1670, Kyiv. A German convert to Russian Orthodoxy is writing history. Not merely a book about history: he believes that his work will save his beloved Kyiv from the scourge of Catholicism. Innokenty Gizel has never been to Moscow, but he wants to create the illusion that Kyiv shares a common history with the seat of the Orthodox Church. The story he comes up with - a fantasy - pleases Moscow's rulers so much that it will remain their official line all the way into the 21st century.1990, Dnipropetrovsk. Twelve-year-old Volodymyr Zelensky is fixated on a group of Ukrainian students. They are participants in KVN , the most-watched program in the Soviet Union. It is a sketch sketch comedy show. In their most memorable routine, the Ukrainian team replaces the chorus of a Soviet pop song with one of Lenin's aphorisms: "Better less, but better." The subtext is clear: the Soviet empire is too big.One year later, it will dissolve. Pioneering journalist Mikhail Zygar embarks on a hypnotic and revelatory quest through the myths and stories that motivate Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and traces the eerie ways in which the career of a jobbing comedian of no exceptional ability exploited and subverted them at every turn, from his own first appearance on KVN to his defiant refusal to leave Kyiv as Russian columns approached, in real life now playing a role that he first assumed as a joke. What will be the price of not taking Russia seriously? And what might be the prize?