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The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine

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Ukraine is currently embroiled in a tense battle with Russia to preserve its economic and political independence. But today’s conflict is only the latest in a long history of battles over Ukraine’s existence as a sovereign nation. As award-winning historian Serhii Plokhy argues in The Gates of Europe, we must examine Ukraine’s past in order to understand its fraught Ukraine is currently embroiled in a tense battle with Russia to preserve its economic and political independence. But today’s conflict is only the latest in a long history of battles over Ukraine’s existence as a sovereign nation. As award-winning historian Serhii Plokhy argues in The Gates of Europe, we must examine Ukraine’s past in order to understand its fraught present and likely future. Situated between Europe, Russia, and the Asian East, Ukraine was shaped by the empires that have used it as a strategic gateway between East and West—from the Romans and Ottomans to the Third Reich and the Soviet Union, all have engaged in global fights for supremacy on Ukrainian soil. Each invading army left a lasting mark on the landscape and on the population, making modern Ukraine an amalgam of competing cultures.


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Ukraine is currently embroiled in a tense battle with Russia to preserve its economic and political independence. But today’s conflict is only the latest in a long history of battles over Ukraine’s existence as a sovereign nation. As award-winning historian Serhii Plokhy argues in The Gates of Europe, we must examine Ukraine’s past in order to understand its fraught Ukraine is currently embroiled in a tense battle with Russia to preserve its economic and political independence. But today’s conflict is only the latest in a long history of battles over Ukraine’s existence as a sovereign nation. As award-winning historian Serhii Plokhy argues in The Gates of Europe, we must examine Ukraine’s past in order to understand its fraught present and likely future. Situated between Europe, Russia, and the Asian East, Ukraine was shaped by the empires that have used it as a strategic gateway between East and West—from the Romans and Ottomans to the Third Reich and the Soviet Union, all have engaged in global fights for supremacy on Ukrainian soil. Each invading army left a lasting mark on the landscape and on the population, making modern Ukraine an amalgam of competing cultures.

30 review for The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    While I have long heard that the maternal side of my family came from Ukraine in the 1930s, I was not old enough to ask the poignant questions to those who made the journey while they were still alive. While it is not entirely necessary to understand the political and social rationale, my curiosity has always been quite high to better understand what led these people to flee and settle throughout Saskatchewan, in Canada’s Prairie West. A recent topic in my reading challenge pushed me to explore While I have long heard that the maternal side of my family came from Ukraine in the 1930s, I was not old enough to ask the poignant questions to those who made the journey while they were still alive. While it is not entirely necessary to understand the political and social rationale, my curiosity has always been quite high to better understand what led these people to flee and settle throughout Saskatchewan, in Canada’s Prairie West. A recent topic in my reading challenge pushed me to explore some of my ancestral roots, which paved the way to better understand Ukraine as a country, a political entity, and a society. While I may not discover all the answers I seek, Serhii Plokhy wrote a fairly comprehensive history of the region, giving me a greater understanding of my ancestral homeland, leaving me many new questions that will have to be answered through further research. Plokhy begins his exploration by discussing the territory that would eventually become Ukraine as being vast and open, unbordered in the modern sense. Various groups settled in the region, leaving their marks, including: Neanderthal mammoth hunters, the Norsemen (Vikings), Cossacks, and various others. These groups sought not necessarily to overtake the territory, but to offer influential marks in defence, arms, and primitive political assembly. Plokhy pushes through the centuries quite effectively, with the Ottomans entering the fray, as well as an early Russian Empire, both squeezing the land that would be called Ukraine in a time. Interestingly enough, the influence of these outsider empires helped formulate a cultural mix and a people who referred to themselves as the Rus’, though a number of other names have been given to these people, as Plokhy discusses for the interested reader. Plokhy goes into much greater detail in the early part of the book about many of the cultural and social entities that wove the early fabric of the Rus’ people, should the reader wish to indulge in this discussion. With politics and geography always evolving, the Rus’ found themselves influenced by these two strong-willed groups as the Hapsburgs came along and laid claim to other European neighbours, adding new and flavourful influences to the region. A seminal event in Ukrainian—and world—history would have to be the Great War, where empires fell and territory was handed out like sweets at a party. The Rus’ people, now seeing themselves as Ukrainians, saw the potential to seek independence during a movement of removing past shackles. Interestingly enough, as the Russian Revolution came to pass, Ukraine sought to declare itself autonomous as well, but did not have the military or political might to stand entirely alone, as they soon discovered. Rather, they had the ever-powerful Bolshevik Russia breathing down their neck and quashing any hopes of independence. Plokhy explores an interesting perspective at this point, with army general Stalin wanting Ukraine to fall under the Russian umbrella in this new collective, but Lenin felt it better to make them a Ukrainian people, developing the (other) USSR, Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. As part of this vast republic, Ukraine became the second largest of all the republics, even as other countries began eating away at their borders—namely: Poland, Russia, and Czechoslovakia—in the inter-war years. Stalin’s rise to power saw him flex his muscle and turn to the Ukrainians, punishing them by taking all their agricultural offerings and starving them out. A pogrom if ever there was one, this Great Famine was Stalin’s way of turning Ukraine into a great republic, though one can only imagine how beating them down would help them. Plokhy notes that the Ukrainian lands were also quite sought after when the Nazis arrived in the early 1940s to invade Russia. Hitler spent significant time in Ukraine, laying the groundwork for a key cog in the Nazi wheel, with its plentiful fields and the like, though many readers will know what happened to the Nazis. They did, however, leave their mark, alongside Stalin, in ridding the region of Jews, carting them off to camps and luring robust Ukrainian men away from the country to work in Germany. By the Cold War years, Ukraine was a staple part of the Soviet republics, but after Stalin’s death, the bloodletting seemed to taper off, as numerous other leaders utilised Ukraine as one of the key pillars in keeping the region afloat. Soviet Party influence waned for the latter years of the USSR and was completely obliterated with the disintegration of the Soviet Empire in 1991. On wobbly legs, Ukraine emerged as independent for a time, supported by democratic elections and recognition around the world. Plokhy offers an interesting narrative about some of the revolutionary elections that led Ukrainian politicians to push back. However, with Putin sitting in the Kremlin, Ukraine was soon being meddled with once again. Putin pushed for Russian-backed parties to win elections and went so far as to overturn elections in the Crimean Region, installing a party that had not garnered much support by the people—surely more blatant and doable, as social media and collusion tactics were not needed, as in North America. Plokhy leaves open the possibility that Russia and Ukraine with lock horns again over a variety of issues, including the latter’s ability to remain independent. He asks the curious reader to keep an open mind as things progress politically, hoping that the world will not let a Russian fist erase democracy. However, if they can put a Russian agent into the White House, one can only imagine they can do so anywhere. A brilliant piece of writing that gives the reader a great overall view of the region’s development and casts light on some of the current skirmishes with Russia over the Crimea, sure to be a highly controversial battle for years to come. Recommended to those who wish to learn more about Ukraine without getting bogged down in the minute history of the region. As I mentioned before, I wanted a little something that would open my eyes to some of my ancestral roots, as well as offer me the history and politics of a region about which I know so little. Plokhy does this in an even-handed manner, mixing social, cultural, and political history together in an easy to digest format. The book tries not to skim, but it is almost impossible to delve in too deeply and still offer up a book that can be carried from one place to another. Plokhy’s arc of Ukrainian history opens the discussion, but never does he profess to having all the answers or to be the final word on the matter. While I refuse to call it a primer, this book does lay some basic foundations for those who want to learn more. Plokhy’s writing style is also easy to comprehend, offering readers lots of information in a relevant format. Depending on the topic at hand, chapters can be short or more detailed, permitting to reader to extract what they want before moving along. Written in English, there was little I felt I might be missing at the hands of a translator, which helped me feel confident in my reading, though I am sure Plokhy has been able to thoroughly research the topics in their original languages, as well as relying on other historians who have taken the leap before him. While the region may not be of interest to all, I can see many readers learning a great deal, even if they chose only to read key chapters in the book: lead-up to the Great War through the the Cold War fallout. While I never promote ‘parachuting’ into a book, I admit this was the section that interested me most and allowed me to extract a great deal of information to whet my appetite and cultivate a stronger understanding of familial roots. I suppose I will have to see if I cannot better comprehend what led my family to leave Ukraine and settle in Saskatchewan. The Prairie West does have a strong Ukrainian population and Plokhy has given me some good ideas why this might be the case. Kudos, Mr. Plokhy, for enlightening me on this subject. I feel better versed and am eager to tackle some of your other work, which I see deals with other regional interest of mine! This book fulfils Topic#3: Show Your Roots in the Equinox #6 Reading Challenge. Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at: http://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/ A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Carlos

