Reading list: Ukraine

Books which explain the background to Ukraine’s haphazard life since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 are rare. Here are five, a mixture of history, fiction and current affairs:

The World Today Published 6 June 2014 Updated 7 December 2018 1 minute READ

Borderland: A Journey through the History of Ukraine Anna Reid, Basic Books, £11.99
First published in 1997, this book by the former Kyiv correspondent of The Economist and The Daily Telegraph is a mix of journalism and history. Despite its age, it is still one of the best introductions to the country for those perplexed by its history, from Kievan Rus to the modern day.

Death and the Penguin Andrey Kurkov, Vintage, £8.99
A humorously bleak picture of Ukrainian life, the novel follows Viktor Zolotaryov, a failed writer but star obituarist. A deadly mafia war means Viktor’s obituaries are suddenly in demand, and his blossoming career is watched with melancholic disapproval by the gloomy figure of his pet penguin, Misha.

Everything is Illuminated Jonathan Safran Foer, Penguin £8.99
Alexander Perchov is a Ukrainian Sancho Panza; a singularly ill-equipped tour guide who accompanies the narrator on a quixotic quest to find the village Safran Foer’s grandfather used to live in before the war and Augustine, the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. The novel switches between Foer’s novel-in-progress and the search for the village as told by Alex in broken English.

Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin Timothy Snyder, Vintage, £10.99
This ground-breaking book covers the fate of countries fought over by Stalin and Hitler in the middle of the 20th century. These blood-drenched lands stretch from the Black Sea to the Baltic, including Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Western Russia and the Baltic States. Over a dozen years, more than one million citizens a year were killed as a result of policy, not combat.

The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation Andrew Wilson, Yale University Press, £14.99
Ukraine is a country where politics is so murky that even specialists do not expect to find the truth. Andrew Wilson grapples with Ukraine’s history and teases apart the strands of its modern politics. This book has been through a number of editions, but the latest stops in 2009, before the election of Viktor Yanukovych, the man whose previous bid for the presidency was overturned by the Orange Revolution, and who is now in exile in Russia.