Luke Harding on his book “Invasion” and the roots of Russia’s war against Ukraine

Luke Harding wrote almost 10 books, but he thinks “Invasion: The Inside Story of Russia’s Bloody War and Ukraine’s Fight for Survival” is his most important one. “I wrote it as an act of truth-telling, an act of therapy, of literary revenge against Russia”, he said at the LMF Talks event held by Lviv Media Forum on July 18.

A prominent British journalist who has been covering Russia and Eastern Europe for The Guardian since 2007, he became the first foreign correspondent since the Cold War to be expelled from Russia. Harding has reported on Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine since the start and covered its first months in his latest book, which was just published in Ukrainian by Vivat.

At LMF Talks, Harding discussed why he wrote the book, reflected how he and his colleagues evolved in covering Ukraine over the past decade, and shared his view of the war and Ukraine’s central role in today’s world.

We picked key highlights from the discussion, edited for length and clarity. You can watch a full recording of the event on Lviv Media Forum’s YouTube channel.

Luke Harding on his book “Invasion” and the roots of Russia’s war against Ukraine

Why Luke Harding wrote “Invasion”

“I've written eight or nine books. Two of them have been turned into Hollywood movies, one of them has been turned into a play. One of them was a New York Times bestseller. But I think this is my most important book. I wrote it as an act of truth-telling, an act of therapy, of literary revenge against Russia.

I’ve [covered] a lot of war — in Iraq, in Afghanistan. I was in Georgia in 2008 when Russia invaded that summer. I’ve been in Syria. But what I've seen in Ukraine is in some ways more terrible. It's more genocidal. The Russian plan is obvious, it is to wipe Ukraine from the map, to de-Ukrainianize Ukraine and turn it back into a Russian colony.

In April [2022], when I came back from Bucha, I took maybe half a day off and then I worked. I went every single day to write the book. And I just felt I had to tell the story for an international audience, for a Ukrainian audience, for everybody; for the world, for humanity, for myself.”

Fascist roots of the Putin’s regime

“What became clear to me after 2008 and the war in Georgia was that [the Kremlin’s crackdown] wasn’t just about [domestic] repression. It was actually that Putin and the people around him had a dangerous and revisionist agenda. They wanted to redraw the map of Europe. They believed that Russia was a great power. They essentially wanted Russia to be on the same level of the United States, as [the Soviet Union] was in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Also, Putin was not someone that lived in a rational world. He doesn't use email. He doesn't read newspapers. He relies very heavily on briefings from his spy agencies. They tell the dictator what he wants to hear. Ukraine, of course, understood all this, but the problem was that a lot of people in the West did not. They thought that it was possible to make an accommodation with Russia, to negotiate. Even as late as January 2022, we had Emmanuel Macron flying to Moscow to talk to Putin to avoid war.

It was a lack of imagination on our part to see that really what had happened in Russia is that after a brief semi-democratic period in the 1990s, this dark authoritarian state had come back. It was getting darker when I was there [since the 2000s]. And it had metastasized into fascism, actually. [But] even now, a lot of people in the West don't understand that what we're dealing with is a fascist regime.”

Ukraine’s central role in today’s world

“Serhii Plokhy in his book ‘The Russo-Ukrainian War’ makes a really good point. He basically says that Ukraine plays the same role now in international politics that West Germany did during the Cold War in the second half of the 20th century. That actually everything hinges on Ukraine. And there's definitely something in this. It's terrible. But also for me as a writer, as a correspondent, it's incredibly energizing. It's like being on drugs, but without the drugs.”

How Luke Harding and his colleagues evolved in covering Ukraine

“History of [Eastern Europe] has been written through a Russian prism. East European studies [traditionally] means Russia and maybe five minutes of Ukraine and the Baltics. That's how it's been for a long time.

In journalism, we too have been guilty of this. When I was in Moscow, I would come to Kyiv three, four times a year. I would write about your dysfunctional politics. I would try and explain to British readers that Yushchenko was president and was an ally of Timoshenko, and then they fell out, and then they fell in, and then they fell out again. And there was this guy called Yanukovych, and he seemed to be a gangster, but he was also gaining in popularity, et cetera. And then there were the oligarchs who formed the shadow government. If I'm honest, my reporting was quite superficial because I was based in Moscow. I would come in for a week, see some people, write a piece, and fly back to Moscow.

