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In Wartime: Stories from Ukraine

by Tim Judah

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8026246,883 (3.85)25
"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"--… (more)

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Good book overall. Interesting concept and story. ( )
  RhodestoRome | Oct 27, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
My father immigrated to America in 1921 from a land he always called Ukraine despite its history of seldom being an independent country with that name. Fiercely proud to be a Ukrainian, he always chided me when I referred to him as Russian since no one had ever heard of Ukrainians in my Midwestern suburb of the 50s. I knew to be Ukrainian was not to be Russian no matter how many times I tried to merge the two.

Ukrainian history has come a bit closer to the foreground of American awareness due to recent events including the breakup of the Soviet Union, the ouster of President Yanukovych and the Maidan protests, and Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. For those of us following these stories, the news is intermittent and somewhat shallow. It flares up when the violence deepens, such as the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines flight, but details of what life is like there remain scarce.

Fortunately for those of us interested in Ukraine specifically or foreign affairs beyond the Middle East, Tim Judah has immersed himself in the complex history of Ukraine and its relationship to Russia. He integrates that knowledge with the experiences of a diverse group of individuals. He spoke with people across the country from east to west ranging from pro-Russian rebels in Donetsk to the finance minister of Ukraine, an American woman who left Chicago to assume this responsibility.

Ukraine’s history is even more complicated than the history of the Balkans, and that’s saying something. Both of these eastern European regions have been torn apart by recent war and genocide. The Balkans, however, have a history that is relatively more transparent. Ukraine’s terrible burden is the role it played in some of World War II’s worst genocide. Not all Ukrainians joined with the Nazis, but many did, enough for the country to be more forthright about its role in postwar years. Not doing so has given Putin ammunition to cry “Fascist” at those who supported the Maidan protests and who fight today to contain Russia’s breach.

Much of the rhetoric in Russia attacking Ukraine uses this same coded language which many Americans do not understand. Fascist is used to label those who lean west or pro-European Union. Russians who bask in the glory of their role in World War II immediately see themselves as occupying the moral high ground when this term is used. The fascist West represents moral decline, and you have only to see Russian’s move to criminalize gays to see the Russian terms of morality. Yes, there are some in western Ukraine who, sadly, are fascist or ultra right, but they remain the minority and exist in similar or higher numbers in other countries. Clumping all Ukrainians and westerners into this pot of Fascism simplifies the bad guys-good guys for Russians who applaud the strong leadership of Putin.

One of the eye openers in Judah’s reportage is the extent to which people yearn for a strong leader and some even become nostalgic remembering Stalin. This is truly amazing when you consider that Stalin was responsible for his own genocide of Ukrainians and others. The Holodomor, Stalin’s man-made famine, led to the estimated deaths of 7-10 million. If Ukraine needs to atone for its role in the concentration camps and genocide of World War II, Russia needs to do the same with Holodomor.

To read Judah’s multi-layered book is to go deep into the psyche of people frustrated by their inability to achieve economic prosperity despite a land rich in resources. The geographic proximity to the European Union is both hopeful and bitter; it is to both be so close, and yet so far from those values which western Ukraine, at least, yearns for.

One thing is clear, though. Ukraine’s independence, both economic and political, rests on its ability to shed the decades of corruption which have seeped into all aspects of daily life. Were Ukraine to abandon its move toward western values, it would stand no chance at all of doing so.

Putin tries to gloss over Ukrainian history and culture and say that being Russian and Ukrainian are essentially one and the same. Ukraine, especially the eastern region of Donetsk and parts of the south, such as Crimea, is a melting pot of ethnicities as people from all bordering lands came to work in mines, shipping, and other industries. But that rich diversity does not dilute the identity of those who hold allegiance to an independent Ukraine, one which seeks to bond closer to the values and economy of its allies to its west.

One cannot help but feel for the people of Ukraine who have lost much in these last several years just as they were hopeful they were about to gain so much. Judah has done an amazing job of keeping his eye focused on the people of Ukraine, allowing them to tell their own stories, and doing so with the understanding that comes with knowledge of historical facts. My father would be happy to know the sad history of his country has found such an effective voice.
  mzkat | May 21, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
What I got most out of this as Tim Judah takes us from place to place in the Ukraine is that the country is greatly factionalized. Judah sympathies nonetheless seem to lay more with a western than a Russian outlook.... but even so there are antipathies amongst those who live there that go back to before WWII and sorting that kind of quagmire out to a fair and peaceful solution would be a nigh on impossible task for just about anyone. To go further the intervention of outside forces fuels not only the animosities simmering within but also the corruption of those who have gained political power. These are the kinds of situations that to me are best avoided--the old adage 'time heals all wounds' is what I would apply. Unfortunately however even that is impossible in the tug of war between the economies of the EU and the alliances of Nato on one side and Russia on the other. I would advise any actor who's thinking of playing a part in this shitshow to stay away. ( )
  lriley | May 4, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
It was at times confusing, due to the nature of war and the political situation in Ukraine, but I appreciated a deeper glimpse into the situation there which the news has not been giving me. It put things in a human context and I am glad I had a chance to read it. ( )
  dhelmen | Mar 27, 2017 |
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