oDR: Feature

These must-read books are key to understanding the war in Ukraine

Spanning history, politics and society, five books offer a comprehensive look at Ukraine’s past – and its future

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Thomas Rowley
21 November 2022, 3.13pm

(c) uskarp / Alamy Stock Photo. All rights reserved

Russia’s war on Ukraine is now in its ninth month – but it’s not too late to learn more about this incredible country, or why it’s resisting the Russian invasion.

We’ve put together a list of five must-read books on Ukraine’s history, society and politics, which we believe are essential to understanding what the country has been through, and where it’s going next.

We’ve focused on books that reveal well-researched, new or unexpected angles on Ukraine’s struggle for self-determination.

Check them out below.

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‘The Death of a Soldier Told by His Sister’, Olesya Khromeychuk

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Historian Olesya Khromeychuk’s personal journey into the death of her brother, Volodymyr – who was killed on the frontline in eastern Ukraine in 2017 – is also the story of Ukraine after the 2014 revolution and Russian invasion.

Through bureaucratic and intimate encounters, ‘Death of a Soldier Told by His Sister’ is about the difficult, human side of Ukraine’s resistance to Russian imperialism.

Speaking to openDemocracy about her book in 2021, Khromeychuk said: “Wars are not about numbers, they are not about abstract forces, and they have very long-lasting effects. We need to talk about grief, we need to talk about trauma. And we need to talk about it together. Collectively and honestly.”

‘Voices of Resistance and Solidarity’, Ukraine Solidarity Campaign

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Activists, historians and political scientists come together in this collection of articles written in response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. It takes a holistic view of Ukrainian society’s incredible response to military aggression, with interviews on trade unions’ role in the struggle, and the danger of society being sold-out during reconstruction.

Its authors also tackle the lacklustre position on Russian aggression taken by some sections of the international left, arguing against selective anti-imperialism.

‘The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine’, Serhiy Plokhy

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Plokhy’s book is the most accessible and authoritative account of Ukrainian history available. ‘The Gates of Europe’ gives context to centuries of external interest in Ukraine, including Russia’s long-held economic and political desire for control of the country.

Yet it also tracks Ukrainians’ desire for independence as an equally long-running motif in the country’s history, without washing over tragic or unpleasant moments.

‘Towards a Political Economy of Ukraine: Selected Essays, 1990-2015’, Marko Bojcun

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Marko Bojcun’s essays on politics, economy and society in Ukraine after independence are essential reading for both the twists and turns of the oligarchs’ stranglehold on the political class – but also the big picture of confrontation with Russia, and the West’s political and economic interests in Ukraine.

Bojcun, a historian, reminds us, in effect, that the cycle of economic crisis and austerity Ukraine has experienced over the past 30 years could have been different – if it wasn’t for the finance and political classes in charge, and the structural problems in the Ukrainian economy.

‘Ukraine and the Empire of Capital: From Marketisation to Armed Conflict’, Yuliya Yurchenko

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Want to understand Ukraine’s tricky shift from the Soviet Union to global capitalism? ‘Ukraine and the Empire of Capital’ looks at Ukraine’s homegrown myths of marketisation and transition to capitalism since 1991, and how its self-determination – at least at the state level – has been blocked by transnational capital.

Analysing Ukraine’s pre-February 2022 relationships with the EU, US and Russia, Yurchenko shows how kleptocracy, international finance and colonial interests combine.

This web page includes referral links to bookshop.org. If you click on one of these links and subsequently make a purchase, openDemocracy may receive a commission payment.

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