"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A History of Ukraine

Having spent the summer of 2001 in Ukraine, and having ever after longed to go back, I have deep memories and affection for the country even as I am aware of its deep problems. I am anything but an expert on Ukrainian history even as I have read some of it and took graduate classes in Ukrainian church history. But one can never read enough history about anything, especially from one of the leading scholars of our time, the widely and rightly respected Harvard historian Serhii Plokhy (some of whose other works I have noted here).

Plokhy has a book coming out in December that nobody will want to miss: The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine (Basic Books, Dec. 2015), 432pp. Ukraine is not only the centre of a Russian-engineered conflict for the past several years, but it is the mother of East-Slavic Christianity. The Eastern Christian presence in Ukraine--in three Orthodox Churches, alongside the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church and others--is a crucial part of the problem but also the promise of Eastern Christianity especially leading up to the 2016 pan-Orthodox synod (if it happens).

About this book the publisher tells us:
Ukraine is currently embroiled in a tense fight with Russia to preserve its territorial integrity and political independence. But today’s conflict is only the latest in a long history of battles over Ukraine’s territory and its existence as a sovereign nation. As the award-winning historian Serhii Plokhy argues in The Gates of Europe Situated between Central Europe, Russia, and the Middle East, Ukraine was shaped by the empires that used it as a strategic gateway between East and West—from the Roman and Ottoman empires to the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. For centuries, Ukraine has been a meeting place of various cultures. The mixing of sedentary and nomadic peoples and Christianity and Islam on the steppe borderland produced the class of ferocious warriors known as the Cossacks, for example, while the encounter between the Catholic and Orthodox churches created a religious tradition that bridges Western and Eastern Christianity. Ukraine has also been a home to millions of Jews, serving as the birthplace of Hassidism—and as one of the killing fields of the Holocaust.
Plokhy examines the history of Ukraine’s search for its identity through the lives of the major figures in Ukrainian history: Prince Yaroslav the Wise of Kyiv, whose daughter Anna became queen of France; the Cossack ruler Ivan Mazepa, who was immortalized in the poems of Byron and Pushkin; Nikita Khrushchev and his protégé-turned-nemesis Leonid Brezhnev, who called Ukraine their home; and the heroes of the Maidan protests of 2013 and 2014, who embody the current struggle over Ukraine’s future.
As Plokhy explains, today’s crisis is a tragic case of history repeating itself, as Ukraine once again finds itself in the center of the battle of global proportions. An authoritative history of this vital country, provides a unique insight into the origins of the most dangerous international crisis since the end of the Cold War. 

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