A Reflection on the Invasion of Ukraine: Why it Matters to Me and Should to You
It was difficult figuring out what angle to take for this piece. Yes, I consider myself quite informed on both the history and current situation in Ukraine, but I certainly cannot compete with any of the analysis currently being done on cable news and in newspapers around the world. And yes, half my family hails from eastern Europe — Romania, to be specific — though I have never been and don’t speak the language. On the surface, at least, I’m little more than an American college student with aspirations in politics. So what, then, sets me apart from the millions of other college students who seem to range from detached to interested only in the World War III memes currently flying around the internet?
What I do have is the stories. Family members huddled listening to western radio, fearful that neighbors would overhear and report them to the Soviet-dominated government. Propaganda glorying Ceausescu, Stalin and other Russian leaders being taught in schools. Labor camps and mental hospitals as the punishments for political dissidents lucky enough to be left alive. So though I may not speak the language or have met relatives still in Romania, my grandmother’s stories have done more than enough for me to know that the fall of the USSR and the collapse of the Iron Curtain was an unequivocal, global good.
As eastern European countries from Ukraine to Romania to Poland to Estonia have developed strong identities as independent and self-governing democracies, Vladimir Putin has long sought to drag these nations back to a time where he, as Russian tyrant, would control their agendas and govern their people. He has been clear about his ambitions from the start — the fact that this week’s events have come as a surprise serves not as indication of his increased aggression or a change in his mindset, but as a signal of the failure of the West to properly grasp the danger his ambitions have long posed. What is happening in Ukraine today is not the start of his aggression, nor is it the inevitable result of Russian security concerns being ignored. It is the culmination of decades-old dreams Putin has held and the blind eyes of American and European leaders as he has brought them to fruition. Georgia was simply an anomaly, as were the murders of Alexander Litvitnenko, Anna Politkovskaya, Boris Nemstov and countless others. So were the arbitrary detentions and the suppression of dissident journalists and NGOs. Crimea was a surprise, but the rest of Ukraine was supposedly off-limits, until his troops and equipment appeared in Donetsk and Luhansk. Now, all pretense has been dropped: Ukraine is fighting a full-scale invasion. I hope, then, that I, along with millions of Estonians, Latvians, Poles and Romanians will be forgiven for taking little comfort in the assurances that Putin would not dare do the same to a NATO member.
Putin seems to have been proven right in his tacit gamble that the West will adopt little more than a policy of glorified appeasement — as long as Russian gas continues to power western Europe and the Germans and Italians refuse to take a stand of any substance, Putin will have his hand firmly around our necks. Forever stuck in 1991, though, he has failed to consider that the areas he seeks to dominate have changed.
Ukraine and the rest of eastern Europe are no longer the satellite states he views them as. They are populated by two groups: first, those like my grandparents, who know firsthand the horrors Putin wishes to revive. Second, there are those who have known nothing but a free and independent set of nations, raised, like me, on stories of Russian atrocities, but who have known democracy and self-governance their whole lives. Kids my age stand next to those old enough to be their fathers or grandfathers to defend their homeland. Rather than flee, normally divided politicians have come together to actually fight for their country. Those unable to fight prepare molotov cocktails and donate supplies.
Regardless of the final outcome of today’s war, the fierce patriotism of the Ukrainian people has become clear. Troops in the east have held their ground. Kyiv continues to hold out. Russian casualties number in the thousands of lives and millions of dollars as civilians have joined their military in taking up arms to defend their homeland. What was supposed to be a glorious demonstration of a modernized Russian military has instead turned into a display of the power that a determined and united people can have in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. The memorable moments of this conflict have not been shows of Russian might. Rather, they have been ones of courage: President Zelenskyy refusing American offers of evacuation — “I need ammunition, not a ride” — and Ukrainian soldiers facing insurmountable odds with defiance — “Russian warship, go f*ck yourself.” And, even if Putin eventually wins out, he will be faced with the prospect of governing forty four million deeply patriotic people who violently hate him.
As American and European leaders flounder in their response, Ukraine has made its message loud and clear. Their people will not accept Russian rule. Their leaders will not accept Russian rule. And if, as I suspect he will, Putin continues further west and attacks NATO states, people there will deliver the same message. Hopefully, Article 5 will hold, and NATO comes to their defense. Either way, such nations will not allow democracy in Europe to whither and die as the US and Germany seem willing to do. They hope for substantive Western action to support them, and it seems there may be cause for optimism in this regard. But, unlike my relatives in Romania fifty years ago, they will not wait for the Americans to liberate them. They will not appease tyranny. They will not go peacefully.
How to Help
Please consider donating to one of the following organizations — or another dedicated to providing aid or supplies to Ukraine — if you are able.
Come back alive | Army Aid Charitable Foundation
На наступні 3 роки ми плануємо продовжувати надавати матеріально-технічну допомогу Зброіним силам, а також…
Допомога Армії України | АРМІЯ SOS
Army protects Ukraine! Are you ready to help Army today? …it could be too late tomorrow… Army SOS Citizen`s…
The ICRC has been working in Ukraine since 2014. Our operations in the country are among the ten largest ICRC…
Cryptocurrency (not my favorite either) donations directly to the Ukrainian government/military can be made here: