A Literary Guide to Understanding Ukraine, Past and Present

From Electric Lit:

When I was approached to write this article, Ukraine’s battles for sovereignty were in the eastern parts of the country against Russian-backed separatists, where they have been since February 2014. In a few short days since, the Russian troops that had amassed around the border of Ukraine for months invaded the democratic country and initiated air strikes and attacks on Ukrainian forces and civilians—hundreds of lives have already been lost. The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy has refused to leave the capital of Kyiv, telling the United States government, “I need ammunition, not a ride.”

The world now watches as Ukrainian civilians take up arms alongside their army and hold “cocktail parties” where they make boxes of Molotov cocktails that will be used on Russian forces entering their cities. The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko and his brother, Wladimir, two boxing champions, have said they too will take up arms alongside the men and women, young and elderly, who are prepared to defend their homeland.

Ukrainians have long-prepared for this moment. Their rich land has been invaded many times before and their people have suffered innumerable losses for generations. The Ukrainian language and culture has nearly been eradicated at multiple points in their long history, and they’ve been fighting an active war for nearly ten years against a Russian president whose intent is erasure. Today, many people around the world are witnessing for the first time the immeasurable patriotism, loyalty, courage, and grit that makes Ukranians so singular.

In order to write I Will Die in a Foreign Land compassionately and correctly, I knew I had to become a de-facto scholar in Ukrainian history and culture. I started the first draft in 2016, two years after the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv and the Russian annexation of Crimea and Donbas. I relied heavily on the work of a few dedicated journalists and incredible documentaries. The deeper I went into the story, the more realized I was not going to be able to simply write about the Maidan events—I found I had a responsibility to contextualize Euromaidan and Donbas for an American audience that would be largely unfamiliar with Ukrainian-Russian relations

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

18 thoughts on “A Literary Guide to Understanding Ukraine, Past and Present”

  1. I have not been able to watch the nightly news since this started because I end up shouting at the TV. That’s not good because I’m trying to eat supper when that happens.

    – The mainstream media is not covering the facts, but only what the Evil Geniuses want their Paid Trolls to be talking about.

    This is a podcast from Glenn Greenwald about what’s going on.

    The War in Ukraine | Glenn Greenwald

    – I have seen most of what he is talking about, starting around 2014.

    – The key point that everyone forgets, is that when the Soviet Union fell, the US promised Russia that NATO would not expand beyond the borders of the reunited Germany.

    We violated that promise and created that threat, just to sell weapons to the expanded NATO. All Russia has ever wanted is to have their borders be safe because Germany has disastrously invaded them twice in the 20th century.

    – I’m not going to waste my time trying to explain any of this to my friends, they can’t hear what I am saying.

    I’ve had the same problem over the past thirty years when reality does not match what the Paid Trolls are saying.

    I’m going to keep reading LOTR rather than focus on this latest set of lies from all of the Paid Trolls. Yet, events are strangely echoing LOTR. Yikes!

    • FWIW, Putin’s real beef is *Not* with NATO.
      That is what *his* paid trolls are floating.

      His primary beef is that the Ukrainians kicked out a russian puppet kleptocrat after getting a clear exposure to western living standards from Poland and the Baltics. He figures that if Ukraine actually joins the EU (NOT NATO) and they prosper under honest governance the other slavs might start getting restless.

      His secondary beef is that after he carved off Crimea, Ukraine has been building a modern, professional military, including the same Turkish drones that beat the crap out of russian-client Armenia.


      In addition, their troops have been getting regular training from US and NATO advisers since Russia took Crimea. Also, they have been rotating their troops through the region where Putin’s irregulars and proxies have carved out another chunk of Ukraine. As a resuot, Ukraine actually has a cadre of 400,000 battle tested soldiers and reservists. So russia has better gear but Ukraine has a more professional army, not a bunch of young draftees.
      (Don’t forget Russia’s best are propping up Syria and Kazakstan and fighting in Africa as merceneraries. They are overstretched.)

      Putin has painted himself into a corner where his choices are WWII SS-grade brutality (or a nuke) or failing in his quest for regime change.

      He totally misread the Ukraininan people who, yes, had no trust in tbeir government as of last week and really had little sense of nationhood before 2014. But his invasion changed that; Ukraine has discovered their “George Washington” and a national identity worth fighting for. He might, possibly take or destroy Kyev and kill all members of government but now he will never be able to hold the people captive for long. They literally will fight to the death, much as the Paraguayans in the War of the Triple Alliance.

      The other alternative is for Putin to ‘commit suicide by shooting himself in the back of the head. Three times.” 😀

      BTW, I agree the US broadcast media is flubbing the coverage of the Invasion but DW, ALJAZEERA, TLDR and others on the spot (and youtube) aren’t. It helps that Ukraine still has their fiber and internet services running with smartphones everywhere. Not much room for tollish obfuscation.

      • This is fun.

