Book Review: Around the War in Twenty Stories – Ukrainian Tales of Hope, Humanity and Humour

Book by Anna Shevchenko

This is a book that needed to be written. The author is a Ukrainian who has lived in the UK for a number of years and is a seasoned storyteller. As well as working ceaselessly to raise funds for medical and other support for Ukraine for the past two years, she somehow found the time to collect these poignant experiences, all of which are true stories. This book isn’t about the people fighting for their country’s independence, it’s about ordinary Ukrainians who stayed, fled or relocated inside their own country when Russia’s violent attack struck in the early morning of 24 February 2022. We have all read about the extraordinary patriotism, energy, determination and resilience of the Ukrainian people, but it takes these personal and true stories to bring home how it felt to rush to bring their families to safety, adjust to being far from homes and loved ones, and adapt to living in a different culture. They also tell of the generosity of people they met outside Ukraine, who wanted to help in any way they could.

In this digital age we see masses of information pass across our screens, but while it often shocks or has impact in other ways, it is ephemeral. We absorb the written word at our own pace, using our imagination to enhance the clarity of the image, and it lasts longer. In this book we don’t only hear the voices and experiences of humans, their anxiety, fear and anger: one story is a dog’s account of its experiences, another the recollections of a book in a library in Kherson. One tells of a former resident of Bucha, who knows that her horse was freed from its stable before fire consumed it, but not where it is now. Yet another has a Chanel lipstick in a starring role. (If you had five minutes to pack before leaving your home, what would you take?) Then there is eating borshch with chopsticks in London, baking cakes in Odesa under bombardment and a restaurant in western Ukraine with a secret dish on the menu that most guests order along with the rest– ‘Number five’.

The book was printed under shelling in Kharkiv and everyone who worked on it did it for free. The money from sales was meant to go to the people featured in the book but they all declined and instead it will go to buy medical supplies, demining equipment, a children’s library and a dog shelter.

Around the War was chosen by the Ukrainian Ambassador to the Council of Europe for an event in Strasbourg where the Ambassadors of 46 countries will present one book each.

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