“The Road to Donetsk,” a novel about western aid to Ukraine in the 1990s by British author Diane Chandler has been awarded the People’s Book Prize for Fiction 2016, one of the most famous and prestigious literary competitions in the UK.
“The Road to Donetsk,” a fiction account of Western aid to Ukraine in the 1990s, suddenly became popular in Great Britain, surprisingly even for its author, Diane Chandler.
Recently the novel won the 2016 People’s Book Prize for Fiction – one of the most prestigious literary awards in the United Kingdom where the winner is selected through online voting. Chandler explains such popularity among the picky British readers with the novel’s vivid description of life in Ukraine to those who knew nothing about the country.
The book abounds with neat descriptions of Ukrainian landscapes, cities, family lives, fashion and leisure of Ukrainians in the mid-1990s which gives a reader a feeling of place. The author has lived in Ukraine for several years and inserted many of her real experiences in her novel.
In the 1990s Chandler used to work at an international aid program in Kyiv and vividly describes the country’s social and political situation as well as the people’s moods at those times.
“The novel is based on a mix of research, memories and imagination,” she says.
The book’s protagonist, Vanessa Parker, young and a bit naive, comes to Ukraine in 1994 as head of a British aid program. Vanessa is full of enthusiasm and has many ideas of how to help people in a country that faced hard times after the collapse of the Soviet Union – lots of state-run enterprises stopped operating and people stopped getting salaries and pensions while the national currency was rapidly depreciating.
Still, lots of Vanessa’s plans for Ukraine never came true for many reasons including sluggishness of Ukrainian officials as well as the inefficiency of foreign aid programs in Ukraine back then.
The novel offers a captivating look into the backstage of the foreign aid programs in Ukraine in the 1990s. Chandler describes the failures and the shortcomings of the overseas aid programs in detail – including the corruption of Ukrainian officials who wanted to get rich by milking foreign donors, incompetent Western experts, many of whom were more interested in the local strip clubs than giving actual advice and helping the country. Also many foreign aid programs were not always well coordinated and duplicated each other back then.
And yet not everything was so bad. Vanessa finds many devoted people, both Ukrainians and expats, whose hard work leads to real change for the better.
The main character reaches success with her aid programs in a village in Donetsk Oblast in eastern Ukraine when Vanessa urges a group of miners’ wives to take micro-credits from her aid program fund to set up their personal small businesses. Step by step these ladies turn into successful and confident businesswomen.
“I wanted to highlight some of the problems and also some of the positives,” Chandler says.
A beautiful love story of Vanessa and American Dan Mitchell, introduced in the book as a deputy bureau chief of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Ukraine, eases the hard business and social topics raised in the novel and enriches the book with another catchy plot line. The novel holds the reader’s curiosity until the last page.