Invasion Cover


The Inside Story of Russia’s Bloody War and Ukraine’s Fight for Survival

Luke Harding

Vintage, New York, 2022, 336 pages

Book Review published on: April 12, 2024

Following a dinner party and a fitful night of sleep, Luke Harding awoke to a world that had dramatically changed, as he found himself in the middle of one of Europe’s greatest conflicts since World War II. The date was 24 February 2022, Harding was in Kyiv, Ukraine, as Russian military forces began their invasion. As Russia’s military forces began their attempt to rapidly seize multiple large cities, Harding wandered the streets of Kyiv, taking note of the explosions in the distance, the lack of people in the streets, and the stream of cars exiting the city. Harding, a British citizen and author who has spent his life covering Russian affairs, provides a harrowing account of the initial months of Russia’s war with Ukraine in his 2022 book, Invasion: The Inside Story of Russia’s Bloody War and Ukraine’s Fight for Survival. Harding’s book provides a multifaceted look at the conflict’s origins, impacts to soldiers and citizens, and global reaction, all while including his personal experiences on the ground during the war.

Harding takes his readers on a journey as he navigates through the frontlines and successfully illustrates both sides of the conflict. The journey begins the night prior to the invasion with a seemingly normal dinner party that Harding attends with friends; a dinner party where much of the discussion centers on whether Russia will in fact invade its neighboring country. This opening scene is followed by a description of Kyiv the next morning as Russian forces attacked Ukraine from multiple entry points. Harding skillfully draws the reader in and then takes the reader through a series of chapters in which he compares and contrasts the different participants of the war. He begins with the antagonist, Vladimir Putin, describing his personal and political history along with his rise to power and catalogues the important events leading up to 24 February 2022. While doing so, he provides details and analysis to answer the question the entire world wants an answer to: Why did Russia invade Ukraine? Harding then steers the journey to focus on what he views as the protagonist, Volodymyr Zelensky. As with Putin, Harding highlights Zelensky’s personal history, his unlikely rise in politics, and his arrival on the world stage. These two stops on Harding’s journey sharply contrast the leaders who are locked in what seems like a never ending struggle.

He then takes the reader deep into the conflict to illustrate the personal experiences of the Ukrainian citizens that are galvanized to resist the overpowering invading force despite the high cost in human lives, destruction, and suffering. He contrasts this with average Russian citizens’ experiences, highlighting how they were misled on the true nature of the war and manipulated through Russia’s state-controlled media. Harding’s next stop on the journey is the frontlines of the war. Here he describes the experiences of soldiers on both sides and contrasting what they knew and understood before, during, and after the invasion. He demonstrates how Russian soldiers were misled in the days leading up to the conflict as they were told to expect little to no combat. This proved detrimental as they faced heavy fighting in the initial months that caused a drop in the morale while witnessing a high casualty rate. This is sharply contrasted with the Ukrainian soldiers who have no misconceptions of what Russia’s invasion means to them, their country, or their way of life. Harding’s use of comparing and contrasting different participants in the war extends beyond Russia and Ukraine. He examines different world leaders and their reactions both domestically and globally, highlighting those that provided words of support, monetary support, military training, and those who wished to remain neutral.

Two years into the war, there seems to be no end in sight. This account of the opening months of the war is a well written book that provides the basic foundations in understanding Vladimir Putin’s war. Harding’s journey is a worthwhile read, one for anyone that is a student of history, military tactics, and world politics. It captures the conflict’s origins, provides context, examines the horrors of the modern battlefield for soldiers and civilians, and it highlights the qualities of a country and its people fighting for survival. Harding’s personal experiences with world figures, soldiers, and citizens of both countries keep the reader engaged throughout the account and make the book a must read.

Book Review written by: Lee Waldrup, Fort Belvoir, Virginia