Allen Lane, £20
Tim Judah has written a timely account of life in Ukraine since Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014, as the future of the Donbass, Ukraine’s eastern region, remains uncertain. In Wartime aims to fill the gap between hurriedly written news reports and dry academic studies. Judah, a distinguished journalist, not only travels to the war-torn east, but also to lesser-known corners of the Ukraine’s west and south (the chapters on Bessarabia, the “appendix” of land extending west from Odessa, tucked beneath Moldova, are particularly intriguing). His long cast list of characters includes a frontline tattooist and an 87-year-old bomb shelter poet.
Judah’s reporting is underpinned by history, with the Second World War and its divisive legacy in Ukraine resurfacing again and again. In Russia’s offensive against Ukraine, “rewriting history is as important as writing the news.” For Ukraine, matters are complicated by the fact that it has “no common soundtrack of history.” Judah’s book is peppered with lessons from the Balkans, which he reported from during the wars of 1990s and continues to cover for the Economist.
The result is a vivid, human portrait of a society drained not just by war but by years of corruption. Ukraine, Judah points out, is not just fighting Russian-backed rebels, but engaged in a “race against time to save what could be saved.” “We have no choice but to succeed,” Natalie Jaresko, Ukraine’s Chicago-born minister of finance, tells him as they sip wine on her terrace outside Kiev. Judah shows that, even as Ukraine fades from western newspapers, the wounds of the past two years will take decades to heal.