500 days of war in Ukraine

Publications to better understand the situation in Ukraine (picture courtesy of Yurii Khomitskyi).
Publications to better understand the situation in Ukraine (picture courtesy of Yurii Khomitskyi).

Russian Invasion Causing Widespread Suffering for People in Ukraine

Today marks the 500th day of the invasion of Ukraine. 500 days of war by the armed forces of the Russian Federation and various armed (supposedly) non-state actors against the people of Ukraine. The war has 'wrought a devastating toll on civilians and shattered civilian life in much of the country', reports Human Rights Watch in its World Report 2023. 'Russian forces have committed apparent war crimes and crimes against humanity, including torture, summary executions, and enforced disappearances. They have carried out indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas and repeatedly targeted energy infrastructure, leaving millions of civilians periodically without electricity, water, and heat as winter temperatures plunged. More than 14 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes. Information about Ukrainian forces violating the laws of war by mistreatment and apparent summary executions of prisoners of war, which would constitute a war crime, also emerged.' The recent attack on a restaurant in Kramatorsk is just the latest reminder of the daily terror unleashed by the war.


To mark day 500 of the invasion, I want to focus on Ukraine. Today's article provides you with a list of background resources about the country, its history, and various perspectives of the invasion of Ukraine by neighbouring Russia to better understand the situation. In addition and being an amputee myself, this post will offer a wide range of links to articles that focus on fellow amputees - civilians and soldiers alike - and what we can do to support them in their road to recovery. As in so many other conflict situations, people - and especially people with disabilities - need our solidarity as well as hands-on support.



What's on my Bookshelf: Ukraine

Welcome to another edition of ‘What’s on my book shelf?’ With the war of aggression by the armed forces of the Russian Federation on Ukraine nearing day 500, I thought I share the list of books - well, actually audiobooks - and podcasts I have used in recent months to gain a better understanding of the situation in the country, the history behind it, the main players, as well as listen to a variety of voices from a wide variety of backgrounds and with a wealth of experiences.


But before I share my listening list on this topic, let me be clear about two points. Unfortunately I do not speak Ukrainian. Nor do I speak Russian or any other language from Eastern Europe. That has implications - read limitations - with regards to where I get my information from and which sources I consult. In addition, I must admit that my prior knowledge about Ukraine was close to zero. A real shame, I know. So I started basically from scratch when I tried to learn more about the country, its people and politics, the current war and how we got there.


Having said all that, I hope you find the following list helpful. All the audiobooks are available on Audible. And the podcasts can be listened to on most of the commonly used players.




Serghii Plokhy: The gates of Europe: A history of Ukraine

Summary by the publisher: ‘Ukraine is currently embroiled in a tense fight with Russia to preserve its territorial integrity and political independence. But today's conflict is only the latest in a long history of battles over Ukraine's territory and its existence as a sovereign nation. As the award-winning historian Serhii Plokhy argues in The Gates of Europe, we must examine Ukraine's past in order to understand its present and future.


Situated between Central Europe, Russia, and the Middle East, Ukraine was shaped by the empires that used it as a strategic gateway between East and West—from the Roman and Ottoman empires to the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. For centuries, Ukraine has been a meeting place of various cultures. The mixing of sedentary and nomadic peoples and Christianity and Islam on the steppe borderland produced the class of ferocious warriors known as the Cossacks, for example, while the encounter between the Catholic and Orthodox churches created a religious tradition that bridges Western and Eastern Christianity. Ukraine has also been a home to millions of Jews, serving as the birthplace of Hassidism—and as one of the killing fields of the Holocaust.


Plokhy examines the history of Ukraine's search for its identity through the lives of the major figures in Ukrainian history: Prince Yaroslav the Wise of Kyiv, whose daughter Anna became queen of France; the Cossack ruler Ivan Mazepa, who was immortalized in the poems of Byron and Pushkin; Nikita Khrushchev and his protege-turned-nemesis Leonid Brezhnev, who called Ukraine their home; and the heroes of the Maidan protests of 2013 and 2014, who embody the current struggle over Ukraine's future.


