Even as Ukraine rapidly develops its own historical debate and its own national literature, it is still missing from Western historiography, the Western literary canon, and even from Western political consciousness: Ukraine’s right to exist as a nation at all is routinely questioned in Western capitals, notes Anne Applebaum, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.
Although he holds the Mykhailo Hrushevsky Chair at Harvard, Plokhy is not writing in order to enlighten Ukrainians about themselves. Instead he is engaged in a parallel project: he is writing in order to enlighten foreigners about Ukraine. He opens his introduction with three events in modern Ukrainian history—the declaration of independence in 1991, the Orange Revolution of 2004, and the Maidan revolution of 2014—and explains what motivates him:
To understand the trends underlying current events in Ukraine and their impact on the world, one has to examine their roots…. The journey into history can help us make sense of the barrage of daily news reports, allowing us to react thoughtfully to events and thus shape their outcome.
“Putin knows this history, of course,” Applebaum adds, “and he too fears that if Russia ‘loses’ Ukraine—which, nowadays, means losing economic and political influence—then his autocratic regime might also be destabilized. For if Ukraine becomes too European—if it achieves anything resembling successful integration into the West—then Russians might begin to wonder: If Ukraine, then why not us?”