‘Red Leviathan: The Secret History of Soviet Whaling’ by Ryan Tucker Jones struck me as unexpectedly topical for this particular moment in my life. And not only because I’ve just returned from a spectacular Aurora Expeditions cruise to the remote Scottish Islands on board MV Greg Mortimer, during which I was able to take a close look for the first time ever at one of the world’s living wonders – the magnificent Minke whales in their natural habitat in the North Atlantic. In fact, it was not one whale but three, playing joyfully just 20 metres away from our inflatable and unsinkable Zodiac shuttle boat near the island of St Kilda, casually showing their greyish glistening bulks, then diving again and waving at us with the huge fans of their caudal fins. “Wow! Wow!” all eight passengers on board our Zodiac, including yours truly, were howling in chorus, like a pack of hungry wolves. Having forgotten about our cameras and iPhones, we were watching the amazing creatures knowing we’ll remember the scene for as long as we live. That was an undisputed highlight of the expedition, and yet, alongside the happy memories of the cruise, reading ‘Red Leviathan’ shortly after returning home could not fail to evoke much more gruesome associations – of the ongoing brutal war in my native Ukraine. No matter how far-fetched it may seem at a first glance, the further I delved into ‘Red Leviathan’, the more apt and relevant it appeared. Let me explain. Until now, shocked and stunned by the actions of the Russian army against civilians in Bucha, Mariupol, Melitopol, my native Kharkiv and many other Ukrainian towns and villages, the whole of the civilised world keeps asking itself: how come? Where does such unspeakable cruelty to innocent fellow humans stem from? Those to whom these questions still appear unanswerable should read ‘Read Leviathan’ – the meticulously researched and deeply felt-through story of the ‘Cetacean Genocide’, or ‘Cetacide’ – a neologism, coined by Tucker Jones to describe the brutal, clandestine and unjustified killing of more than 600,000 whales in less than 50 years of Soviet rule between the 1930s and the 1980s. The slaughter was carried out using small and agile ‘kitoboy’ (whale killer) vessels, equipped with crude harpoon cannons that would tear the whales’ bodies apart causing unspeakable suffering. What’s more, the killers, having collected some precious body parts from their victims, would leave most of the meat to rot in the sea – unable and unwilling to process it. In all my 35 years in the USSR, I never ate, or even saw, whale meat, nor am I aware of anyone who did! Why then? At the same time, Soviet marine scientists were given the task of carrying out detailed research into the biology and anatomy of the meticulously slaughtered whales. The whole whale-killing industry was carefully camouflaged by Soviet propaganda as some kind of a heroic endeavour, and the blood-stained kitoboys were routinely hailed as heroes, invited to schools to talk about their ‘achievements’. Yes, but those were animals, not people, they were killing, you may object. Is it an exaggeration to compare their deeds to a genocide? Suddenly, the associations with the war in Ukraine start looking much less far-fetched. Let’s face it, modern Russia has inherited the whole of the brutal Soviet mentality whereby an ordinary human’s life (let alone that of an animal) does not matter. During all my 35 years in the USSR, I was a frequent witness to unspeakable cruelty to both humans and animals. It would pain me greatly even to describe how stray dogs and cats were often disposed of in Moscow and other Soviet cities and towns. It was a true dog-eat-dog society, for someone who could be instinctively cruel to our smaller brothers, be they cats, dogs, birds or whales, would not hesitate to shoot an old man, or a child simply for belonging to a different ‘tribe’, or just to steal their shoes and post them home.