Book Reviews

Cece reviews: Ukrainian Portraits: Diaries from the Border

On February 24, 2022, Putin attacked Ukraine, forever changing and disrupting the very face of a county whose dedication and love for their country, their homes and their way of life was shaken to the very core. These brave and resilient people were filled with both fear and despair, yes, but also with the unequivocal determination to defend their country at all costs. “The fierce bravery of Ukrainian warriors withstanding the Russian Moloch has been proving that every day.”

 

 

One of the most important factors when analyzing war zones is to reflect on what has happened historically in those regions, a study in irony that author Marina Sonkina dissects with personal knowledge, empathy and keen observational skills in her book, “Ukrainian Portraits: Diaries from the Border.”

Russian-born, Marina grew up in Moscow, about two kilometres from the Kremlin. Fluent in several languages including Russian and Ukrainian, in addition to several others, she left her B.C. home in March of 2022, and travelled to the Ukrainian-Polish border to volunteer at a refugee evacuation centre.

As someone who had been a refugee herself, Marina was inspired to write “Diaries from the Border” because she “realized that what the Ukrainian refugees needed most, (apart from practical advice) was to talk about their experiences.”

It was this need that defines Marina’s stories from the borders, ones draw readers in with their descriptive details and their emotion-filled experiences.

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Marina’s descriptive imagery of some of the hardest-hit areas of Ukraine allows us, the readers, to envision the homes that Ukrainian citizens have had to flee in the wake of the Russian invasion.  She captures the aftermath of those initial days in a way that feels like a punch to the gut with the knowing that the peaceful lives of so many were wrenched away in such a horrific, unsparing manner.

“Chernihov, in the north of the Ukraine, was attacked by the Russians on the first day of the invasion. It was an ancient city with beautiful churches, monasteries, and historical buildings. On February 24th, the Russians laid siege to it, just as eighty years earlier the Germans laid siege to Leningrad. During more than a month, the Russians harassed, tortured and killed its inhabitants. By the time the Russians had retreated, the city lay in ruins. Seven hundred of its inhabitants were dead.”

Marina, a former lecturer at the Moscow State University, a CBC producer and broadcaster, and a teacher at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C. was well aware of the risks and the danger she was undertaking by taking on a journalistic witness role in her position as a volunteer at the Ukrainian-Polish border. However, knowing that virtually each and every family has been torn apart by the Russian invasion she felt she had no choice but to show up, to comfort, to facilitate – to recount the stories that needed to be told from the Ukraine.  And there are many that will break your heart, including the journeys of people who have left the refugee camp for safe harbour in welcoming countries, but have returned to Ukraine because “things didn’t work out.”

It is hard for us living in a safe country like Canada to understand the sense of attachment to home, to country, that would so strongly and deeply affect us that we would choose to return to a land fraught with fighting and bombings and war, rather than stay in a place, while foreign to us, allows us the freedom of choice.

It is a privilege that we will come to deeply appreciate as we learn about the hardships of the Ukrainian people in this heart-rendering series of stories so richly told by Marina Sokina in “Ukrainian Portraits: Diaries from the Border.”

 

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Register to receive the FREE Zoom link as Creative Aging Books & Ideas hosts Marina Sonkina on Thursday, April 25, at 2 p.m.

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