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Book Reviews

#WavellReviews The War Came to Us Life and Death in Ukraine 

The War Came to Us Life and Death in Ukraine by Christopher Miller is available from Bloomsbury.

The War Came to Us tells the story of the journalist Christopher Miller’s life and experiences in Ukraine.  It starts with his time as a member of the US Peace Corps and ends in Donbas following Russia’s invasion in February 2022.  It is a story that spans over a decade of peace and war, covering both historically significant events and more general life in Ukraine.

Image: The War Came to Us book cover.

The text is Miller’s personal story.  It is told first-hand and details his numerous experiences and encounters.  Miller’s style, as you might expect from an experienced storyteller, is engaging and interesting.  He picks his moments well but pivots in time and geography when needed to tell his tale.  Miller pulls out details of human interest, making the text a first-hand account of war.  There is a noticeable trend ås his love and respect for the country grows through his story.  But Miller remains critical of the things he sees and is able to maintain a journalist’s perspective without being blinded by it.

Human moments

What struck us most about The War Came to Us is Miller’s depth of experience in the country.  The text starts with his time in the US Peace Corps, working in a school and living in rural Ukraine.  He documents reporting on MH17 and the invasion of Donbas in 2014.  It ends with Russia’s invasion.  He was seemingly at the right place at the right time, taking enormous personal risks to get the story out.

The War Came to Us pulls out the human moments that mark the largely untold story of life and death in Ukraine.  From the invasion of Donbas to 2022, Miller has documented how people responded and their emotional reactions to the events around them.  Whilst you may see this sort of stuff daily in the media, The War Came to Us presents things differently within their broader context and as part of the story of Ukraine.  The span of the book enables a reader to understand the significance of things we may otherwise consider unremarkable.

One of the things Miller does well is explore the deep history of Ukraine and its political situation.  His time with the EuroMaiden, and before that, builds a picture of Ukraine and its people that many will not see or have access to.  A Western reader looking at Ukraine might be forgiven for not being able to understand the people and their motivation for protest, for example.  In Ukraine, in particular, there is a tendency to see only corruption and be indifferent.  Miller brings to life the frustrations and aspirations of Ukraine’s people and mixes them into the higher strategic trends that many in the West focus on.  Human moments make this accessible.

Key locations

The War Came to Us is not an analytical text.  Despite drawing on lots of credible sources, it doesn’t provide much analysis of the wars in Ukraine for those wanting a ‘proper’ war book.  It gives enough context to allow readers to understand the military dimension but does not lose itself in minor details.  The War Came to Us focuses on the human contacts that made the war and motivated people to fight.  The book details Miller being at or near critical events in the Ukraine wars.  He searched for the MH17 crash site, the Crimea referendum, and being at Bahkmut before ‘the battle’ began.  These anecdotes add a new angle and a different perspective on how we may look at the wars in Ukraine.

For the average reader interested in security, The War Came to Us contains many tactical details and stories which are relevant for professional interest.  Particularly regarding the treatment of journalists and what we might call information operations.  For example, Russian supporting forces across Ukraine regularly stop him to demand that ‘he tells the truth’ (meaning, their truth) about the war.  Miller’s encounters deep distrust for journalists and friction in how they are handled by separatist forces.  When in Donbas, he regularly needs to get his press accreditation pass renewed.  His story of the people he encounters is both horrifying and fascinating, containing details that we rarely consider.  This sheds light on the bravery of journalists operating in war zones.  The risks Miller took doing his job were extreme.   The War Came to Us more is a significant text documenting the wars in Ukraine.

Death and destruction

We were struck by the brutality and level of death Miller encounters.  In The Wavell Room we deal with military issues daily.  The War Came to Us made us stop and think about the consequences of these decisions.  From lost homes to lost children, the sheer level of brutality and death Miller encounters hit us emotionally.  It is difficult for a Western reader to comprehend the sheer scale of destruction encountered.

But there is also much happiness with reunions, marriages, births, and dark humour.  The War Came to Us gives us a human dimension to the most significant war in Europe in recent history.  It can be a challenging read to face the consequences of war.  The War Came to Us gives us a lens from which to see the war in Ukraine.

Should I read it?

Yes, if you want a first-hand account of a journalist at war.  We didn’t consider this to be an ordinary ‘war’ book.  It’s not an analytical text, and it’s not a piece of fiction.  The War Came to Us is a personal story of life in Ukraine, covering strategic events alongside routine life.  It, therefore, offers a different perspective on life and death in Ukraine. It’s both humorous and horrifying.  But the story is fulfilling and interesting, engaging and mind-opening.  The War Came to Us left us both sad at the scale of destruction and its human cost and uplifted by the spirit of the people of Ukraine.

 

The Wavell Room Team

The Wavell Room Team are a bunch of enthusiastic individuals who believe strongly in constructive debate, discussion and openness in order to arrive at a sound, non-bias and informed position on many subjects.  The team are all volunteers and support this non-profit in their own time.

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