We were all guilty of that. Since 2014, we have learned, we have retrained ourselves. For example, I had a big fight with The Guardian about how you spell Kyiv. In 2014, we spelt it Russian style [as Kiev]. I would send endless memos saying, ‘look, we cannot spell it like this; it's wrong, it's inappropriate, it's offensive’. Eventually I won. And we've now moved to entirely Ukrainian spelling of everything, even Chornobyl [not Chernobyl]. My most recent victory is Dnipro; until about a few months ago, we were still saying Dnieper. [But] we got there…

And, of course, now I have no colleagues in Moscow. After Evan Gershkovich got arrested, all the British and American newspaper correspondents left [Russia]. They’ve all opened bureaus in Kyiv.

10 years ago, most people [in Europe] couldn't find Ukraine on the map. Now, in The Guardian’s office, you will see right next to our main editorial desk, the biggest map I've seen in my life — a two-meter long map of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, I've also been educating myself. I've been trying to read more Ukrainian literature — Serhiy Zhadan, short stories of Gogol, Shevchenko, Isaac Babel, ‘Babi Yar’ by Anatoly Kuznetsov. I read everything published by Serhii Plokhy and Andriy Kurkov”.

Luke Harding on his book “Invasion” and the roots of Russia’s war against Ukraine

The future of Western support of Ukraine

Luke Harding believes that Britain’s support of Ukraine is solid — both major political parties are strongly on the side of Ukraine. 

“The danger is from the United States. I worry more and more about the Trump wing of the conservative [Republican] party. If he comes back, God help us all. For Ukraine, that will mean that American military assistance will stop immediately. And that will make it almost impossible for Ukraine to go forward. And then it will all be about Ukraine trying to keep the Russians from themselves advancing. Vladimir Putin knows this. He is betting on Trump returning, on American isolationism, on America probably leaving NATO, just leaving the Europeans [to support Ukraine].

So the next year [when the presidential election in the United States takes place] is full of danger. But the good news is that [the West’s pro-Ukrainian] coalition [has stood up so far]… Basically, Putin made a complete strategic miscalculation. He thought that, like in 2014, in 2022, the West would be unhappy about his takeover of Ukraine, but would do nothing. We would complain, but we wouldn't do anything. And in fact… this terrible war has rejuvenated the Western alliance, rejuvenated institutions, rejuvenated NATO.

Let's see what happens in 2024 in America. But I still feel optimistic this coalition will hold.”

Luke Harding on his book “Invasion” and the roots of Russia’s war against Ukraine

Boycotting Russian culture

“Personally, I cannot read Russian literature at the moment. I cannot read Dostoevsky, Russian poetry, Pushkin. I enjoyed Bunin, Chekhov, Dovlatov [in the past], but I cannot read anything at the moment.

It's a complicated story, but basically some of Pushkin’s poetry, as you perfectly know, was against Ukraine, against Poland. It was imperialist, it was chauvinist. And the problem, if you are from here, is the way that Russia has been instrumental using these writers, these cultural figures, to justify its takeover of southern Ukraine…

I think what we have to do in the West is two things. One, we just pause Russian culture for now. It's not appropriate to show it, to stage it. I wouldn’t say cancel it, I would just say pause it. But the thing we have to do most of all is to not program Ukrainian writers and Russian writers in Paris or Berlin and New York and hope that if they're on the same platform, they can talk to each other and this will bring about peace. That's not going to bring about peace. What's going to bring about peace is F16s, long-range artillery, better tanks, and Ukrainian victory on the battlefield. This is not a time for dialogue. This is a time for military action.”

The next book Luke Harding dreams of writing

“The book I want to write would be a sequel to this book. I have an idea in my head — I would call it ‘Downfall’, [it would be] about the end of the Putin regime.

I think the Putin regime is weaker than it seems... When Prigozhin and his guys were driving towards Moscow, nobody stopped him. The FSB hid. The army didn’t do anything. The oligarchs left in their private planes. In other words, what we can conclude is that Putin is weak and really not much loved.

I would like to write the story of the final death of the Russian Empire… I think the end of the Russian Empire is coming. [But] dying empires are very dangerous. This is a dying empire, but it's not dead yet, unfortunately.”

LMF Talks — a series of public online and offline events in various formats (discussions, debates, lectures, masterclasses, film screenings with discussions, etc.), focused on the future. The future of Ukraine as part of Western civilization and Ukrainian media as part of the European and global media space. Stay tuned for announcements on our social media pages: FacebookInstagramTwitter.

This project is made possible with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy. If you have any questions or proposals for collaboration, please email us at

Photo: Olenka Odlezhuk. Text: Anton Protsiuk.