    This book was a challenge for me , I have wanted to learn more about Ukraine since I heard about the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, I finally got the chance to do it . Ukrainian history is full of invasions, violence and empires , from the Austrian , polish , German and soviets . It has been defined by multiethnic cultures and by a conglomeration of citizens that shared a language but not a culture , it has managed to survived the oppression of its language both written and spoken by the This book was a challenge for me , I have wanted to learn more about Ukraine since I heard about the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, I finally got the chance to do it . Ukrainian history is full of invasions, violence and empires , from the Austrian , polish , German and soviets . It has been defined by multiethnic cultures and by a conglomeration of citizens that shared a language but not a culture , it has managed to survived the oppression of its language both written and spoken by the Soviet Union ever since WW 2, in this book you will find that for good or bad Ukrainian history is linked to Russian history, as Ukraine has fought for its sovereignty it has clashed with Russia many times before , therefore a knowledge of Russian history is needed to enjoy this book better , but not necessary since the author does a good job of introducing all of these concepts step by step in a very detailed manner, I recommend this book to anyone who tries to understand current relations between Russian and the rest of the world as Ukraine is the ground where it has been tested for the first time.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine, was a tough read for me. To preface, my family is of Ukrainian heritage, and I am always interested in learning about Ukrainian culture and history. Serhii Plokhy has not itched that scratch for me. The Gates of Europe is a short book for something so ambitious, and it really begins to show as one reads. Massive details that would have been fascinating to read in depth are glossed over. The book is just too ambitious for its own good. Entire centuries The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine, was a tough read for me. To preface, my family is of Ukrainian heritage, and I am always interested in learning about Ukrainian culture and history. Serhii Plokhy has not itched that scratch for me. The Gates of Europe is a short book for something so ambitious, and it really begins to show as one reads. Massive details that would have been fascinating to read in depth are glossed over. The book is just too ambitious for its own good. Entire centuries are covered in a few pages. Only a chapter or two is dedicated to the fascinating time-period of Greek and Roman colonization of the Crimea. Tartar and Steppe tribes are relegated to foreign "others" and ignored, only being mentioned as untrustworthy allies of the valiant Cossack Tribes in their struggle against foreign aggression from Poland, the Ottomans, and Muscovy. The Cossack's received much more coverage than most of the rest of history, with another large chunk dedicated to more modern (and politically questionable) material. Plokhy had an axe to grind with this book, and he did it. It was a timely release due to the Russian backed war in Eastern Ukraine that began to gather steam in 2013. It is also politically charged, with Plokhy pulling no punches in his discourse on Ukrainian and Russian conflict and interdependence throughout history. He goes to great length, as well, to talk about the cultural differences that developed between the Rus of Kiev and the Rus in Muscovy, and the religious and cultural changes that occurred under the tutelage of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The desire for independence throughout history did not always exist, but Ukraine developed its own national identity throughout history due to its connections to other European states, and its closeness to the Turkic and Tartar tribes that inhibited the Crimean region. These were the more interesting parts of the book. Even so, there is little that I can say to recommend this book to anyone. It is far too politically charged to be a serious history book. The edition I read had literally zero sources. There are hundreds of statements in this book that are questionable and biased, and I would love to see the sources to allay my suspicions. Huge portions of fascinating historical periods are glossed over to play off the Ukrainian-Russian rivalry that will sell copies of this book. It is difficult for me to say anything more, as I enjoyed this book so little. I urge any readers to only pick this up if they are inclined to do so for political reasons. There are many facts that will be interesting to those who interested in historical background to current events. However, as a serious history book, and one written by the chair of Ukrainian history at Harvard University no less, this is a poor excuse.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Liviu

    overall interesting but somewhat unbalanced (there are some periods treated in more detail and some almost skipped) and the narrative is not as smooth in other similar books; some stuff I was only marginally aware of (and sometimes not at all), and a reasonable introduction to a topical subject

  5. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine (Basic Books, 2015) by Serhii Plokhy. A good history of Ukraine and its changing land(s) from Kievan Rus' through the Mongol invasion through the changing power of Galicia–Volhynia, Poland, Lithuania, the Cossack Hetmanate, the Ukrainian SSR, and into modern Ukraine. Good reading from anyone wanting a comprehensive and up-to-date history of Ukraine.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    Very thorough, engagingly written history of the development of Ukraine as a people, a nation and a country.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Marks54

    I moved this book up on my queue when I read a recent review in the Economist. I generally enjoyed the book but also note it limitations. The book presents a history of the Ukraine from its beginnings in classical times up to the present conflicts since 2014. I have to admit that I learned something from this book and that I must reevaluate how I look at Ukraine and Russia and all the dynamics that have developed since Communism went out of business. Professor Plokhy has shown the complex history I moved this book up on my queue when I read a recent review in the Economist. I generally enjoyed the book but also note it limitations. The book presents a history of the Ukraine from its beginnings in classical times up to the present conflicts since 2014. I have to admit that I learned something from this book and that I must reevaluate how I look at Ukraine and Russia and all the dynamics that have developed since Communism went out of business. Professor Plokhy has shown the complex history of the Ukraine, a history that involves geography, language, religion, politics, culture, national identity, economics, and war. If anything, this is about as complex a national story as one will ever find, more complicated than Irish history (although that may be a distinction without a difference) and one that certainly fits into to Russian and Eastern European history. It is a broad history and Plokhy has much to say. The depth of this history, however, makes one wonder about what has been left out to tell the story. Every chapter could easily be expanded. Recognizing the linguistic and cultural domains being explored here, there are few scholars who could have written such a readable book. Plokhy is clearly in love with his subject and that makes this a better book. Acknowledging that, however, makes me wonder what a discussion would be like between Plokhy and a Russian history scholar/devotee. I suspect there would be differences in perspective. The complexity of the story is such that I was left wondering about how far one should go in telling a national story such as this one. The values of a solid historical and cultural identity are alluring, but contentions around such histories, especially when tied to ongoing political struggles have often gotten violent and destructive. It is not always clear that the costs of pursuing such contested national identity are worth the results. On the positive side, however, it prompt a second look at the conflicted US national story - although the costs of our 19th century identity forging wars against each other are still with us. Plokhy has convinced me, however, that we have not experienced the "end of history" in the Ukraine by a long shot.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nestor Rychtyckyj

