‘The Death of a Soldier Told by His Sister’ attracted my attention in the book shop because of Russia’s war with Ukraine. I had earlier read and blogged about a book by a young Ukrainian girl ‘You Don’t Know What War Is’ The schoolgirl kept a diary which was later made into a book and it gave us the first-hand glimpse of the devastating effects of war on a family.
What makes ‘The Death of a Soldier Told by His Sister’ different are three factors – The author is the sister of a Ukrainian soldier. She (Dr Olesya Khromeychuk) is a historian, with a PhD in History from University College London, teaches history of East-Central Europe at the University of Cambridge, and is currently the Director of the Ukrainian Institute London. And lastly, we can say that it is also a story of affected families in every war, and not many such stories are written disclosing feelings interspersed with an intellectual’s introspections.
Volodya, the author’s brother was killed in Donbas in the 2014 Crimean war. Russia got away with Crimea’s annexation violating international law unpunished as the world responded with little more than ‘deep concern,’ the author notes.
Volodya had volunteered to join military when some young men had fled the country. He had a mind of his own. She received the news of her brother’s death and went to Ukraine for the funeral. What makes this book stand out is that it is about how she experiences every event. She is pained by the impersonal and mechanical approach to funeral, to publishing obituaries, to paperwork associated with dead soldiers.
The author and her mother receive some money from the Government and coincidentally they meet a patient needing urgent treatment, also by the name Volodya. Strange coincidence but, in a way, cathartic experience.
The author realizes that history teaches how wars are fought, and the cost of war includes the number of lives lost, but it does not tell us how innumerable families have suffered. Every number there is a person and behind him are a dozen others who are deeply affected. It is a telling account of human cost of war and of mindless Russian aggression. Bertrand Russell said, ‘War does not determine who is right – only who is left.’
This book is a ‘must-read’ for all.
PS: Feature Photo Courtesy Nataliya Smirnova on Unsplash
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”