Around the Writers’ Table

Islanders Write will take a deep dive into covering the war in Ukraine.


While the Taste of the Vineyard was going on in Edgartown, I was tasting tapas in London with several Vineyard friends. One of them was Joshua Hammer, who was in London doing research for a new book. (I was in London with my daughter for a few days before heading up to Scotland for her belated class of 2020 college graduation from the University of St. Andrews.) Hammer, who tries to squeeze in a month on the Vineyard every summer, is based in Berlin, and has been a roving foreign correspondent for the past 30 years. His reporting has brought him to Ukraine four times: in 2017, 2019, and twice since the Russian invasion began.

Hammer writes feature stories for magazines, so rather than reporting on breaking news, he looks for stories that we may not otherwise hear about. He digs deep, and brings us along for the ride, which is often full of unexpected twists and turns.

“I set out for Ukraine on a cold, clear morning in March, four weeks after the Russian invasion. A taxi whisked me 150 miles east from Krakow, Poland, toward the border town of Budomierz, past a convoy of trucks without license plates that, my driver told me, were almost certainly carrying weapons to the front. Then I crossed the border on foot. My Ukrainian interpreter was waiting for me. During the 70-minute drive into Lviv, western Ukraine’s largest city, we passed sandbagged checkpoints and posters proclaiming ‘Don’t Run Away, Protect Ukraine’ and ‘Russians, Go F___ Yourselves.’”

And so begins Hammer’s piece, “The Race to Save Ukraine’s Sacred Art,” published in the Smithsonian Magazine in May. Hammer visited the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum in Lviv while the museum director was busily devising a plan to protect the 1,800 objects on display in the museum, one of which, writes Hammer, is “regarded by many scholars as the greatest example of Baroque-era religious art in Central Europe: the ‘Bohorodchany Iconostasis.’”

For his second story, which will be published in GQ in July, Hammer returned to Ukraine in April, and traveled to the Eastern front with several Americans who had heeded Volodymr Zelensky’s call and gone to Ukraine to help with the resistance. 

It’s hard to keep up with Hammer, who is the author of five books, including the New York Times bestseller “The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu” and the LA Times bestseller “The Falcon Thief,” and is a prolific reporter — he also had a feature story in the June 14 edition of the New York Times Magazine on the growing tensions in Bosnia — so we are thrilled that he will be able to join us at Islanders Write for our kickoff event this summer.

Joshua Hammer, filmmaker Doug Liman, who went to Ukraine after the invasion to film, and former foreign correspondent and LA Times editor Bob Drogin will launch Islanders Write with what is sure to be a fascinating discussion about covering Ukraine and foreign conflicts on Saturday, July 30, at 7:30 pm.