As Plokhy explains, today's crisis is a tragic case of history repeating itself, as Ukraine once again finds itself in the center of the battle of global proportions. An authoritative history of this vital country, The Gates of Europe provides a unique insight into the origins of the most dangerous international crisis since the end of the Cold War.’


Listen to the book on Audible UK.



Orlando Figes: Crimea

Summary by the publisher: ‘The terrible conflict that dominated the mid-19th century, the Crimean War, killed at least 800,000 men and pitted Russia against a formidable coalition of Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire. It was a war for territory, provoked by fear that if the Ottoman Empire were to collapse then Russia could control a huge swathe of land from the Balkans to the Persian Gulf. But it was also a war of religion, driven by a fervent, populist and ever more ferocious belief by the Tsar and his ministers that it was Russia's task to rule all Orthodox Christians and control the Holy Land.


Orlando Figes' major new book reimagines this extraordinary war, in which the stakes could not have been higher and which was fought with a terrible mixture of ferocity and incompetence. It was both a recognisably modern conflict - the first to be extensively photographed, the first to employ the telegraph, the first 'newspaper war' - and a traditional one, with illiterate soldiers, amateur officers and huge casualties caused by disease. Drawing on a huge range of fascinating sources, Figes also gives the lived experience of the war, from that of the ordinary British soldier in his snow-filled trench to the haunted, gloomy, narrow figure of Tsar Nicholas himself as he vows to take on the whole world in his hunt for religious salvation.’


Listen to the book on Audible UK.



Timothy Snyder: On tyranny and On Ukraine: Lessons from Russia’s war on Ukraine

Summary by the publisher: ‘The number one New York Times best seller, now in an expanded audiobook edition that includes detailed historical context for the democracy-threatening Ukrainian conflict and a call to action for modern times.

This edition includes the best-selling original On Tyranny, read by the author.


In this exclusive audiobook edition, which includes eight hours of new content, Timothy Snyder combines the original On Tyranny (2017)—20 lessons on how history can instruct our response to the rise of tyranny around the world today—with 20 new lessons that answer the questions everyone is asking about Russia's war on Ukraine. With forays into history, he clarifies the causes of the Russian invasion and the meaning of Ukrainian resistance, and explains the war's connections to threats to democracy around the world. Linking past and present, and speaking only from notes, Snyder delivers an important call to arms and roadmap for resistance, providing invaluable ideas for how we can preserve our freedoms in the uncertain years to come. This is the long view we all need, given to us right now by a leading expert.’


Listen to the book on Audible UK.



Owen Matthews: Overreach: The inside story of Putin’s war against Ukraine

Summary by the publisher: ‘An astonishing investigation into the start of the Russo-Ukrainian war – from the corridors of the Kremlin to the trenches of Mariupol.


The Russo-Ukrainian War is the most serious geopolitical crisis since the Second World War – and yet at the heart of the conflict is a mystery. Vladimir Putin apparently lurched from a calculating, subtle master of opportunity to a reckless gambler, putting his regime – and Russia itself – at risk of destruction. Why?


Drawing on over 25 years’ experience as a correspondent in Moscow, as well as his own family ties to Russia and Ukraine, journalist Owen Matthews takes us through the poisoned historical roots of the conflict, into the Covid bubble where Putin conceived his invasion plans in a fog of paranoia about Western threats, and finally into the inner circle around Ukrainian president and unexpected war hero Volodimir Zelensky.


Using the accounts of current and former insiders from the Kremlin and its propaganda machine, the testimony of captured Russian soldiers and on-the-ground reporting from Russia and Ukraine, Overreach tells the story not only of the war’s causes but how the first six months unfolded.


With its panoramic view, Overreach is an authoritative, unmissable record of a conflict that shocked Europe to its core.’


Listen to the book on Audible UK.



Luke Harding: Invasion: Russia’s bloody war and Ukraine’s fight for Survival

Summary by the publisher: ‘The first book of reportage from the front line of the Ukraine war. Invasion is a powerful, moving first draft of history written by the award-winning Guardian journalist and #1 New York Times bestselling author of Collusion and Shadow State.

For months, the omens had pointed in one scarcely believable direction: Russia was about to invade Ukraine. And yet, the world was stunned by the epochal scale of the assault that began in February 2022. It was an attempt by one nation to devour another.


