Understanding the War in Ukraine

“Students and readers in general may be wondering how to make sense of the ongoing war crisis and human tragedy in Ukraine,” says Dr. Wayne Tan, Assistant Professor of History, Hope College. “Here is one question to start with: Why does Ukraine occupy such an important place in Russian history?”

Here are a few of his book recommendations:

To learn more about the general history of Ukraine, from the ancient origins of its culture through the 2010s, check out “The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine” by Serhii Plokhy. As Ukraine is embroiled in an ongoing struggle with Russia to preserve its territorial integrity and political independence, 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. 

For a focused study of how Ukraine emerged in historical discussions as the quintessential birthplace of Russian culture, check out “Children of Rus’: Right-Bank Ukraine and the Invention of a Russian Nation” by Faith Hillis. She recovers an all but forgotten chapter in the history of the tsarist empire and its southwestern borderlands. 

Well written and chock full of insights into the politics of late Imperial RussiaChildren of Rus’ is a model of meticulous scholarship and perceptive analysis and should be essential reading for anyone interested in learning about the complexities of Russian and Ukrainian identities.” Journal of Modern History

For more about the culture of government in Russia and how it affects everyday people, check out “The Future is History: How Totalitarianism reclaimed Russia” by Masha Gessen.

  • Winner of the 2017 National Book Award in Nonfiction
  • Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Awards 
  • Winner of the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award  
  • Named Best Book of 2017 by the New York Times Book ReviewLos Angeles TimesWashington Post,  Boston GlobeSeattle TimesChristian Science MonitorNewsweek, Paste, and Pop Sugar.

Additionally, Dr. Janis Gibbs and Dr. Lauren Janes from the History Department share two great resources from Pulitzer Prize-Winning author and journalist, Anne Applebaum.

On NPR’s most popular podcast, Fresh Air, Anne will talk about why Putin takes Ukrainian democracy as a personal and political threat — and how Stalin created a famine to destroy the Ukrainian national movement in the 1930s.

Here is the link to this episode.

In her non-fiction book, “Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine”, Anne analyzes the bitter history of Ukraine as a part of the Soviet Union, the disastrous results of collectivization of farms in Ukraine, and the policy decisions by the Soviet government that created famine in Ukraine. It is the fullest account yet published of these terrible events.

“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

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