Despite many miles between Hartford, Connecticut, and Ukraine, there are endless reasons as to why students at Trinity should pick up their heads and learn about the escalating situation in Easter Europe and take an active interest in it. The tensions between Ukraine and Russia that have been building for years are now coming to an ugly head, one which encapsulates a world where there is little respect for the individual autonomy of a nation. Putin’s decision not to recognize Ukraine as a sovereign nation, but rather as territory of the Soviet Union, demonstrates a trend around the globe of living in the past and taking one step forward, but two steps back. Ukraine gained its independence from Russia 30 years ago, and with it, the nation has started to lean towards the ways of the West and has stated an aim to join the NATO alliance. Despite accomplished independence and separation from the Soviet Union seemingly in the past for Ukraine, there is a powerful nation equipped with arms, soldiers, and little regard for individual rights unwilling to move on from the past.
Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs Dmytro Kuleba argues that the standoff between Ukraine and Russia constitutes an attempt to “rewrite rules on which the world is based,” and infringe upon the global security of a nation. Ukraine has not been a model democracy, but even still, since 2014, the nation has passed a number of laws that require a greater transparency in public life and the country also boasts a much better record of religious freedom than Russia. In reality, the issue threatens democracy, for allowing Putin to forcefully enter a sovereign nation and take away its democracy emphasizes the fragility of the power of the people. In viewing the situation from this perspective, it seems only natural that the United States intervene and provide Ukraine with as much support as possible.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board compared Putin’s ethnic and historical arguments for retaking Ukraine to Hitler’s claim to the Sudetenland in the 1930s. WSJ columnist Walter Russell Mead also compared Putin’s actions to those of Napoleon Bonaparte, stating that “like Napoleon Bonaparte, he can surprise and outmaneuver his opponents because he is willing to assume risks they would never consider, and so to attack in times and ways they can neither imagine nor plan for.” Putin’s actions clarify that he believes Ukraine is not entitled to the rights enjoyed by sovereign nations, and this should mean something to Americans. Ukraine’s people voted for their independence and turned over their Soviet-era nuclear weapons to Russia in exchange for assurances. This should matter to us, and there is no ambiguity in determining which nation is in the wrong.
It is also interesting to consider how Ukraine’s current situation can teach us a thing or two. President Volodymyr Zelensky, previous actor and comedian, had little political experience prior to election. However, his communication skills, ability to sway an audience, and social media presence have earned him the status of a champion for Ukranians. Zelensky has risen to the challenge and directly confronted Moscow, urging Russian citizens to protest Putin’s attacks on Ukrainian democracy. He has put himself out there, posting videos calling out Russian forces wearing a green military-style pullover and urging Ukranians to take up arms. He even describes himself as “target number one,” but also has stated that he is prepared to die fighting for Ukrainian independence.
Zelensky’s methods and messaging project strength and determination, and his efforts are admirable. He has refused Western demands to set aside Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO, and has not fled the country with his family despite multiple threats to all of their lives. This kind of steadfast dedication to the greater good of Ukraine is exemplary, and the kind of leadership a democracy requires.
The situtation in Ukraine is one which we cannot turn a blind-eye to, and must stay informed about if we wish to uphold the values of democracy. Read what you can to stay informed, and recognize that there are bigger issues at stake.