Invasion is Luke Harding’s compelling chronicle of the war that changed everything. For this breath-taking work of reportage he spent months reporting on the ground during the build up to the conflict and afterward; his book tells of the initial days of shock and panic, the grim reality of this ongoing war, and the unheard human stories behind the headlines. Invasion also offers insightful portraits of the war's two great personalities. One, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, is an actor-turned-president who rallied support on a global stage. The other, Vladimir Putin, is a dictator who dwells in a strange and unreachable realm. Harding examines the ideological, religious, and personal reasons behind Putin's decision to invade. And he confronts a crucial question: which side will prevail in this terrible war?


Written in Luke Harding’s starkly transfixing style, this is an urgent, and powerful account of the largest armed conflict in Europe since 1945. The action spans battlegrounds on land, sea, and sky, from atrocities committed in Mariupol and Bucha, to the key military frontlines in Kherson and the Donbas. With the ripple effects of this conflict already being felt beyond Ukraine and Russia’s borders, it’s more vital than ever to understand how the situation on the frontline will have profound effects for us all. Having warned correctly about Putin’s dark and adventurist ambitions in his previous books Collusion and Shadow State, Harding’s analysis of the war's consequences for Kyiv, Moscow and the world makes for essential listening.’


Listen to the book on Audible UK.



Luke Harding: Shadow state: Murder, mayhem and Russia’s remaking of the West

Summary by the publisher: ‘From the number one New York Times best-selling author and award-winning journalist comes Shadow State, a timely and shocking analysis which connects Putin, Trump, and Brexit with the dark web. Based on years of investigations, Luke Harding reveals how Russian spies helped to sway the 2016 US presidential elections in favour of Trump and backed the campaign which resulted in Brexit, and how they lied, deceived, and murdered to do so.


From Salisbury to Helsinki, Washington to the Ukraine, the Kremlin has attempted to reshape politics in their own mould; the future of Western democracy is at stake as a result.’


Listen to the book on Audible UK.



Catherine Belton: Putin’s people: How the KGB took back Russia and took on the West

A Times and Sunday Times Book of the Year 2020.

A Daily Telegraph Book of the Year 2020.


Summary by the publisher: ‘The hacking of the 2016 US elections. The sponsorship of extremist politics in Europe. War in Ukraine. In recent years, Vladimir Putin's Russia has waged a concerted campaign to expand its influence and undermine Western institutions. But how and why did all this come about, and who has orchestrated it?


This rigorous and revelatory audiobook explains how this happened, Putin's rise to power and how Russian black cash is subverting the world.


In Putin's People, former Moscow correspondent and investigative journalist Catherine Belton tells the untold story of the rise of Vladimir Putin and the small group of KGB men surrounding him. Delving deep into the workings of Putin's Kremlin, Belton accesses key inside players to reveal how Putin replaced the free-wheeling tycoons of the Yeltsin era with a new generation of loyal oligarchs who in turn subverted their country's economy and legal system and expanded its influence in the West.


The result is a chilling and revelatory expose of the KGB's renaissance - a story that began long ago in the murk of the Soviet collapse when networks of operatives were able to siphon billions of dollars out of Russia and into the West. After Putin's takeover of the economy, some of these networks acquired new flows of cash to realise their goals. Based on many years of research, Belton charts the relentless seizure of private companies and the installation of those closest to Putin into the richest, highest seats of power.

Ranging from Moscow to London, Switzerland and Trump's America and introducing a colourful cast of characters, Putin's People is a gripping and terrifying account of how hopes for the new Russia went astray, with stark consequences for its inhabitants and, increasingly, the world.’


Listen to the book on Audible UK.



Marcel H. Van Herpen: Putin’s wars: The rise of Russia’s new imperialism

Summary by the publisher: ‘This audiobook offers the first systematic analysis of Putin's two wars, placing the Second Chechen War and the War with Georgia of 2008 in their broader historical contexts. Drawing on extensive original Russian sources, Marcel H. Van Herpen analyzes in detail how Putin's wars were prepared and conducted and why they led to allegations of war crimes and genocide. He shows how the conflicts functioned to consolidate and legitimate Putin's regime and explores how they were connected to a third, hidden, "internal war" waged by the Kremlin against the opposition. The author convincingly argues that the Kremlin - relying on the secret services, the Orthodox Church, the Kremlin youth "Nashi", and the rehabilitated Cossacks - is preparing for an imperial revival, most recently in the form of a "Eurasian Union."


