Schildts & Söderströms, 2015.
Reviewed by Anna Paterson in SBR 2016:1
Review Section: Non-fiction
With photographs by Niklas Meltio
If, in 2016, you buy a slight-looking book about Ukraine written by a foreign correspondent and a modern historian, it is probably because you are baffled and troubled by the news in the mainstream media and want to know a little more. Although both authors are specialists on eastern European current affairs, Ukraina – gränslandet is not for professional Europe watchers: it is too sketchy, too lacking in a clear focus. However, the mixture of ‘on the ground’ reporting (Laurén) and expertly selected extracts from Ukraine’s history (Lodenius) works very well as a source of readable, up-to-date information.
You will be intrigued by the interviews with ‘ordinary Ukrainians’ because Anna-Lena Laurén is clearly someone to whom people speak easily and relatively openly. What is said reflects the division, not to say fragmentation, of public opinion in a country where the boundaries between the pro-Europe and pro-Russia camps are criss-crossed by linguistic, regional and economic interests. Meltio’s fine, dark street photographs of demonstrations and expressions of grief could be taken from many countries, as could many of the interviews. It is up to Peter Lodenius to explain the historical context of the rumbling, shifting conflicts that started in 2014, or rather in 2004, or perhaps further back, in 1922 or...
Like Poland and former Czechoslovakia,Ukraine has been fought over, invaded,divided and reunited during most of its known history. Lodenius’s task is not easy, but he deals with it masterfully.
Towards the end of the book, the two strands of the narrative seem to come closer together as Laurén discusses the Russian leadership’s use of smart English-language media to back up a wider policy that Lodenius has already explained: the regime’s goal to recreate Russia within a Eurasian economic community. Ukraina – gränslandet works like a carefully made documentary in print: two skilful communicators have joined forces to stimulate readers into learning more about their special subject.