On Feb. 24, 2022, Americans awoke to war in Ukraine. Next came global protests, political condemnation, and crippling sanctions imposed on the invader. Days later, three SCU scholars came together to shed light on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and humanitarian crisis through a panel presentation and Q&A session. “These are not military-to-military engagements,” began Jane Curry, a political science expert on Ukraine and the former Soviet Union. “These are [Ukrainian] civilians fighting heavily armed target tanks and other military vehicles.” Ukraine’s leader—political comic-turned politician Volodymyr Zelensky—has been rallying fellow citizens to fight the Russian army through his use of social media, a tool that has played a catalyzing role in strengthening resistance and getting information to the West.
But not all wartime coverage is reliable. Amy Randall, an expert on Soviet history, gender, and genocide in the 20th century, explained that Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric to demilitarize Ukraine and protect persecuted Russians is based on lies spread by the Russian government. “Ukraine is not controlled by Nazis or fascists,” she said. “But talking about fascists evokes the memory of the immense suffering of the Soviet people, which involved the death of 27 million citizens.” Because World War II is still central to Russian national identity and cultural pride, Putin is utilizing this rhetoric to provoke fear and promote unity in the face of a well-known enemy. Yet all is not lost. David Sloss, an expert in international law and Russian military and foreign policy, pointed to the mobilization of forces against Russia and the “coordinated international effort to push back against Putin.” Moreover, NATO countries bordering Ukraine that have been hostile toward refugees in the past are now opening their arms to fleeing Ukrainians, welcoming perfect strangers into their households. For now, solidarity, and faith in democracy, continue to prevail.