When I was 17, I went to Russia. At the time, it was the greatest adventure of my life; four high school students and three teachers spent several weeks visiting Moscow, St. Petersburg, and a smaller northern city called Petrozavodsk. I met and made friends with several Russians on the trip, some of whom I am still in contact with. The sights and sounds of Russia to a teenager from a remote and exceptionally rural part of the country were intoxicating, and the trip was a major turning point in my life. Those few weeks abroad stoked my smoldering feelings of wanderlust, and ignited a fascination with the Slavic world that is still a notable part of who I am today, almost 25 years later.
At one point during the journey, I stayed with a small family for several days. They welcomed me, and even though I only spoke limited, halting Russian, they took care of me and made sure that I felt at home. My host-brother, Alex, was eager to practice his English and we quickly bonded over similar interests. We listened to cassettes on his stereo system together and we talked about a book series that we both enjoyed, the Dragonlance Saga. Late one night, we talked about how ironic it was that less than a decade before, we might have seen the other as an enemy. We talked about the Cold War and our memories of growing up on opposite sides of the ideological divide, and how tragic it all might have been. In that moment, I think we both saw that we had more in common than the Cold War rhetoric would have ever suggested.
That conversation was one of the single-most pivotal discussions that I ever had, because it helped me to see that sometimes the terrible things that governments do are done despite the goodness in so many of their citizens.
I am heartbroken about the invasion of Ukraine, and I am nervous for the wellbeing of friends and family that I have in Europe. I abhor the violence and the bloodshed that is happening, but I also feel deeply unsettled because it is being perpetrated by a country I have long been fascinated by. I am torn, caught between my deep feelings of condemnation for anyone who seeks war as a measure to resolve their differences, and my nostalgic memories of that foreign land and the warm friendships of Russians and Russophiles I have known. I don’t have a personal connection to the Ukraine like I have to Russia, but I believe firmly in democracy and non-violence.
As a librarian, I am trying to wrap my mind around this growing conflict and its complex origins. In recent weeks, I quickly discovered that I don’t know as much about the Ukraine as I thought I did, and I definitely haven’t got nearly enough expertise about the post-Cold War former Soviet Union states and their relationship to and with Russia.
There are, however, quite a few items in the collection at RPL that can help enlighten us about how we got to this stage. Below are a few relevant titles, and feel free to contact us if you are interested in other books by authors from and about the Ukraine or the makings of the current conflict.