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Three books to understand Ukrainians better, how backwards Russian imperialism is and a stunning dive into Russian propaganda. By Manoel Chavanne

In this world of 24/7 breaking news and social media trying to get our attention for as long as possible sometimes it's good to take a step back, turn all your screens off and read a thoughtful book. I guess nowadays you can also read a book through a screen if you're so inclined but that's beside the point. In this article I will recommend three books aimed at helping the reader understand Ukrainians better through a book written exclusively by Ukrainian authors who were in Ukraine when the full scale invasion started, an admittedly nerdy academic book about Russian imperialism through an analysis of its literature and famous authors and a more animated and fun read, but not any less serious or interesting, book from inside the Russian propaganda machine.

Imperial Knowledge: Russian Literature and Colonialism by Ewa M. Thompson

The author, Ewa M. Thompson, was born in Kaunas in 1937 but is defined as a Polish-American who teaches Slavic Studies at Rice University. In this pleasant read she explains that Russia is still an imperial power, not only unwilling to let go of its colonies, but not even at the stage of discussing it as a possibility. She compares it to France and the UK, where more than 70 years, ago many intellectuals were already calling for the end of colonialism. The author digs back into famous Russian authors works such as Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and many more to thoroughly and meticulously highlight their imperial views throughout their poems or books and lack of criticism of expansion of the Russian Federation. She covers multiple victims of the Russian expansion including Poland and Ukraine, but also Siberia, the Caucasus, and the Central Asian countries discussing the case of Uzbekistan in greater details.

This book was first published in 2000, so it must have been written in 1999 at the latest, which means it predates Putin getting to power. This fact it quite interesting, as the book anticipates the Russian Federation trying to annex Ukraine by force.

This is a very good book to understand the Russian imperial mentality and how their most famous writers have been perpetrating and cultivating it, as well as how they have been either promoting colonialism and ignoring potential criticism of it. For example, in Tolstoy's War and Peace, a young character dies a hero joining the Russian army to fight off Napoleon's invasion. At the same time, Russia was also fighting wars in the Caucasus and Central Asia where Russia clearly was the invader, but this part is not covered in Tolstoy's book. The fact that when the young boy enlisted, he could have been sent to any of these fronts, is completely ignored by Tolstoy.

Thompson also shows that in many ways the West, Western intellectuals and literary critics have been fooled into seeing Russian authors and Russians in general as Europeans and as their equal. When in fact, they are still stuck in colonial times and continue to justify territorial expansions. She doesn't go as far as to straight up predict a revolution, but she does imply that the Russian Federation will end up being broken up into many smaller nations. I recommend this book if you are not afraid of a pretty academic book, are interested in literature and its impact on the Western view of Russia.

Ukraine 22 Ukrainian Writers Respond to the War

Interestingly enough the reason I read the previously examined book is because it was mentioned by a Ukrainian author in another book I recently read, "Ukraine 22 Ukrainian Writers Respond to the War." This book is a collection of short stories written by several famous Ukrainian authors as the full-scale invasion started on February 24th, 2022. The stories are published in chronological order, last about 6 months and are written by Ukrainian authors in Ukraine and published in English. Some of these stories discuss what life was like at the time, some are quite personal addressing the private life of the writers and their families, and some will rightfully make you angry at the enemy invader.

These stories will help you to feel a connection to Ukrainians, immerse you in what it is like to be the wife of a soldier, in quite a touching story, or provide an opportunity to perceive the feelings of Ukrainians through the pen of some of the best Ukrainian writers. I recommend this book if you like short stories and are keen to familiarize yourself with some Ukrainian authors and their thoughts.

Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev

Peter Pomerantsev, a British TV producer born in Kyiv, who's family was forced to flee the USSR because his parents were distributing anti-Soviet books and the KGB arrested his father, decided to move to Moscow after his media studies in the UK. There, he worked for TV and in this fascinating book, he recounts various adventures he was involved in or documented. He draws links between his previous work on UK reality TV and Russian state TV propaganda, giving the reader a glimpse at how Russian state propaganda is created. The book also covers the life and adventures of various unbelievable characters such as a Siberian mafia boss, a would-be theater director now manufacturing propaganda for the Kremlin, as well as newly made oligarchs and depressed supermodels.

In this wonderful essay, Pomerantsev shows what Russia was like from the inside during the first decade of Putin's regime, how absolutely mental the situation was, how economic growth helped finance this madness and increase the influence of state propaganda. Pomerantsev gives the reader a better understanding of what Russia and Russians are like. If you're not a big book nerd and are only going to read one of the three books I recommended in this article, I'd say pick this one, as it's a riveting quick read with countless captivating anecdotes to conceive how insane Russia is.


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