Clashes in Ukraine, Kyiv. Events of February 18, 2014.

A decades-long conflict has reached a boiling point this week with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As of Friday, February 25, Russia has begun to close into the capital city of Ukraine – Kyiv. It is now the largest European ground conflict since World War II.  

Beyond the here and now of this complex issue, the history between Russia (formerly the USSR) and Ukraine stretches back over a century. Formerly a state of the USSR, Ukraine has seen Russia infringe on its defined sovereign borders many times before. In 2014, the former Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula was annexed by Russia, followed by a violent conflict known as the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine. The revolution included an overthrow of then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.  

Since 2014, the nation has seen conflict both internally (among different political factions) and externally with pressures from both Russia and the West at large. To help you understand the complexities of this decades-long conflict, we have collected a list of books and movies to provide some background.  

In addition to background on the conflict and its involved parties, we have also included choices that explore the culture and traditions of Ukraine. 

Ukraine by Alicia Z. Klepeis 

This children’s book includes engaging images accompanying information about Ukraine. Intended for children grades 3-8, the book intertwines narrative text and history with relevant imagery providing an excellent overview of the Eastern European nation.  

Ukraine by Michael Ruth 

This intriguing collection of essays with opposing viewpoints explores the complex issues in Ukraine, including how the U.S. should manage the conflict in Ukraine.  

Ukraine by Deborah Kent 

This book will immerse readers in the country’s rich culture and traditions, finding out how Ukrainian people live, eat, work, and communicate. Explore the nation’s incredible story, from its earliest settlement more than 40,000 years ago to its recent political upheaval in 2014.  

Ukraine: Birth of a Modern Nation by Serhy Yekelchyk 

Europe’s second-largest country is only recently independent and has become a test case of post-communist democracy. Any attempt to understand current events in this vibrant land must begin with Ukraine’s dramatic history. This book narrates the deliberate construction of a modern Ukrainian nation, incorporating new Ukrainian scholarship and archival revelations of the post-communist period.  

The Conflict in Ukraine: What Everyone Needs to Know by Serhy Yekelchyk 

This book explores Ukraine’s contemporary conflict and complicated history of ethnic identity, by weaving questions of the country’s fraught relations with its former imperial master, Russia, throughout the narrative. 

Russia, Ukraine, and the Breakup of the Soviet Union by Roman Szporluk 

Sixteen essays by Szporluk examine the final two decades of the Soviet Union. In the book, he argues a proper understanding of the breakup of the country must include a deep examination of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine.  

The Unfolding Ukraine-Russia Crisis: Episode 23 of A History of Eastern Europe 

See how the origins of the Russia-Ukranian conflict stem from the last hundred years of the region’s history in this film. After providing the historical context, this movie explains the ins and outs of the current crisis, including ethnic divisions within Ukraine and Russia’s attitude toward former Soviet territory. (Kanopy) 

In Wartime: Stories from Ukraine by Tim Judah 

Author Tim Judah talks to everyone from politicians to poets, pensioners, and historians. Listening to their clashing explanations, he interweaves their stories to create a sweeping, tragic portrait of a country fighting a war of independence from Russia–twenty-five years after the collapse of the USSR. 

Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine by Anne Applebaum 

This book draws on previously sealed records to prove Joseph Stalin deliberately created his agricultural collectivization project to commit genocidal acts against the Ukrainians, citing the millions of peasants who died from starvation between 1931 and 1933 to solve a Russian political problem. 

The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine by Serhii Plokhy 

Ukraine is currently embroiled in a tense battle with Russia to preserve its economic and political independence. 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. Understanding its tumultuous history helps provide context to the conflict that rages on today.  

Chernobyl: A 5-part miniseries 

As of Thursday, 2/24, Russian forces have seized the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. This five-part HBO miniseries follows the context of the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the USSR – one of the world’s worst man-made catastrophes.  

The New Europe: Joining NATO and the EU 

Despite the breakup of the Soviet Union, NATO continued to exist, and began admitting newly liberated Eastern European countries into the organization. Reflect on Eastern Europe’s place in the western world and what joining NATO and the European Union means for the region. (Kanopy) 

Vladimir Putin Biography by Gale Biography in Context (web resource) 

This online biography of Vladimir Putin explores the Russian leader’s past including his involvement in Ukraine.  

CultureGrams Ukraine 

Learn more about Ukraine’s cultures, traditions, history, heritage, and cuisine with CultureGrams.  

Want to stay informed as this conflict unfolds? Access The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and many other news sources. Find these and more via our website.