    “The Gates of Europe” is a well-timed and excellent book that shows once again that history repeats itself and how it relates to the present. Ukraine is in the headlines as it fights to protect itself from yet another invasion from Russia. As Serhii Plokhy points out in this book – this invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine is just another in a long list of Russian attacks on the very existence of Ukraine that goes back hundreds of years. This book is more than just a history of Ukraine and its “The Gates of Europe” is a well-timed and excellent book that shows once again that history repeats itself and how it relates to the present. Ukraine is in the headlines as it fights to protect itself from yet another invasion from Russia. As Serhii Plokhy points out in this book – this invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine is just another in a long list of Russian attacks on the very existence of Ukraine that goes back hundreds of years. This book is more than just a history of Ukraine and its people – it’s also describes the language, culture and religion of people who have been under some type of foreign domination for most of its history. Plokhy paints a picture of Ukraine through the centuries with its beginnings as Kyiv-Rus in the 10th century and takes us on a journey through time through the Cossak Hetmanat in the 17th century to the formation of Ukraine as an independent nation. In many ways, the Ukrainian people had to endure a litany of horrors culminating in the Holodomor (famine) of 1932-1933 when millions of Ukrainians died of starvation directly caused by Stalin. The Ukrainian independence of 1918 and 1919 did not last long and the proclamation of independence in 1941 was crashed between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Russia. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army fought into the mid 1950s against the Soviets and independence finally came when the Soviet Union collapsed. That independence is again being threatened by Putin who seeks to rebuild the Soviet Union again. This ongoing battle will go long way in seeing if Europe is going to be dragged into a future where armed invasions of neighboring countries becomes the norm. Ukrainian history is not simple, but the book does a great job in describing the differences in religion, culture, nationalities and language within one country. The constant re-alignment of borders requires a whole set of maps to show exactly how Ukraine came to be. I places it may be difficult to follow all of the nuances that impacted the past, but the book is well worth reading just to understand what is happening now in Eastern Ukraine and why it is so significant for Europe and the world.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ross

    I read this book to try and gain a much deeper understanding of the current military and political situation with the Ukraine and the Russian Federation. The first half of the book deals with the history from prehistoric times up to the start of the 20th century. This was really more than I wanted to know about Ukraine, but the second half of the book was exactly what I wanted to know to understand why Vladimir Putin intends to retake the Ukraine as the first step in fulfilling his promise to I read this book to try and gain a much deeper understanding of the current military and political situation with the Ukraine and the Russian Federation. The first half of the book deals with the history from prehistoric times up to the start of the 20th century. This was really more than I wanted to know about Ukraine, but the second half of the book was exactly what I wanted to know to understand why Vladimir Putin intends to retake the Ukraine as the first step in fulfilling his promise to restore the Soviet Union. This is also a sad book to read because it is clear that Western Europe and U.S. have no intentions of defending the Ukraine from the Russian takeover. What a great pity for the Ukrainian people who have striven for so long to have an independent country, only to be swallowed up once again by Russian imperialism.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Randi Kennedy

    Solid history, although I lost interest after WWI. That's not the book's fault: I am not in the mood for quite this much history all at once.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    I didn't know how little I knew about Ukraine. Plokhy draws from his exhaustive knowledge of Ukrainian history to offer portrait of a region that has been divided as long as it has been on record. From the days of Rome and Scythia to Putin's annexing of Crimea, the author shows us the multiple forces that are constantly, in different configurations, re-arranging the Ukrainian map. A few things really struck me. First, that the lands of Ukraine have a long history of being exploited for slave I didn't know how little I knew about Ukraine. Plokhy draws from his exhaustive knowledge of Ukrainian history to offer portrait of a region that has been divided as long as it has been on record. From the days of Rome and Scythia to Putin's annexing of Crimea, the author shows us the multiple forces that are constantly, in different configurations, re-arranging the Ukrainian map. A few things really struck me. First, that the lands of Ukraine have a long history of being exploited for slave labor, first by the Nogay and the Crimeans for the Ottoman markets, and then by the Germans and the Russians for labor during the second world war. Second, that political cultures can be so determined by political fissure. The last several hundred years of Ukrainian history have been marked by several partitions and re-territorializations that have exposed various portions of the country to different political systems, such as Galicia to Poland and Austria, and Left Bank Ukraine (that is, east of the Dnieper) to the Russian Empire. This had important implications for nationalism, as it impacted political cultures, language, and religion. Different portions of Ukraine managed to influence one another even when the country was divided or when governments made efforts to crush influence from across the border. Plokhy shows how the Cossacks attempted to be shrewd political operators, moving back and forth between Poland and Muscovy as they attempted to broker the best political deal, a strategy that failed then and would continue to fail the Ukrainians in the future. Third, the continued lives of myths, such as the Cossack myth, for encouraging nationalist sentiments. Chronicles and Histories that became bases of different Ukrainian myths were both born out of politics and were continuously re-arranged for political purposes. Ironically, the myth of the Kievan Rus' as the source of Russian civilization obscures its genesis in a Viking aristocracy - the term " Rus' " itself of Scandinavian roots. My main criticisms of the book are that Plokhy's interests are primarily political and therefore I was often at a loss to how deep the idea of Ukraine, or Little Russia, or the Cossack Hetmanate penetrated the people beyond politicians, officers, religious leaders, and intellectuals. He mentions that peasants deeply supported their Cossack leaders, but I was less sure about the attitudes of the Ukrainian peasants in the 19th and early 20th centuries towards the various Ukrainian nationalist movements. These movements mostly failed and when membership only numbered in the hundreds or thousands, I am less sure how much they impacted the Ukrainian people. Since many of them built their dreams on Cossack myths (vs. potentially pan-Slavic ideologies) I wonder how strongly these ideas affected the peasants: did peasants dream of the Hetmanate or Ukraine. Furthermore, what sorts of borders did these groups imagine for Ukraine? Plokhy treats the contemporary borders as the final resolution of a history of partition. Finally, reading this history, I can't help but conclude that Crimea is as much Russian as it is Ukrainian, or Ottoman, or its own place. The same could be said for nearly every borderland of the country, including the eastern portions now claimed by Russian-allied splinter states. In fact, is there anything more Ukrainian than being divided, with a future of reunion on the horizon?