An essential book for understanding the dynamics of Putin's regime, this study digs deep into the Kremlin's secret long-term strategies. Clearly argued, it makes a compelling case that Putin's regime emulates an established Russian paradigm in which empire building and despotic rule are mutually reinforcing. As the first comprehensive exploration of the historical antecedents and political continuity of the Kremlin's contemporary policies, Van Herpen's work will make a valuable contribution to the literature on post-Soviet Russia, and his arguments will stimulate vigorous debate.’


Listen to the book on Audible UK.



Mark Galeotti: Putin’s wars: From Chechnya to Ukraine

Summary by the publisher: ‘ A new history of how Putin and his conflicts have inexorably reshaped Russia, including his devastating invasion of Ukraine.


Putin's Wars is a timely overview of the conflicts in which Russia has been involved since Vladimir Putin became prime minister and then president of Russia, from the First Chechen War to the two military incursions into Georgia, the annexation of Crimea and the eventual invasion of Ukraine itself. But it also looks more broadly at Putin's recreation of Russian military power and its expansion to include a range of new capabilities, from mercenaries to operatives in a relentless information war against Western powers. This is an engrossing strategic overview of a rejuvenated Russian military and the successes and failures on the battlefield. Thanks to Dr Galeotti's wide-ranging contacts throughout Russia, it is also peppered with anecdotes of military life, personal snapshots of conflicts, and an extraordinary collection of first-hand accounts from serving and retired Russian officers.


Russia continues to dominate the news cycle throughout the Western world. There is no better time to understand how and why Putin has involved his armed forces in a variety of conflicts for over two decades. There is no author better placed to demystify the capabilities of the Russian military and give a glimpse into what the future may hold.


Putin's Wars is an engaging and important history of a reawakened Russian bear and how it currently operates both at home and abroad to ensure Russia is front and centre on the world stage.’


Listen to the book on Audible UK.




Timothy Snyder: The making of modern Ukraine

As someone who has been following Timothy Snyder for some time and read/listened to most of his books/audiobooks, this was an obvious show to start with. This show is the live recording of a Yale University course from autumn of 2022. Find all 24 episodes here.



Patrick Bishop and Saul David: Battleground Ukraine

Battleground Ukraine is history podcast that explores the narratives, turning points and characters that shape conflicts, encompassing a blend of social and military history. It is hosted by military historians Patrick Bishop and Saul David. Find all 62 episodes here.



Arkady Ostrovsky: Next year in Moscow

I found this recommendation on the Open Democracy site and started listening to it right away. Why? Well, here is the little blurb that got me started: ‘Travelling across Europe, journalist Arkady Ostrovsky interviews Russians who left the country after the invasion of Ukraine. Opposition lawyers, activists, high-flying media types and regular professionals all feature in this series – as do their struggles for a better country.’ Find all nine episodes here.



NPR: State of Ukraine

Another jewel - with more than 460 episodes by now - I stumbled across after browsing through the Open Democracy homepage. Their take on the podcast: ‘NPR is really good at audio, and the US semi-public broadcaster brings all of its talent to showcasing what Ukrainian society is going through as a result of the Russian invasion. Expect a mix of brilliant human stories, breaking news and fresh analysis from some of the best radio-reporters out there.’ And what does NPR say about its own show? ‘We have reporters on the ground in Ukraine and around the world, bringing you the latest on Russia's war in Ukraine. We'll discuss the conflict's past, its possible future, and what each new development means for the rest of the world.’ Clearly worth listening to. Find all the shows here.



BBC: Ukrainecast

Another very informative podcast with by now more than 230 episodes. The show received good reviews in The Guardian (that’s also how I found it). Here is what they have to day: ‘For analysis and live reporting, the BBC is always hard to beat in a news emergency. If you want a single programme to keep you up to date, then its new daily, Ukrainecast is one you should try. Hosted by the warm but rigorous Victoria Derbyshire and Gabriel Gatehouse, this brings in analysts, reporters, experts and people on the ground in Ukraine.’ Find all 230 episodes here.



