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Timothy Snyder, the leading interpreter of our dark times (The Guardian)

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Prof Timothy Snyder in Lviv, Ukraine, on 25 March 2023.

Prof Timothy Snyder in Lviv, Ukraine, on 25 March 2023. Photograph: Yurko Dyachyshyn/The Guardian

Historians aren’t supposed to make predictions, but Yale professor Timothy Snyder has become known for his dire warnings – and many of them have been proved correct

Thu 30 Mar 2023 06.00 BST

Last September, seven months after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Yale historian Timothy Snyder took a 16-hour train ride from Poland to Kyiv. Snyder knew the city well: he’d been visiting since the early 1990s, when he was a graduate student and the newly post-Soviet Ukrainian capital was dark and provincial. In the decades that followed, Kyiv had grown bigger and more interesting, and Snyder, who is now 53, had become an eminent historian of eastern Europe. On disembarking at the Kyiv-Pasazhyrskyi station, he found the city transformed by war. There were sandbags everywhere, concrete roadblocks and steel “hedgehogs” designed to stop Russian tanks. Air raid warnings blared from phones in pockets and handbags.

Not everything was unfamiliar. The first months of the war had gone relatively well for the Ukrainians – a fact that surprised many observers, but not Snyder – and by September, Kyiv was no longer in imminent danger of occupation. Life, while not normal, was regaining some of its prewar rhythms. You could get a haircut at a barbershop, or hear standup at a comedy club, or sunbathe on the shores of the Dnieper River.


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