  12. 4 out of 5

    Frank Kelly

    Excellent history of Ukraine which helps explain many of the challenges the country faces today. Highly recommend it

  13. 5 out of 5

    Philip Larmett

    I'm reading this book backwards, as I have lived through the most recent history of Ukraine myself and, as Serhii rightly demonstrates in his Epilogue, the post-Maidan history of Ukraine still remains to be written. I'm not sure if it's a novel approach to history, but it works. I've been going through the narrative in chapters, working backwards. - The Price of Freedom (2014), the Maidan and its causes - Goodbye Lenin (1982), from the death of Brezhnev, Chernobyl and Gorbachev, through to I'm reading this book backwards, as I have lived through the most recent history of Ukraine myself and, as Serhii rightly demonstrates in his Epilogue, the post-Maidan history of Ukraine still remains to be written. I'm not sure if it's a novel approach to history, but it works. I've been going through the narrative in chapters, working backwards. - The Price of Freedom (2014), the Maidan and its causes - Goodbye Lenin (1982), from the death of Brezhnev, Chernobyl and Gorbachev, through to independence, Kuchma and Yushchenko - The Birth of a Nation (1914), starting in Sarajevo - The Unfinished Revolution (1905), starting in St Petersburg - On the Move (1870), John Hughes and the industrialisation of SE Ukraine - The Porous Border (1848), Galicia and Dnipro Ukraine in the 19th century - Catherine the Great, The annexation of the Crimean Khanate in 1783, and the partitions of Poland - Emperor Petr the Great, the battle of Poltava (1709) and Ivan Mazepa - The treaty of Pereiaslv (1654) and Bohdan Khmelnytsky - The Diet of Brest (1596) and the origin of the Greek Catholic Church. I also now know who Mohyla was. - Chapter 8, The Cossacks, featuring Petro Sahaidachny - From 1385, the union of Kreva to the Union of Lublin, 1569, and the rise of the Ostrozky and Vishnevetsky families; Ukraine appeared for the first name on a map. - Pax Mongolica, from 1240, when the Mongols conquered and destroyed Kyiv, and the simultaneous rise of Danylo in Halych, Galicia. Galicia was incorporated into Poland in 1430s. Volhynia became part of Lithuania - Then back to the Kyivan Rus' princes, Olga, Sviatoslav, Volodymyr and Jaroslav, the Scandinavians who came to rule over the Slavs. - Then all the way back to Herodotos, the Scyths, the Sarmats and the Pecheneg horsemen... they're the ones who killed Sviatoslav at the Dnieper rapids in 972... Wonder what happened to those other tribes? Were they just absorbed by the dominant Slavs, in much the same way that the Celts ended up being absorbed by the Anglo-Saxons? And is that why the Cossacks became such good horsemen? It's all in the genes...