Sean Guillory: The Eurasian knot

And here is show #3 that I started listening to after a visit to the Open Democracy webpage. Open Democracy writes: ‘For anyone who’s followed Russia and the region over the past decade, Guillory’s blogs and podcasts have been invaluable, tying together academic expertise and a deep interest in history with a search for a realistic left-wing conversation about the former Soviet Union. Now, his long-term project has been relaunched as The Eurasian Knot podcast, and it rocks.’ So you see, the focus is not on Ukraine or the current war; it’s wider. And this immense scope makes it so helpful to build background knowledge, explore connections, and think systemically. Find all 300 episodes here.



MDR Aktuell: Was tun, Herr General? - Der Podcast zum Ukraine-Krieg (in German)

This German language podcast focusses on military aspects of the war. How to stop Putin's invasion? What is the strategy of the Russian army in Ukraine? How strong are the defenders? How helpful is the support of Germany and NATO? MDR AKTUELL host Tim Deisinger discusses these and other pressing questions about the Ukraine war with former NATO General Erhard Bühler, a retired Lieutenant General of the German Army. Bühler has served in a wide variety of positions in the Bundeswehr since 1976. In 2010, for example, he assumed command of the KFOR mission in Pristina (Kosovo). In 2019, he became commander of the Allied Joint Force Command in Brunssum, the Netherlands, one of NATO's two military high commands in Europe. Find all 125 episodes here.



The War, Limb Loss, And Ways To Support Fellow amputees In Ukraine

The New York Times: From Combat in Ukraine to Rehab in Minnesota, With No Time to Waste

War has forced Ukraine to become skilled at treating amputees, but there are too many for its overtaxed medical workers. Some are finding their way to a prosthetics clinic in Minnesota.Read the full article here.



The Telegraph: Ukraine's 10,000 amputees and the struggle for artificial limbs

Some 10,000 Ukrainians have undergone an amputation during the war. But providing prosthetic limbs is proving difficult. Read the full article here.



Reuters: Ukraine needs more prosthetic clinicians as war toll mounts

The steady stream of wounded soldiers into a clinic for artificial limbs in Kyiv is a stark reminder of the human cost of Russia's war on Ukraine, where military casualties are a secret closely guarded by both sides. Read the full article here



Amplitude: How you can step up for Ukraine's wartime amputees

Amplitude‘s first post about the Russian invasion of Ukraine appeared on March 2 of last year, barely a week after Putin’s tanks rolled across the border. In those early days of the attack, we mused about the potential harm to the titanium supply chain and to Ukrainian bioengineering startups. It wasn’t until a couple of months later that we turned our attention to the thousands of Ukrainians who were losing limbs in the fighting, and the US limb-loss community’s mobilization to help those wartime amputees. Read the full article here.



Amplitude: Help is on its way for Ukrainian amputees

We’re approaching six months since the invasion of Ukraine began, and the human toll continues to rise. The most recent official tally from the United Nations showed nearly 12,000 civilians killed or injured since the invasion began; that doesn’t include military casualties. While there’s no precise count of people (both civilians and soldiers) who’ve lost limbs in the conflict, most estimates put the number well north of 1,000. As we described earlier this summer, getting help to those people is a sticky logistical widget. But multiple organizations have been chipping away at the problem in various ways, and real progress is starting to happen. Read the full article here.



Limbs For Life: Donate used prosthetic limbs and other components

With the escalation of the war in Ukraine, Limbs for Life began receiving inquiries about assistance for amputees- soldiers and civilians who lost limbs from the fighting and those who lost access to care due to destruction of facilities. The need for prosthetic care is increasing rapidly, with more people losing limbs and more clinics destroyed. Limbs for Life has joined a collaborative effort to address the prosthetic needs in Ukraine. Reports from within the country suggest as many as 8,000-10,000 individuals have lost limbs since the invasion, and many of the country's 400K existing amputees cannot access care. We continue to receive desperate appeals for aid from individuals and clinics. Read the full article here.  



Post by Bjoern Eser from The Peacebuilding Practitioner.