        After I watched the Greenwald podcast YouTube was suddenly wanting me to watch puppy and cat videos, but when I didn’t click on them, they started offering baking videos. I clicked on these:

        I never waste ripe bananas!! No knead! No Sugar! Incredibly Easy, Soft and Fluffy

        Why didn’t I know this recipe before! Everyone says it is perfect for breakfast, lunch and dinner

        Her channel is amazing. I may try a few of the recipes.

        • I listened to Greenwald for the first five minutes. He said:
          The US and Russia are both nuclear powers.
          War is bad.

          Then I jumped right to the end. YouTube offered up six videos when Greenwald finished, all related to the war.

          • Saw your post and decided to watch the Greenwald again. Now they are showing me videos for making Subway style baguettes. I’ve got six more bookmarks in my cooking folder so far.


            BTW, I think I’ll go get a Subway sandwich tomorrow. No more mask mandates locally, so I should be able to walk right in and choose. That’s the first time in years. OMG!

    • Did some more digging and found the substack where Greenwald was posting followup to his video[1]. I also found the video about:

      Noam Chomsky on Concision in the US Media

      The concept of “concision” blew my mind and explained so many things that I can use in Story.


      Finding that word, and the context, makes all this worthwhile.


      [1] War Propaganda About Ukraine Becoming More Militaristic, Authoritarian, and Reckless

    • I would be much more sympathetic to Russia in this matter regarding the supposed promise of “no eastward expansion of NATO” if it were not for the unfortunate case of Moldova and the Russian occupation that has been going on there since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

      • Or the carving up of Georgia, the anexation of Crimea…

        They also conveniently neglect that Ukraine had no interest in NATO or the EU until *after* they took Crimea. Also that in 1994 Russia signed a treaty recognizing Ukraine independence and borders. An entire generation of Ukrainians have grown up as such, not Soviets. That is where the resistance is coming from.

      • The eastward NATO Expansion deal is a bit confusing. People claim it was part of the 1990 deal worked out among the US, USSR, Germany, France, and UK when Germany reunited. But it’s not in the treaty (linked below). Others say it was a side promise not committed to paper. In any case, there is no evidence that it was a formal international agreement.


          • From him: nothing new.
            And the US is shelling Ukaining nuclear plants ?
            Annexing other nation’s territory?

            Maduro is 100% behind russia.
            Neither he nor Chomsky matters. He stopped being relevant decades ago.

            Sounds like a true case of: “Ok, boomer. Now go get the kids off your lawn.”

            • Notice how inconvenient it is to the current narrative when people actually know history.

              US/NATO Provoked Ukraine War Say Most Experts On Russia

              This is so useful to Story. I’m working through LOTR and the parts where the propaganda and lies that Sauron and Saruman have spread leap off the page because of the current events.

              I’m not good with “Villain speak” so being able to have so many great examples is useful.

              BTW, I need to read through the Harrington series again where they had similar events, where a few people were using propaganda to start wars among their enemies. I suspect that the books will hit me harder now.


              • Whose experts?
                By listening to the Ukrainians who kicked iut their russian satrap kleptocrat and saw tbeir country carved up in 2014?
                Like the russian-born *Jewish* president Putin wants to “denazify”?

                And what exactly does the west want with the poorest country in the continent (well, second poorest right now afte the collapse of the ruble). It’s three biggest exports are sunflowers, wheat, and rocket engines.

                Or maybe the west provoked puting back in 1994 when Clinton convince tem to give up thousands of nuclear ICBMs?

                I suppose the smartphone videos coming from Ukraine are deepfakes from capitalist trolls?

                That is history, too.
                And fully documented one, requiring no handwaving.

                If you want story fodder, how about a world where Ukraine kept their nukes instead of relying on diplomats’ assurance?

                Chomsky’s problem is he keeps warring against western civilization and both the right and the left yawn and ignore him.

          • Made 2 minutes into Chomsky. Less than Greenwald. A voice to text feature on YouTube would be a big improvement.

            Seven years ago he tells us we face imminent climate catastrophe. We have heard the same every year since 1990.

            • Youtube *does* have a realtime subtitle feature.

              Getting to it depends on what hardware you’re using.
              If you’re going through a browser, there is a CC icon on the bottom bar. But not on cheapskate amateur videos. It’s a good way to tell trolls and other suspicious posters from the serious ones.
              (There is one channel that posts up videos about made up products that have supposedly been announced and are coming “real-soon-now”. Nice thumbnails. Caught me once.)

              On XBOX, nudging tbe left thumbstick pauses the video and calls up the options bar. Not sure about Macs…

  2. Borders, schmorders. Putin and his friends have milked Russia dry. They see the Ukraine as a new cow they can milk.

    • They did a brilliant job setting up the cash flow that would come from Europe from gas and oil. Now they have wrecked it.

      I suspect Putin and his circle may really care more about their peculiar ideas of glory, the legacy of the Rodina, and five hundred years of accumulated resentments..

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