  14. 5 out of 5

    Monty

    Dr. Plokhy has succeeded well with a very daunting task. The history of Ukraine is one of the most complicated and tumultuous in world history due to its extensive record and problematic location. The story begins in ancient times with the influences of the Greeks, Scythians, Khazars, et al. It continues up through the era of the Varangians (Eastern Norsemen) and Slavic migrations; though the era of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Cossack Hetman era and into the hellish barbarity under Dr. Plokhy has succeeded well with a very daunting task. The history of Ukraine is one of the most complicated and tumultuous in world history due to its extensive record and problematic location. The story begins in ancient times with the influences of the Greeks, Scythians, Khazars, et al. It continues up through the era of the Varangians (Eastern Norsemen) and Slavic migrations; though the era of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Cossack Hetman era and into the hellish barbarity under Stalin and the Communists. Many people in the U.S. are still unaware of the man-made terror famine created by Joseph Stalin which led to the deaths of millions in the 1930's. That atrocity is described here in the context of forced collectivization and brutalization of unwilling farmers. Ukraine became the "no-man's land" of Eastern Europe during WW2 and much of it was left as scorched earth by 1945. At least 7 million of its citizens were dead and one-third homeless. Up to 40 per cent of its wealth and 80 per cent of its technology and equipment was gone. The country survived, but was severely crippled. Events are closely and effectively linked with major players on all sides. The treatment is very even-handed, detailed and comprehensive. Several past histories have displayed strong national biases (Galician, Polish, Vohlynian, Russian, etc.) within their texts. Mr. Plokhy has avoided these obstacles to provide a rich and reasonable chronicle of this fascinating but troubled country, roughly the size of France in area. The title is also very appropriate to the subject. Dr. Plokhy is also the author of another notable title, " Last Empire: Final Days of the Soviet Union."

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Frank

    This book filled in a lot of gaps in my understanding of European history, and sheds a lot of light on the current conflict in eastern Ukraine. A well-structured, compelling read. Highly recommended.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Inna

    An overview of Ukrainian history. Not more, not less.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dewey

    With an interest both personal and academic in Central-Eastern Europe and the Slavic nations, my ignorance of Ukrainian history and the characteristics that make the Ukraine and its people distinct eventually convinced me to dig a little deeper into my pocket so as to buy this book, especially when I saw that it was recent enough to include at least the prelude to the current conflict. Serhii Plokhy, a professor at Harvard (which if I’m not mistaken is home to one of the foremost centers of With an interest both personal and academic in Central-Eastern Europe and the Slavic nations, my ignorance of Ukrainian history and the characteristics that make the Ukraine and its people distinct eventually convinced me to dig a little deeper into my pocket so as to buy this book, especially when I saw that it was recent enough to include at least the prelude to the current conflict. Serhii Plokhy, a professor at Harvard (which if I’m not mistaken is home to one of the foremost centers of Ukrainian studies in the world), writes factually but concisely. Whether by personal motivation or some other impetus, Plokhy wants the average reader to become acquainted with Ukrainian history. Indubitably he succeeds. What I liked about this book is that its focus is very Ukraine-centric. Which over the course of history means the Kievan Rus, the Ruthenians, the Cossacks and then modern-day Ukraine, as the people who would become Ukrainians did not go by that name until modern times. Nevertheless, from Plokhys perspective there is a clear cultural lineage that transcends names and goes back to the Kievan Rus, which at its time was more culturally advanced than Western European nations due to its close proximity to the Byzantine Empire. Not quite West and not quite East, the Ruthenians who would become Ukrainians seem to either bounce back and forth between East and West or are divided and fall into different spheres. This has created a nation that is remarkably diverse when it comes to cultural mindsets. Naturally this Ukraine-centric approach has flaws. Plokhy only briefly mentions why Russia, Poland or some other nation reacted as they did. I would have liked to know more about Ivan Franko, the great poet who had a city named after him (Ivano-Frankivsk). It was curious as well that Plokhy doesn’t mention the great novel about the Hmyelnitsky Uprising, With Fire & Sword, by the Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz. I personally would have loved to hear his thoughts and the contrasts between that perspective and that of the revolutionary Cossacks. His mention of the Wolin massacre is very brief, though he does succeed in describing the psychological state of Volhynias inhabitants before that happened. All of those small concerns are more than compensated for, however, by the vast amount of knowledge I didn’t know about before: the history of the Kievan Rus; the origins of the Cossacks; the nature of the slave trade done by the Crimean Tatars for the Ottomans, who stole so many slaves from the steppes that the Ukrainian psyche is still scarred today, according to Plokhy (the Cossacks first became noticed because they attacked slave vessels on the Black Sea and rescued slaves from the Tatars); the abject horror of the Second World War in the Ukraine, equivalent to what happened in Poland in my opinion; and, most importantly, the development of the Ukrainian identity, which to this day remains unresolved. For some reason, important 19th century discussions about a separate identity did not happen the way they happened in other nations. From Plokhys perspective, it is this issue that is currently being resolved in the Ukraine right now. It was a big treat reading about Ukrainian history, and I wish them luck in finding that identity.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sassa

    I feel as if I have taken a college-level course. I learned so much by reading this book: geography, political power struggles, religious struggles and important terminology. Ukrainian history is fascinating and very complex but this book does a very good job of presenting a comprehensive yet concise record. Ukraine continues to be a player in world politics. We Westerners should know its story.

