“Immanuel Kant prophesied that mankind would one day be faced with a dilemma: either to be joined in a true union of nations or to perish in a war of annihilation ending in the extinction of the human race.’ Now, as we move from the second to the third millennium, the clock has struck the moment of truth.”
Mikhail Gorbachev – Nobel Peace Prize 1990 Acceptance Speech
In the early hours of February 24th, 2022, Ukraine was awoken to the harrowing sound of war as the Russian Federation attacked its independent, free, and sovereign neighbor. Vladimir Putin, unprovoked and without reason, launched Europe into conflict with no care or thought for the human cost of such a despicable action. Russian military convoys breached Ukrainian territory by land, aircraft fired missiles and ships launched artillery strikes. The sounds of war reverberated around the country and the continent. Ukrainians began their day in shock, feeling disoriented and fearful learning that their county was just invaded by a dictator and his military – and for what reason? Moments after Russia announced the “special operation” in Ukraine under the most ludicrous of pretexts, known as the war on Ukraine to the rest of the world, the Ukrainian representative to the United Nations launched an intense, last-ditch call for Vladimir Putin to change course and stop the violence.
At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United Nations Sergiy Kyslytsya held up his smartphone and shook it toward his Russian counterpart, demanding he put an end to the invasion right then and there. “Call Putin, call Lavrov to stop aggression”, he pleaded. When he finished speaking, Sergiy Kyslytsya warned: “There is no purgatory for war criminals. They go straight to hell, Ambassador”. The seeds of this war were sown in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea by Putin. The pretext for the action from Russia then was the supposed oppression of Russians in Eastern Ukraine. And now, well take your pick. It is a preventative operation to stop Ukraine attacking Russia and starting a war. It is an operation to “de-Nazify” Ukraine and stop the oppression of its people. It is an operation to put to an end the genocide of Russian people in Eastern Ukraine. All of these are the supposed basis for this Russian war launched by Putin. To clarify, this is misinformation that simply is not true. Ukraine was not going to launch a war with Russia. Ukraine has a freely and democratically elected government and President, a President who is himself Jewish and who had relatives killed during The Holocaust. Ukraine and its government were not committing genocide in Eastern Ukraine. These claims are the lies of a dictator and his regime.
Ukrainians and Russians, the ordinary citizens of both, share familial ties, have friendships across borders and did not want this war. Who does this war benefit? It is not the Ukrainian people or the Russian people, it is Putin trying to recapture the supposed glory of the past, the Soviet Union. When this invasion began and the war commenced, Ukrainian citizens faced a stark choice, flee for their lives and protect their families or stay in the country that they love and do not want to lose? This is a choice nobody should ever have to make, and certainly not one that people expected to have to make on the 24th of February in 2022.
Cars and buses were packed with families, their belongings, and family pets, as a mass exodus began to take place amidst anger and fear. For others it was a harrowing train ride cloaked in darkness to escape from invading forces. And for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t leave, they could only hope for a safe place, a warm corner to shelter. Each refugee’s story is filled with grief and uncertainty. The UN estimates that over two and a half million people have been forced to flee their homes and cross the border out of Ukraine in search of safety. For all Ukrainians, their lives were just torn apart, and they had to struggle with newfound insecurities and fear.
People around the world watched in horror as they saw the actions of a ruthless dictator broadcast across TV, social media and on front pages of newspapers. The Russian invaders launched a brutal offensive supposedly targeting military installations near population centres and these have often looked a lot like apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, and public squares. The targeting of innocent civilians is reprehensible, as is the failure to honor humanitarian corridors and allow safe passage away from conflict. World leaders believe Putin had no intention of stopping with Ukraine and sought to bring war and destruction further into Europe. If Putin expected this invasion of Ukraine to be quick, easy or successful then he has vastly underestimated Ukrainians. In President Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine has the opposite of Putin, a leader who is standing up for his people and European values seeking to protect his country and his people. Ukrainians stand strong and proud with images of many travelling home to fight for the country they love even as bomb blasts light the sky over Ukrainian cities.
