These two books take radically different approaches to exploring Ukraine’s dramatic recent history. Shore’s book is written at the deepest human level and is built on the testimony of those who participated in the 2014 revolution that rocked Ukraine or who experienced firsthand the war in the eastern part of the country known as the Donbas, which broke out in the aftermath of the revolution. In the first half of the book, Shore shares the vivid accounts of those who took part in the Maidan uprising and their reflections on how the drama redefined their lives and the bleak realities of Ukraine. The second half records the simple but searing thoughts and impulses of those who fought or were caught up in the war. Most of them were on the Ukrainian side; those who came from the pro-Russian separatist regions provide homely but telling insights into what the war meant to them and the people among whom they grew up. Literature offers added resonance: for Shore, echoes from novels and short stories run through the tales she hears; for some of those who lived through these events, poetry was a sustaining force.
Kuzio’s core theme is Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. He examines Russia’s motivations from many angles—a renewed imperialist nationalism, historical “Ukrainophobia,” anti-Semitism (both in Russia and in the Donbas), and criminal profiteering. He disagrees with those who explain Russian actions in terms of geopolitical competition with the United States and NATO and, even more so, those who see Russia as simply avenging the abuse and discrimination it believes it has suffered at Western hands. Instead, he locates the explanation in what he calls “Ukrainian-Russian identity relations,” by which he means the process through which Russian identity has evolved toward a more primal nationalism, including chauvinism toward Ukraine, while Ukraine has gravitated toward Europe and its values. Complicating everything, the Donbas, for long-standing historical and cultural reasons, aligns with Russia. The depth with which Kuzio explores these factors, along with the corruption rampant in the Donbas and the wider region’s diseased politics, represents his book’s most unique value.