Planning Your Trip,  Ukraine

9 Epic Books (+1 Movie) About Ukraine To Help You Understand This Country

Last Updated May, 2020

In response to one of my posts about Ukraine, you asked me guys to recommend the best books about Ukraine. It took me a while to make this list but here it is.

I know, there are plenty of books out there. And I am not going to tell you that these reads are the best. But they are really good and full of many fascinating details that will surely help you learn more. 

No matter if you are planning a trip to Ukraine or not, I encourage you to pick one of them to travel to my home country without leaving your own home.

If you will be visiting Ukraine anytime soon, posts in this category may come in handy

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means if you click a link and make a purchase, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

My List of Cool Books About Ukraine to Help You Learn More 

books about Ukraine

Best Books on Ukraine-Russia Conflict 

The Crimean Nexus: Putin’s War and the Clash of Civilizations

This thoroughly researched book, written by a third-generation Crimean, focuses on an unprecedented event from the Second World War – “the first occupation and annexation of one European country by another”.

The author, Constantine Pleshakov has a unique background. He is not only originally from Crimea but he also was a foreign policy analyst at the Moscow Institute of the USA and Canada. Today, he teaches at the Five-College Consortium in Massachusetts.

Pleshakov’s Russian roots help him describe the obvious historical uniqueness of Crimea in particular and Ukraine as a whole. Nevertheless, he notes that Crimea and Ukraine occupy a special place in the Russian national consciousness since the region has great geopolitical and geostrategic significance.

Although Pleshakov does not believe that Russia’s claims should go unanswered, he emphasizes that Washington cannot really hope to resolve the Ukrainian crisis – or any crisis involving Russia – without recognizing that the Russian-Ukrainian border is an integral part of national interests of Russia, in the same way as American-Mexican border is for America.

If I had to put it shortly, I’d say it this way. ‘The Crimean Nexus’ book gives a broad understanding of Crimean and Ukrainian history and relations with Russia. It is also a must-read book about Ukraine for anyone who wants to learn what the current crisis in U.S.-Russian is all about. 

In War Time: Stories From Ukraine 

Tim Judah, an author of this book and a correspondent for The Economist magazine, has spent a few recent years in Ukraine. Slowly moving from the Polish border in the west through Kyiv to the eastern frontline near the border with Russia, he was recording all his experiences.

So the book is basically a reported series of events that were taking place in Ukraine between 2014-2016. 

Along his way, he talks to different people living through the conflict. He meets soldiers and their parents, businessmen, poets, politicians and makes notes all the time. Those people share memories of their challenging past and how they shape their attitudes and hopes for the future.

‘In War Time’ is an interesting read. The writer did a really good job painting the picture of the war situation for average people in Ukraine. 

Books About History & Culture of Ukraine 

Ukrainer – Ukrainian Insider 

Some readers of my blog about Ukraine were asking if I could tell more about the regions of Ukraine, how people live, and what Ukraine is like in general.

When I read this book and watched a movie with the same name, I immediately thought they would be good to recommend you guys.

The Ukrainer movie (which you could watch on YouTube for free) shows the diversity of Ukraine and gives a glimpse into the daily life of some Ukrainians in various parts of the country. There is not much on life in cities so after watching it, don’t automatically assume this is how everyone in Ukraine lives.

Throughout this movie, you can see different landscapes of Ukraine, learn about some unique crafts that still exist in some parts of the country, see how life goes in dying villages, the exclusion zone ‘Chernobyl’, and more.

But again, the movie raises the curtain on a few regions of Ukraine. I would even better say not entire regions but parts of them.

While (in my opinion) Ukrainer movie does not represent the country to the fullest, I still believe it is worth investing your time into.

The Ukrainian Insider book gives a much broader view of Ukraine. It is based on 2.5 years expedition throughout the historic regions and contains unexpected and unusual stories showing what Ukraine is like.

The editor of the project said this book has a summary list of the names of all 16 regions. And then there is a brief explanation of the origin of these names and the geography of each region.

So after reading this book, you will have a more clear understanding of Ukraine and its every region. 

Awesome Ukraine: Interesting Things You Need to Know

The book ‘Awesome Ukraine’ by Iryna Tsilyk & Tamara Krawchenko is an introduction to Ukraine. If you don’t know anything about this country but if you are curious, it is a good publication to start with.

With beautiful photos, short and accurate descriptions of events, people, traditional Ukrainian foods, this book reflects the current realities in Ukraine, not the old times when people lived in farms and villages, doing fieldwork, folk crafts, and embroidering clothes.

On the pages, you’ll find interestingly put stories. They are about the culture, food, history, nature, places to visit, sports, and Ukrainian technologies.

I liked the fact that the book has colorful illustrations and that the information about one concept is located on the same page where photos are. It helps it easier to digest all information. At the end of the book, there are a couple of empty pages for your own notes.

Besides ‘Awesome Ukraine’ book, the same publisher is also offering ‘Awesome Lviv’, ‘Awesome Kyiv’, and books about other Ukrainian cities. 

The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine 

Why does the Russian-Ukrainian conflict have such a strong impact on the world community? What distinguishes Ukrainians from Russians? How did the idea of Ukrainian independence triumph? The book ‘The Gates of Europe’ is one of the keys to answering these questions.

I often recommend it to my foreign friends who want to learn the most famous points of Ukrainian history. It is written by famous Ukrainian and American historian Sergey Plohiy. He suggests looking at the history of Ukraine primarily as the history of its land, where not so much politics, but geography, ecology, and culture played a decisive role.

This great publication traces the history from the first mention of Herodotus to the latest tragic events like the annexation of Crimea and Russian aggression in Ukraine.