This bravery was demonstrated by civilians in Ukraine’s southern city of Melitopol who marched against the ongoing Russian invasion facing down Russian military personnel and vehicles who had entered the city, laying on the ground or standing tall to block the road while others used their bare hands to try and halt vehicles. A woman in Henychesk confronted Russian soldiers asking why they were there and told them to put sunflower seeds in their pockets so flowers may bloom where they will die on the soil of her country. The bravery of Ukrainian citizens is clear to see across the country. Whether it be a DJ picking up arms to defend his country, female members of parliament (MPs) joining the front lines of the battle, a 65-year-old man making Molotov cocktails in his garage or a welder building tank trap defences to be placed on the roads into Kyiv. This is ordinary people standing up to tyranny, saying this will not stand and that the brutality of the past will not be allowed again.
What is happening to humanity and where are our better angels? How is the world still governed by ego driven, narcissistic men like Putin who only care about themselves and the power or wealth they can amass? How can we shift the thinking of this ego driven world which seems to pride itself on giving out disinformation and propaganda to divide instead of uniting?
Ironically, because of Putin’s unconscionable war in Ukraine humanity is coming together in a way that has rarely been seen before. The dictator in chief has managed to unite Europe and the Western world against him. People are rising up and saying no more, a country cannot invade another sovereign nation for its own political gains. Protests against Russia, and in support of Ukraine, have been seen across the world, from New York to Dublin and Tallinn to Munich. Even within Russia, where protest will land you in prison, there have been large-scale anti-war protests across Moscow, Saint Petersburg and beyond in a show of defiance against Putin. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield in her remarks to the United Nations commented that “Putin wants the world to travel back in time. To a time before the United Nations. To a time when empires ruled the world. But the rest of the world has moved forward. It is not 1919. It is 2022”.
People are beginning to recognize their interconnectedness and that when one hurts, we can all hurt. The world is coming together to support the people of Ukraine and people are becoming vocal about what they will not accept anymore. There was a United Nations General Assembly resolution which passed with 141 nations condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, 35 abstained and only five nations voted against the resolution. The only countries to vote with Russia were Syria, Belarus, North Korea, and Eritrea, all led by authoritarian dictators showing the extent of isolation Putin has led Russia into. People are standing against the brutality of Putin and showing it is not something that will be accepted in 2022. People across the world have been united against Putin and his brutality with vigils for peace in solidarity with Ukraine widespread. The EU, NATO and nations across the world are standing side by side having introduced the toughest sanctions possible against Russia decimating its currency, economy and financial power to support its war.
Could it be that the collective action taking place around the world is the awakening of a global consciousness, a consciousness that recognizes the importance of caring for one another instead of being so wrapped up in oneself? There has been mounting public pressure on businesses to act in support of Ukraine and cease business activities in Russia, and it is working. For Russian citizens walking down the streets of Moscow, while being lied to by State controlled media, locked out of social media like Facebook and independent news sites, they are seeing the effects of Putin’s actions with their favourite shops and restaurants shuttered, the ATM not able to meet demand and economic instability clear to see. There is only so much of the narrative Putin can control.
The collective action taken by nations extends beyond sanctions and words, beyond weapons and anti-aircraft missiles, countries in Europe have opened their borders, their hearts, and their homes to those fleeing Ukraine. Ordinary people, humanitarian organizations, NGO’s, so many people coming together in amazing ways to help those in need. Volunteers have gone to the Polish border and set up stations for the refugees so they can get water and food, even toys for the children. There is a unified effort to help those fleeing and provide safe-haven and a second home for them. There is a good in people that is too rarely seen on this scale. In their time of need the Ukrainian people are finding outstretched helping hands from their fellow Europeans. The world needs to remain united against the aggression of Putin, in support of Ukraine and its people and help those forced to flee providing safety while it is needed. The world will need to be there when the war hopefully ends, the world will need to help Ukraine rebuild.
I hope that this is the coming of a new dawn and that every person can play an important part in a new approach. Instead of reacting out of anger towards one another perhaps we can take a step back, wait a moment and recognize that we all want the same things, to live a happy and peaceful life. There is a collective responsibility on us all to ensure that. Kindness doesn’t cost anything but an act of kindness can go a very long way. If we can be more aware of the importance of caring for and helping others our world will become a better place. An image that stuck with me is that of a German pianist who travelled from Germany to the Polish border with piano in tow so he can play heartfelt music for those Ukrainians who had to flee their homes, to give something special to the refugees getting off buses to welcome them. We must all help, as we would wish to be helped in a similar situation. We must all wake up and show our true humanity.