  19. 5 out of 5

    raffaela

    As someone who knew (and knows) very little about Ukrainian history, I found this to be an informative and relatively easy-to-follow narrative (though sometimes all the unfamiliar names and places blurred together). The narrative itself was never bad, but it definitely picked up steam from WWI-era on. At any rate this book gave me a new perspective and made me fall in love with the Ukrainian people, which is why I'm giving it four stars and not 3.5 as originally planned.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lasse Larsen

    Extremely well told. The history of Ukraine involves the history of all of Europe. The Ukrainian national identity is an extremely complex tapestry. To fully understand it, it is necessary to know the nations over 1000 year story. Plokhy does a great job at picking out the main events that helped shape modern day Ukraine. Since the countrys history is so eventful, condensing it down to a 450p read, makes it a fast paced read. This book would be a good read even for people not already interested Extremely well told. The history of Ukraine involves the history of all of Europe. The Ukrainian national identity is an extremely complex tapestry. To fully understand it, it is necessary to know the nations over 1000 year story. Plokhy does a great job at picking out the main events that helped shape modern day Ukraine. Since the countrys history is so eventful, condensing it down to a 450p read, makes it a fast paced read. This book would be a good read even for people not already interested in Ukrainian history.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mark Field

    A difficult but rewarding read. A meticulously researched and written history of a challenging area of the world which should be celebrated.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Hans

    Almost ashamed to admit how ignorant I am of Eastern European history so I've been working steadily on correcting that. This book helped fill the large gap in my understanding of the current larger picture of the geo-political events currently unfolding in Europe. Ukraine being the center stage of a centuries old drama at the heart of Eastern Europe. Covering the origins of Ukraine from its initial Viking invasion and settlement all the way to the current conflict with Russia over Crimea and Almost ashamed to admit how ignorant I am of Eastern European history so I've been working steadily on correcting that. This book helped fill the large gap in my understanding of the current larger picture of the geo-political events currently unfolding in Europe. Ukraine being the center stage of a centuries old drama at the heart of Eastern Europe. Covering the origins of Ukraine from its initial Viking invasion and settlement all the way to the current conflict with Russia over Crimea and Eastern oblast of Donetsk. There was a lot of new information for me to absorb here and I'm sure I didn't get it all the first time through but I did pick up enough to understand the major dynamics behind what shaped modern Ukraine. Those major dynamics were the dissolution of the old Ukrainian kingdom, the running away of thousands of Serfs who became the Cossacks (basically former peasants turned into a large group of nomadic land-pirates). The Cossacks constantly shifted allegiances and that depended a lot on which side of the Dnieper River they were on. The big players who influenced them were Russia, Poland and Austria-Hungary. The West side of the Dnieper being most strongly influenced by Poland and Austria-Hungary with many of the people being Catholic. The East side of the Dnieper being largely influenced by Russia and the Russian Orthodox church. As these different outside powers vied for influence over those lands the people who lived in modern day Ukraine began to develop their own distinct culture as a reaction to the treatment they received from those outside powers. Eventually the East and West sides joined together recognizing that even though they had some cultural differences their safety and security as well as underlying values were more in common with each other than with any of the surrounding powers. Thus Ukraine was born, a hybrid country with roots both in the west and the east. Those roots still coming into play in modern European politics as they pull the country in two different directions, East Ukraine more towards Russia and Western Ukraine more towards Europe. Only time will tell if Ukraine is capable of holding together but it has become a major Cultural Fault line between East and West and has the potential for erupting into a devastating war between the two with the Ukrainian people becoming the largest victim.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Blakely

    I hadn't really intended to read a book on the history of Ukraine, I jut happened to walk by it at the library and thought it looked interesting. Eastern Europe has a lot of interesting history and with Ukraine in the news so often now I thought this would be a good read. And yes, Ukraine has a lot of interesting history. The problem with the book is that the author tries to cover all of it. In 350 pages. It starts with Ancient Greece and basically sprints through the recent Ukrainian revolution, I hadn't really intended to read a book on the history of Ukraine, I jut happened to walk by it at the library and thought it looked interesting. Eastern Europe has a lot of interesting history and with Ukraine in the news so often now I thought this would be a good read. And yes, Ukraine has a lot of interesting history. The problem with the book is that the author tries to cover all of it. In 350 pages. It starts with Ancient Greece and basically sprints through the recent Ukrainian revolution, slowing just a bit for a history of post-WWI Ukraine. There is not time to become engaged with all of the interesting history. Even the discussion of the intentially-induced Stalin-era famines that killed millions of Ukrainians somehow doesn't come across as engaging or interesting, a feat I would not have thought possible. So I guess I would suggest reading something else instead - either something longer or something covering a shorter period of time in more detail.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alice

    This is a really fast paced history of Ukraine. If I had a better back ground in Ukrainian history, I'm sure it would have been easier for me to follow. Nevertheless, it is very interesting and shows great depth of research. I plan to use the recommended reading list at the end of the book to further my knowledge of Ukrainian history. Then I will attempt to comprehend this book in its entirety.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Doichin Cholakov

    We are currently witnessing not only a battle for the future of Ukraine, but also for its past. In this context any history could only be political. So honesty and scientific rigor are the only qualities that can save such a project from drowning in hybrid poisons. The Gates of Europe tick the boxes of academic and personal integrity, not shying away from taking stand on current events (although they constitute a small part of the book). Modern and well written it is also a pleasure to read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mark Ramirez