The writer is mentioning the resettlement of the Slavs, the life of the Scythians and the appearance of the Vikings, relations with Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire, the assassination of Igor who established the dynasty that ruled Kievan Rus and the revenge of his wife Olga.

The next chapters are about the Christianization of Kievan Rus and the formation of the Mongol Empire. Then the book talks about the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Cossack Riot led by Bogdan Khmelnitsky, famous battles in Ukraine before it even became part of the USSR.

Also, in this book, you’ll learn about the first annexation of Crimea by Russia, the October Revolution of 1917 and creation of the Ukrainian SSR, the big famine, Nazi occupation, the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the fall of the Soviet Union, Orange Revolution and finally the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

Ukrainian Novels For Reading 

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian 

This entertaining novel is based on autobiographical material and delivers a number of different messages. In a very well written manner, it tells the story about one family that immigrated from Ukraine to England.

The 84-year-old man, a father of the girl who is the main character in this novel, two years after his wife’s death, falls in love with a divorced woman. This woman is a 36-year-old blonde who moves to England with her son from a smaller city in Ukraine Ternopil.

Of course, both daughters of this old man are outraged. They can clearly see the real motives of this woman and why she wants to marry their father. They even try to talk him out.

However, the man does not listen and doesn’t give up. He has already decided everything and wants to bring his new love to England. Especially, considering the fact that life in Ukraine is unbearable (the book is talking about the 90s.) He remembers the corruption, low quality of life, and even about the famine he had to go through in 1933.

Therefore, he is sure that he is destined to save this poor thing from poor life in his home country. And for bureaucratic British authorities not to deport a woman, they will have a child.

The story covers some details of a man’s younger life, his involvement with tractors, and escape from Ukraine. Overall, even though the novel is full of jokes and witty dialogues, it highlights important touchy subjects. You will definitely laugh, learn, feel sad, and intrigued. 

Tango of Death by Yuri Vynnychuk

Yuriy Vinnichuk who was born in 1952 is a famous Ukrainian writer, poet, and playwright. He lives and works in Lviv, continuing to write his own books and edit books of others.

His novel ‘Tango of Death’ is very interesting and unusual in that sense that narration is conducted on behalf of two characters who live at different times.

One of them lives in Lviv in the 30s, right before the Second World War. He and his Polish, German, and Jew friends experience all the vicissitudes of that time but they do not betray their friendship.

Another one lives in our time and deciphers some rare foreign language. Somehow, when studying ancient treatises, he comes across a legend about music that can bring memories about a person’s previous life but only in that case if this person has already heard this song in a previous life. The entire action takes place not only in Lviv but also in Turkey.

At the end of the book, both storylines intersect in an unexpected finale.

This book evokes a lot of emotions. As you read it, you laugh, cry, get somewhat scared, and at the same time think about life. It is very interesting to follow the course of events and learn a bit about the concentration camps and Old Lviv.

In fact, you learn so much that you can easily use this book as a quick guide to Lviv on your trip to Ukraine. 

Death And The Penguin 

Kurkov is probably one of those Ukrainian writers who has been published abroad the most. His ‘Death and the Penguin’ book was translated into five languages, including English, German, and Italian.

Why so many international readers enjoy the book? Most likely because it is a very unique intellectual detective.

The novel is about the adventures of journalist Viktor Zolotarev and his friend the penguin Misha whom he rescued from the Kyiv Zoo.

So, Viktor receives an unusual task from a major newspaper to write obituaries of prominent influential people, although they are all still alive. Gradually, he realizes that he has become a pawn in a game of black hat businesses and to get out of it staying alive turns out to be an almost unrealistic task.

Andrey Kurkov, the writer, managed to combine in one story the elements of irony, black humor, surrealism, and modern reality. 

While a lot of people find this book fascinating, it is not for everyone. When reading it, you feel some type of melancholy and hopelessness. It may be hard to finish the book since there is an impression that the author didn’t reveal everything he wanted. Yet, there is a lot to learn. 

As to me, this novel is ideal for late autumn or winter when the weather reflects the mood. 

Sweet Darusia: A Tale of Two Villages 

A novel about the life of a girl Darusia and her parents in the remote mountain village of Cheremoshne, in Bukovina in Western Ukraine.

Against the backdrop of 20th-century history, through this novel, you get to see a personal family drama that characterizes real events that took place at a time when Soviet NKVD in the pre-war and post-war period occupied Western Ukraine in the 1970s.

That is, this book is not only about Darusia and her tragedy. It’s also about the history of Western Ukraine under Soviet rule. And this history is very different than the one in other corners of Ukraine at the same time. 

This wonderfully written novel is saturated with picturesque descriptions of local customs and traditions. It describes precisely how the change of power, war, and human envy and prejudice throw average people into the millstone of historical events. And how in the end, the lives of the main characters are destroyed by evil agents of Soviet power who have no values and morals.

As to me, this book is difficult to read (probably because it talks about the past of my own ancestors, not sure) but it is uncovering a lot of realities of life in Western Ukraine during many years of the past century. 


I think with time, I will be adding more information on Ukrainian literature. Have you read any books about Ukraine that you could recommend? Share with us!

And don’t forget to save on Pinterest to find my tips later! 

9 Books (+1 Movie) About Ukraine That Will Help You Understand the Country
9 Books (+1 Movie) About Ukraine That Will Help You Understand the Country
 
 

Anya is originally from Ukraine but in heart she is a citizen of the world. She is working online and that’s why has an opportunity to travel slowly and live in different countries around the world. On this blog, her main goal is to inspire others to travel to under-the-radar-places and discover the world through life and work abroad.

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