“No surrender”! Demonstration of Ukrainians in front of the presidential palace, in kyiv, on December 8, 2019, before the meeting in Paris of Volodymyr Zelensky and Vladimir Putin to discuss the situation in Donbass. GENYA SAVILOV/AFP
“The Russo-Ukrainian War. The return of history” (The Russo-Ukrainian War), by Serhii Plokhy, translated from English (United States) by Jacques Dalarun, Gallimard, “La suite des temps”, 394 p., €30, digital €22.
On February 24, 2022, Serhii Plokhy was in Vienna, Austria, when he learned from one of his colleagues at Harvard University (Massachusetts), where the Ukrainian-American historian heads the chair of History of Ukraine, that the The country of his childhood has just been invaded by Russian troops. “My heart broke”he simply writes at the beginning of The Russo-Ukrainian War, the book he began writing a few days later. It won’t be a book about his feelings: he won’t say more. It will be an act, which will consist of serving where we are, by doing what we know how to do, in this case, explaining, putting into perspective, opposing the memory distortions of propaganda with the objectivity of historical knowledge.
The author ofAt the gates of Europe. History of Ukraine (Gallimard, 2022) accomplishes this program masterfully. Firstly by its art of recounting the first year of the war, a model of immediate history, which offers the reliable benchmarks for the criticism of sources and the hierarchy of facts, specific to the historical method. Written, like the rest, in clear and dense language (brilliantly rendered by Jacques Dalarun), these chapters, which occupy the second half of the book, make it an essential guide for anyone who wants to get as close as possible at this stage , of the reality of the facts.
Above all, these facts would have no intelligibility, however firmly established they might be, if Serhii Plokhy did not deploy all their social, political, historical and theoretical dimensions. This is what the book begins with, and it is this, too, which gives its weight to the factual narrative: the embedding of causes and consequences. From what moment, for example, did Russia aim to dismantle Ukraine? Serhii Plokhy traces the first formal expression to a text posted online on the website of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 17, 2014. At the end of February, the pro-Russian Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted from power following the uprising of Maidan (November 2013-February 2014), caused by its rejection of a proposed association with the European Union. On March 16, a referendum was organized in Crimea by the local Parliament, under Russian control, under conditions that make annexation inevitable.
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