Last weekend, an espionage novel titled “In the Shadow of Mordor” was published in the USA. The Russo-Ukrainian war plays a large part in it. The American author is Michael R. Davidson, a former senior CIA officer with nearly thirty years’ experience. Since retiring, the former intelligence operative has written several novels about post-perestroika Russia, but now, for the first time, he has published a novel co-authored by Russian and Ukrainian journalist, contributor to LB.ua [and Euromaidan Press – Ed.], and expert Kseniya Kirillova.
As the authors explained in an interview with LB.ua, the subject of the book and its characters are fictional, but one can discern clear parallels with actual events. In particular, there is the murder of a journalist who was obtained proof of the involvement of Russian special services in the bombing of apartment buildings in Moscow in 1999. The novel also reveals the inner workings of pro-Kremlin organizations similar to “The Young Guard of United Russia” and “Nashi” (these days they’ve been replaced by “NOD” and other semi-fascist groups), the persecution of dissidents in contemporary Russia, and most importantly – the realities of life in the occupied Donbas and the work of a Ukrainian intelligent agent in the occupied territories.
“The facts of life in occupied Horlivka were almost entirely taken from the testimony of Horlivka refugees that I interviewed. Even the various fates of Donbas inhabitants are based on real events. For example, in the novel, there is the minor character of Alena from Horlivka. Many instances of her life were adapted from the public blog of a Donbas resident who wrote about her life under the occupation. Her name, of course, was changed,” explained Kseniya Kirillova.
According to her the image of the Ukrainian intelligence agent, Mykhailo Korzh, also was inspired by a real person – Ukrainian agent Maksym Yarosh. As a member of a volunteer battalion and with no professional intelligence training, Maksym, who was raised in an orphanage, succeeded in infiltrating the Donbas militia but was taken prisoner as a “suspicious citizen.” But, even while detained, he never revealed his identity. Having learned nothing from him the militia released him. Maksym volunteered to testify in the trial of Russian agent “Tereza,” who had participated in torturing Ukrainian prisoners of war. In the novel Mykhailo’s fate is quite different. He isn’t taken prisoner and doesn’t participate in operations like those of Maksym Yarosh. Nevertheless, the image of the espionage agent operating in dangerous conditions with little training was taken from reality.
“In fact, Korzh is the family name of my grandmother, an ethnic Ukrainian. Her mother (my great-grandmother) perished in Holodomor when my grandmother was only ten years old. The name “Mykhailo” was in honor of my good friend, the Deputy Director of the Ukrainian Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament, Mykhailo Samus,” said Kseniya.
The main heroine of the book, Olga, is a fictional person, although the thread might detect some parallels in the film of Oleg Kashin about the “Nashi” organization “Putin’s Kiss.” The murdered Russian journalist, Sergey Illarionov, also represents the collective image of opposition journalists.
“But in reality there are several instances of journalists who were investigating the bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow and were killed. The American journalist David Satter writes of this in detail in his book ‘The Less you Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia’s road to Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin.’ Moreover, the deaths of journalists continues to this day. A few months before the publication of the book, after the manuscript was completed, Russian journalist Pavlo Sheremet was murdered in Kiev, and a month later another journalist, Aleksandr Shchetinin, died under mysterious circumstances. On the very day of his death, an article appeared on one of the Russian propaganda sites saying that in the near future other Russian journalists supporting Ukraine would be liquidated. Thus, the book is both a reflection of the past and a dark predictor of the future,” explain the authors.
The son of the murdered journalist, Vlad, has no actual prototype, but the very name of the hero was selected in honor of young Vlad Kolesnikov – a young man who sincerely supported Ukraine who could not endure the persecution from his peers, his neighbors, the police, and even his own family. The young man committed suicide when he was only eighteen years old. The life of the character of Vlad Illarionov works out better – after the death of his family he manages to escape to the USA and begin a new life.
All of the events used in the book are well-known to Russian and Ukrainian readers but remain quite unknown to the American public. “In the Shadow of Mordor” is the first work of fiction to inform the American reader about the Russo-Ukrainian war and the tragedies it entails. The e-book version of the book is available already at Amazon.com.
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