    A great book for a history of Ukraine from Antiquity to 2017. I found it to provide many details about a country that goes often overlooked but has a rich and complex history that everyone ought to know as it is crucial to the present-day shaping of the European continent, particularly Eastern Europe.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Janina

    Despite the undoubted interest of this book and the knowledge it brings, I found it unbalanced and messy. Some periods are repetitive, others are almost skipped, so it often makes boring reading. However, I admit that to covering the history of a country, especially Ukraine, on a period starting on 45,000 BC until nowadays was a huge challenge.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Why I abandoned this book...in one sentence: Because even though I got have way through, and even though there were some good theses about boundaries in it, there was too much one-thing-after-another history. I probably would have given it: Two or three stars.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Keen

    “Ukraine’s literacy rate now stands at a staggering 99.7%. It is arguably the fourth best educated nation in the world. Every year, its universities and colleges produce 640,000 graduates. Of these 130,000 major in engineering, 16,000 in IT, and 5,000 in aerospace, making Ukraine the software engineering capital of eastern and central Europe.” Like Poland the Ukraine has had the geographical misfortune to be stuck on the threshold of Europe so that for centuries it has often found itself as the “Ukraine’s literacy rate now stands at a staggering 99.7%. It is arguably the fourth best educated nation in the world. Every year, its universities and colleges produce 640,000 graduates. Of these 130,000 major in engineering, 16,000 in IT, and 5,000 in aerospace, making Ukraine the software engineering capital of eastern and central Europe.” Like Poland the Ukraine has had the geographical misfortune to be stuck on the threshold of Europe so that for centuries it has often found itself as the play thing of large empires or war hungry dictators, so that it was devastated not just by Stalin but also Hitler. This is a story of unions, wars, monarchs, tyrants and revolutions Ukraine has a fascinatingly rich and diverse history, a part of the world which came into the orbit of not just the Vikings, Byzantine Rome, Mongols, Cossacks eras but also the Romanov, Habsburg and Ottoman empires. All the major political and historical events of the nation are covered in here, the Battle of Poltava in 1709 which saw Russia establish itself as a European superpower, the Kyvian Rus period and of course the many huge events over the last century or so, from two World Wars, Communism, the Holodomor, Chernobyl and the Maidan. The section on WWII was probably the most fascinating section of this book. As is fairly well documented elsewhere, many of the Ukrainians openly welcomed the arrival of the advancing Nazis, owing to their reasonable conduct with POWs during the Great War and because Stalin was so cruel and brutal, but of course this optimism, quickly proved to be a deeply misguided belief. As well as the Babi Yar massacre which killed around 34’000 Jewish men, women and children in September 1941. Almost 2.2 million Ukrainians were enslaved and used as making up around 80% of the Osterarbeiters (Workers from the East). If this wasn’t hellish enough after the war was over Stalin’s appalling ignorance and paranoia ensured that many of these people ended up in Russian gulags too. Around one million Ukrainian Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. It lost around 7 million of its citizens (more than 15% of its population). Some 10 million didn’t have a roof over their head and approximately 700 cities and towns and 28,000 villages lay in ruins. I have read a few books on 20th century/contemporary Ukraine now, but to be honest I had no idea of how little interest I had in the wider and older history of the country until I read this book. This just had far too many slow and dry moments to fully engage with, even though Plokhy knows not to dwell too long in the earlier chapters, too often it felt like a slog. It is in the modern era when this book starts to get interesting. This ultimately suffers from a very common problem of when professors or academics write historical books, it may have been well-researched and highly informed but it lacks the gift of storytelling, and can feel too flat and dry.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    This is a fascinating book. First of all, it covers the history of this part of the world from the earliest known (necessarily very sketchy) through 2014. It is a cultural history and I found Plokhy's approach revelatory. This is absolutely key history for understanding Russia, the Soviet Union, and the world, and in the U.S. it is not well known. It was of enormous interest to me to learn about how this part of the world historically is not Europe per se but in fact sits on the border between This is a fascinating book. First of all, it covers the history of this part of the world from the earliest known (necessarily very sketchy) through 2014. It is a cultural history and I found Plokhy's approach revelatory. This is absolutely key history for understanding Russia, the Soviet Union, and the world, and in the U.S. it is not well known. It was of enormous interest to me to learn about how this part of the world historically is not Europe per se but in fact sits on the border between East and West. My family are from this part of the world and it was eye-opening. It covers the early twentieth century through World War II in great detail, including much Jewish history in the region. There was excellent information on the Cossacks also. The chapters on the Holocaust were hard reading but full of information. In fact, there was specific information about both small towns my family came from. Anyone interested in genealogy whose family came from this part of the world would find this illuminating and possibly helpful. Last, for people living in the U.S. today, the history of Putin's interference in Ukraine and its electoral process was profoundly alarming, important, and now certainly familiar. I think this is an enormously important book. It would be great if it were widely read in the U.S.

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