West—from the Romans and Ottomans to the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. In The Gates of Europe, Plokhy examines Ukraine’s search for its identity through the lives of major Ukrainian historical figures, from its heroes to its conquerors.
This revised edition includes new material that brings this definitive history up to the present. As Ukraine once again finds itself at the center of global attention, Plokhy brings its history to vivid life as he connects the nation’s past with its present and future.
Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine
By Anne Applebaum
A revelatory history of one of Stalin’s greatest crimes, the consequences of which still resonate today, as Russia has placed Ukrainian independence in its sights once more—from the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag and the National Book Award finalist Iron Curtain.
“With searing clarity, Red Famine demonstrates the horrific consequences of a campaign to eradicate ‘backwardness’ when undertaken by a regime in a state of war with its own people.” —The Economist
In 1929 Stalin launched his policy of agricultural collectivization—in effect a second Russian revolution—which forced millions of peasants off their land and onto collective farms. The result was a catastrophic famine, the most lethal in European history. At least five million people died between 1931 and 1933 in the USSR. But instead of sending relief the Soviet state made use of the catastrophe to rid itself of a political problem. In Red Famine, Anne Applebaum argues that more than three million of those dead were Ukrainians who perished not because they were accidental victims of a bad policy but because the state deliberately set out to kill them. Devastating and definitive, Red Famine captures the horror of ordinary people struggling to survive extraordinary evil.
Applebaum’s compulsively readable narrative recalls one of the worst crimes of the twentieth century, and shows how it may foreshadow a new threat to the political order in the twenty-first.
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin
By Timothy Snyder
Americans call the Second World War “The Good War.” But before it even began, America’s wartime ally Josef Stalin had killed millions of his own citizens—and kept killing them during and after the war. Before Hitler was finally defeated, he had murdered six million Jews and nearly as many other Europeans. At war’s end, both the German and the Soviet killing sites fell behind the iron curtain, leaving the history of mass killing in darkness.
Bloodlands is a new kind of European history, presenting the mass murders committed by the Nazi and Stalinist regimes as two aspects of a single history, in the time and place where they occurred: between Germany and Russia, when Hitler and Stalin both held power. Assiduously researched, deeply humane, and utterly definitive, Bloodlands will be required reading for anyone seeking to understand the central tragedy of modern history.
Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine
By Anna Reid
“A beautifully written evocation of Ukraine’s brutal past and its shaky efforts to construct a better future.”—Financial Times
Ukraine is gripped in a bloody crisis that has killed tens of thousands, displaced millions, and is transforming the world’s energy policies and security architecture. As celebrated journalist Anna Reid shows in Borderland, this conflict is the latest of many. Ukraine has been a borderland, and a battlefield, for more than seven centuries, from the Mongol invasion of 1240 to the Maidan protests of 2014—and, of course, the devastating Russian invasion of 2022.
In this penetrating book, Reid combines research and her own experiences to chart Ukraine’s tragic past and uncertain future. Talking to peasants and politicians, rabbis and racketeers, dissidents and paramilitaries, survivors of Stalin’s famine and of Nazi labor camps, she reveals the layers of myth and propaganda that wrap this divided land. From the Polish churches of Lviv to the coal mines of the Donbass to the Tatar shantytowns of Crimea, the book explores Ukraine’s struggle to build itself a national identity. Updated to include firsthand material from the 2022 Russia-Ukraine war, Borderland is essential reading for anyone looking to understand Ukraine and how its history is shaping its destiny.
In Wartime: Voices From Ukraine
By Tim Judah
From one of the finest journalists of our time comes a definitive, boots-on-the-ground dispatch from the front lines of the conflict in Ukraine.
Ever since Ukraine’s violent 2014 revolution, followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the country has been at war. Misinformation reigns, more than two million people have been displaced, and Ukrainians fight one another on a second front—the crucial war against corruption.
With In Wartime, Tim Judah lays bare the events that have turned neighbors against one another and mired Europe’s second-largest country in a conflict seemingly without end.
In Lviv, Ukraine’s western cultural capital, mothers tend the graves of sons killed on the other side of the country. On the Maidan, the square where the protests that deposed President Yanukovych began, pamphleteers, recruiters, buskers, and mascots compete for attention. In Donetsk, civilians who cheered Russia’s President Putin find their hopes crushed as they realize they have been trapped in the twilight zone of a frozen conflict.
Judah talks to everyone from politicians to poets, pensioners, and historians. Listening to their clashing explanations, he interweaves their stories to create a sweeping, tragic portrait of a country fighting a war of independence from Russia—twenty-five years after the collapse of the USSR.
Robert Conquest’s Harvest of Sorrow
By Robert Conquest
The Harvest of Sorrow is the first full history of one of the most horrendous human tragedies of the 20th century. Between 1929 and 1932 the Soviet Communist Party struck a double blow at the Russian peasantry: dekulakization, the dispossession and deportation of millions of peasant families, and collectivization, the abolition of private ownership of land and the concentration of the remaining peasants in party-controlled “collective” farms. This was followed in 1932-33 by a “terror-famine,” inflicted by the State on the collectivized peasants of the Ukraine and certain other areas by setting impossibly high grain quotas, removing every other source of food, and preventing help from outside–even from other areas of the Soviet Union–from reaching the starving populace. The death toll resulting from the actions described in this book was an estimated 14.5 million–more than the total number of deaths for all countries in World War I.
Ambitious, meticulously researched, and lucidly written, The Harvest of Sorrow is a deeply moving testament to those who died, and will register in the Western consciousness a sense of the dark side of this century’s history.
A Message from Ukraine: Speeches, 2019-2022
By Volodymyr Zelensky
An urgent call to arms from Time’s Person of the Year, the Ukrainian leader whose unwavering courage in the face of the Russian invasion has inspired the world and turned him overnight into a global beacon of democracy
The words of a man. The message of a people.
Bringing together a new introduction by Volodymyr Zelensky with his most powerful war speeches, this book recounts Ukraine’s story through the words of its president.
It is the story of a nation valiantly defending itself from Russian aggression. And it is the story of a people leading the world in the struggle for democracy.
Above all, it is a battle cry for us all to stand up and fight for liberty. If not now, when?
The only book officially authorized by President Zelensky, A Message from Ukraine includes speeches he has personally selected to tell the story of the Ukrainian people.
This post contains affiliate links.
Our humans need coffee too! Your support is highly appreciated, thank you!