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E book overview of The Struggle of Our Lives: My Time with Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s Battle for the Democracy, and What It Means for the World by Julia Mendel

Because the starting of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the world has been impressed by the Ukrainian folks: there are already sufficient tales of heroic resistance to final a lifetime. Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov additionally took to social media to ask his countrymen and ladies to maintain diaries throughout this troublesome time as proof for the way forward for what they lived by. A few of these testimonies are starting to achieve Western audiences. Iuliia Mendel’s “The Wrestle of Our Lives: My Time with Zelenskyy, The Battle for Democracy in Ukraine and What It Means for the World” is marketed on the again cowl as “written with the sound of Russian bombs and shells exploding within the background.” The previous press secretary to the president of Ukraine tells how rising up in Kherson finally led to one of many nation’s most sought-after positions for journalists , what he noticed originally of Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s presidency and the way Ukraine got here collectively within the face of what’s now a struggle.

A lot of the chapters are structured across the challenges Zelensky confronted in workplace: “The Press vs. The President,” “The Negotiator,” “Oligarchs and Faux Information,” and so forth. It will be good to learn extra about Mendel herself past the listing of achievements: “I used to be born a provincial lady, I bought a doctorate in Ukrainian literature, I labored as a journalist, after which I used to be the press secretary of President Zelenskyy from June 2019 to July 2021. Returning to journalism. I proudly earned my place in a affluent, affluent, free and clear nation.” As an alternative, a lot of the e-book summarizes what occurred throughout his time as press secretary in Zelensky’s administration. He attributes this to his cultural upbringing: in Ukraine, it’s thought of inappropriate to speak an excessive amount of about oneself. Nonetheless, the passages about his mother and father and his beloved Kherson, nonetheless below Russian occupation, are touching: “Kherson was the place the place I discovered my first phrases, the place the place I stood up for the Ukrainian language. There they taught me to work onerous if I wished to attain one thing.’

Reflections on Ukraine’s relationship with the Ukrainian language at a time when cultural ties with Russia have been severed are additionally crucial to the nation’s cultural discourse: he wrote of his era: “We’re decided to reclaim the misplaced Ukrainian heritage whereas constructing a vibrant modern identification. We now have many concepts about the place we’re going, what we worth from the previous and who we shall be within the coming many years”.

These acquainted with Ukraine’s current political historical past could take challenge with elements of the e-book. Mendel goes after former President Petro Poroshenko at each alternative, calling him and his crew “the identical Soviet con artists we as soon as confronted.” Poroshenko received the 2014 presidential election after the victory of the Maidan Revolution, which led to the pro-Russian dictator. Viktor Yanukovych to flee to Russia Earlier than that, Poroshenko was no stranger to Ukrainian politics, however he was additionally recognized for his enterprise empire, most notably the Roshen confectionery firm. A few of Mendel’s criticism of Poroshenko is justified: he’s an oligarch and never with out controversy. However he doesn’t acknowledge the various achievements throughout his tenure that benefited Ukrainians, such because the enlargement of the visa-free journey regime and the institution of state establishments such because the Institute of the E book of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Cultural Basis. All this contributed to the numerous enchancment of Ukraine’s cultural degree on this planet.

Poroshenko’s “Military, language, religion!” was conservative, there may be an argument to be made that after the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Donbass eight years in the past, such a mindset was essential to unite the Ukrainian public. Even earlier than the present invasion started, on February 24, Russia’s intentions had been clear: to wipe Ukraine off the map. As well as, When Mendel acknowledges that the nationalization of PrivatBank in 2016 was a major achievement within the battle in opposition to the oligarchy, he doesn’t point out Poroshenko, however “Ukraine’s political management”.

It additionally borders on the absurd to write down that “Poroshenko’s love for the Ukrainian language was as hypocritical as his patriotism”, as a result of his household’s mom tongue was Russian. Many Ukrainians—together with Mendel, by his personal admission—come from Russian-speaking households, however made a acutely aware resolution to make use of the Ukrainian language in public. As Mendel rightly factors out, this embrace of Ukrainians in the direction of Russian accelerated after the invasion.

As for Poroshenko’s perceived gaffes after Zelensky grew to become president, Mendel disagrees that Zelensky has typically performed the identical. There isn’t any point out of Zelensky’s justification for doing so. For instance, Mendel wrote how Poroshenko gave a New Yr’s speech in 2020 on Channel 5, which he owned on the time. It’s a custom for the president of Ukraine – and for different leaders of the nations of the previous Soviet Union – to take action. However Zelensky was already president, and Poroshenko’s speech was criticized. . Nonetheless, on New Yr’s Eve 2018, the 1+1 TV channel, then owned by oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, broadcast Zelensky’s New Yr’s Speech relatively than Poroshenko’s, through which Zelensky introduced his presidential candidacy. This will likely not matter to English readers who knew Zelensky by his wartime management, however it typically calls Mendel’s objectivity into query.

Earlier than the Russian invasion, Zelensky confronted a whole lot of criticism from the Ukrainian public, which at occasions appeared extreme. As Mendel describes, the previous comic and actor was not like every other president within the historical past of Ukraine. Not surprisingly, the general public wasn’t positive what to do with him after he got here to energy. Though he received 73 % of the vote within the presidential election, residents had been skeptical that he might result in change in a system that has struggled to make vital progress since Ukraine gained independence in 1991. a state of affairs the place you begin from scratch, however from one thing that’s already utterly worn, torn and damaged. It isn’t a simple job.”

The coronavirus pandemic and the Russian invasion shortly caught up and compelled Zelensky to grow to be a real statesman. Throughout this time, he additionally made progress on different home points, such because the launch of the Diia app, nicknamed the “state in a smartphone”, which permits residents to entry digital paperwork and authorities companies. He additionally secured the discharge of many Ukrainian political prisoners from the Kremlin, together with high-profile figures resembling filmmaker Oleh Sentsov and army commander Vitalii Markiv. That the Ukrainian public has rallied round Zelensky after the invasion is a testomony to his loyalty to his nation and, in some ways, a redemptive arc worthy of a film star.

The reader will get a useful perception into the conferences between Zelensky and different political leaders. On the 2019 “Normandy 4” summit, for instance, Mendel describes assembly President Vladimir Putin and the remainder of the Russian delegation face-to-face: “His complete crew regarded utterly outdated. And when I discovered the fitting phrases to explain how I regarded, I all of the sudden grew to become extra relaxed. Mentioning all of Putin’s repetitions, stutters and interruptions – which are sometimes ignored by TV voices – helps demystify the dictator that Western media have lengthy portrayed as having the crafty and sense of a fearless Bond villain. Mendel’s description is way more apt.

In the end, Mendel’s memoirs are greatest learn as a subjective account of the Zelensky administration relatively than an authoritative historical past. Hopefully, readers’ curiosity in Ukraine continues and they are going to be in search of extra high quality Ukrainian books to be launched within the close to future, together with by authors who’re at the moment serving or volunteering within the Ukrainian army.

Kate Tsurkan is a author, editor and translator. In 2017, he co-founded Apophena, a web based literary journal that primarily publishes literature in translation. He lives in Ukraine.

My time with Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s wrestle for democracy, and what it means for the world

Atrium/Sign One. 208 pages $27.99

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