Pity Ukraine. For this giant on the edge of Europe (the very word translating roughly as "border"), size has never implied muscle. Its lot has been partition between masters, some sort-of good, like Habsburg Austria, and some ghastly, like Tsarist Russia. After an abortive attempt at independence, Stalin rolled up his sleeves to deliver Ukrainian nationalism a knock-out blow. In the government-managed famine that followed, several million Ukrainians died.
Askold Krushelnycky is well-placed to explore and explain the terrible divisions in his tormented homeland. He has a father who fought for the Ukrainian SS and an aunt who became a heroine of the Red Army. With a background like that, his account of the years leading up to the 2004 Orange Revolution - which displaced the pro-Russian elite - is a highly personal, partisan account.
The way Krushelnycky tells it, Ukraine before the Kiev protests was run by a gang who make Milosevic and his entourage in Serbia look like a gentlemen's club. One victim was Georgiy Gongadze, a reporter who asked his foul-mouthed thug of a president, Leonid Kuchma, tricky questions on air. He was beheaded - one of many unexplained crimes that would have remained so, had not Kuchma's bodyguard fled Ukraine with devastating recordings of the boss's table-talk with the interior minister. Kuchma could be heard yelling for someone to deal with "that fucker".
That scandal, and the botched attempt to poison the reformist Viktor Yushchenko, persuaded Kuchma he might be better off not seeking a third term. A coalition of pro-Russian and "biznis" circles found a suitable clone in Viktor Yanukovych, whom they assumed would be a shoo-in. When he wasn't and they calmly falsified the result, the normally sat-upon Ukrainians bestirred themselves, donned the colour orange for no reason other than that it was that year's fashion, and - to the consternation of the Kremlin, the old guard in Ukraine and their foreign sympathisers - said "we'll choose our own president. We'll have Yushchenko".
The revolution did not maintain its momentum - especially after the Kremlin took its revenge by turning off gas supplies. Recent elections left Yanukovych's Party of Regions as the largest faction, though without a majority. But for those who want to savour that brief moment in time when Ukraine got up off its knees and stopped apologising for itself, this book is a great guide.Reuse content