5 essential books on Russia and Ukraine: our selection of experts


By Mark Edele, Judith Armstrong, Julie Fedor, University of Melbourne; Marko Pavlyshyn, Monash University and Stephen Fortescue, UNSW Sydney Melbourne, March 26 (The Conversation) One of the five books is — Ukraine: What Everyone Needs to Know (Second Edition) – Serhy Yekelchyk.

This slender volume of just over 200 pages is a marvel. Written by a world-renowned Ukrainian historian, it introduces readers to the history, geography, economy, politics and contemporary life of the country currently suffering from Russian invasion.

Serhy Yekelchyk sharply defines both commonalities and differences in the histories of Ukraine and Russia, and he also delves into the entanglements between Ukrainian and American politics. Yekelchyk asks all the right questions and answers them succinctly and to the point.

There is no better book to start reading on the background of the current war. If you only have time to read one book on this subject, this is it. –Marc Edele.

2. The Red Mirror: Putin’s Leadership and Russia’s Uncertain Identity by Gulnaz Sharafutdinova Gulnaz Sharafutdinova’s Red Mirror offers important insight into the nature of Putin’s regime and how it set the stage for this internal war.

The book is a rare attempt to consider the emotional dimensions of Putin and how Putin managed to build an image as a defender of the country against humiliation.

Sharafutdinova documents the evolution of the Russian state media machine over the past decade, showing how it has systematically promoted a view of Russian identity based on Russian victimization.

State propagandists have cultivated and amplified emotions tied to Russia’s recent history, updating old Soviet tropes and enemy images to promote the idea that Russia is a nation under siege.

In much of the recent commentary on Putin’s Russia, we find Russian society reduced to a caricature. On the contrary, it is a book that takes into account the diversity of Russian society and avoids resorting to stereotypes about the “Russian soul” or the supposed eternal Russian desire for an “iron fist”.

Instead, Sharafutdinova shows how the current state of Russia is the result of political choices made by Vladimir Putin and his government. – Julie Fedor.

3. The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine by Serhii Plokhy The Gates of Europe by Serhii Plokhy was first published in 2015, after the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 and the beginning of its war against Ukraine, whose current invasion is a dismaying escalation.

Beginning with Herodotus’ account of the lands north of the Black Sea, the Harvard historian’s book acquaints the reader with the historical legacies that helped shape Ukrainian identity: the great medieval state of Kyivan Rus, the autonomist aspirations of the Ukrainian Cossacks, the 19th-Ukrainian national movement in the Habsburg and Russian empires, Ukraine’s short period of independence after World War I and Ukraine’s eight decades as a republic within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Plokhy’s account allows readers to place Vladimir Putin’s denial of Ukraine’s existence as a nation in the tradition of Russian imperial and Soviet attempts to erase or, at best, marginalize Ukrainian identity.

It also shows the sources of Ukraine’s ideas of democratic sovereignty and cross-cultural solidarity that energize the unified, determined and remarkably successful resistance with which Ukrainian political leaders, the Ukrainian armed forces and the Ukrainian people confronted the Russian invasion. – Marko Pavlyshyn.

4. Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak A novel written by a poet, it is a famous love story, which takes place in the constantly turbulent history of Russia from 1905 to the Great Patriotic War.

A book banned for many years in his own country, its author forced to refuse the Nobel Prize, his relatives imprisoned. This is not an introduction to understanding what is happening in Ukraine today, how decisions with such devastating consequences are made in Moscow.

But he tells you about Russia and the Russians. Russia’s climate and landscape; Capacity of Russians for the most tender love and abyssal cruelty.

The story is told in prose written by a poet, so you feel those Russian things, in your soul. We feel them, partly because of the talent of the author but especially because in the end they are not only Russian, they are universal.

Russians – and those of us non-Russians who are victims of it – do think that they are exceptional, in their soul, their ability to love and hate, the infinite horizons of their landscape.

It’s a dangerous thing to think you’re particularly special – and if, while reading it, you’re overwhelmed by the novel’s overwhelming russiness, you should bear that in mind. – Stephen Fortescue 5. The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture by James H. Billington From about the 8th century to about the 15th century, Kyivan Rus (Ukraine) occupied the Great Plain of present-day southern Russia. Moscow was only historically documented in 1147.

The “Rus”, essentially Slavs, were invaded by the Varengians (Vikings) who stayed and married; the country consisted of powerful city-states united by allegiance to a prince.

As James Billington recounts in the first chapter of his comprehensive cultural history of Russia, The Icon and the Axe, Prince Vladimir, in search of a religion in 988 AD, converted to Greek Orthodoxy after his emissaries recorded the beauty of Santa Sophia of Constantinople, whose blue dome and golden frescoes suggested the national colors of Ukraine.

Russia/Ukraine subsequently became one of the most powerful states in Europe, famous for its fertile black soil and rich folk culture.

Billington then describes the decline of Kyivan Rus, when the principalities began to fight each other and the country was invaded by Mongol hordes under Genghis Kahn.

The “Mongol yoke” lasted until 1480, when it was ousted by an emerging, super-powerful Moscow. – Judith Armstrong. (The Conversation) CPS

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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