Ukraine Unlocked is a weekly newsletter providing a roundup of the cultural, political, and economic developments in the country. We hope to provide students, professionals, and the casual reader with greater insight into Ukraine as its role on the global stage evolves throughout the 21st century.
For Russians, Nazis evoke deeply-held emotions associated with the suffering, repression, and misery of WWII. The war meant the loss of 27 million Soviet soldiers and citizens. That means the USSR lost almost a quarter of its population. By comparison, the US lost 418,000 people throughout the war. Putin’s most prominent justification for the invasion of Ukraine has been to “de-nazify” the country. The overtly government-controlled Russian media has gone into overdrive to paint Ukraine as a fascist-led country. The disinformation campaign has homed in on one segment of the Ukrainian military—the Azov Battalion. The former volunteer paramilitary group has complicated ties to far-right movements, which Russia’s Propaganda machine has sought to exploit to provide reasoning for the war in Ukraine.
Who is in the Azov Battalion and what is their significance for Ukraine and Russia...read more here.
A Request from Philip and Gabe (Co-Founders of Ukraine Unlocked): If you are enjoying this newsletter please consider forwarding it along to a friend, colleague, or neighbor. As the situation in Ukraine continues to evolve we are hoping to give folks the context they need to understand the various developments coming out of the country.
Storage building in Kyiv on fire. Credit: Wikipedia
Strategic Update – 1 Month of War
Ukraine on the Offensive: Ukraine’s military has slowed down Russia’s military advance and is poised to go on the offensive, according to an anonymous Western official. Ukrainian forces are likely planning to retake territory around the city of Kherson in southern Ukraine. Kremlin officials recently said that Russia’s goal to demilitarize Ukraine is still going according to plan, despite rumors that Russia’s military is running low on supplies and soldiers are suffering from frostbite. NATO reported that between 7,000-14,000 Russian troops have died during the invasion.
A Morale Boost: Ukrainian forces scored a major strategic and symbolic victory on Thursday when a Ukrainian missile destroyed a Russian warship in the port city of Berdyansk. Located west of Mariupol, the seaport has been a strategic access point for Russian troops since they captured it on February 28th. The Ukrainian military also indicated that the explosion damaged two other ships.
Mariupol still under Siege: Russia’s military still has a blockade around Mariupol and as many as 100,000 civilians are still in the bomb-ridden city. Some citizens escaped through humanitarian corridors, but President Zelenskyy asserts that Russia is sabotaging humanitarian efforts. The Red Cross corroborated Zelenskyy’s claims when they reported that a humanitarian convoy could not enter the city.
Kyiv in Context: Russian forces have been trying to take Kyiv for weeks but have not made it past the suburban outskirts. Artillery regularly bombards civilian areas in the city, but Kyiv’s air force has been able to repel a surprising number of Russian missiles. However, a missile destroyed a shopping mall and killed eight people in the downtown district of Podil.
Keeping Kyiv Running: The city’s utility workers are doing their best to avoid air strikes and keep the capital’s public services up and running. Heating technicians are inspecting pipes hit by bombs and missiles, street cleaners are removing broken glass and bricks near bombed-out buildings, and sanitation workers are patrolling the city for debris-filled dumpsters. When asked why they continue to work and keep the city clean, most responded, “If not us, then who?”
Zelenskyy’s Appeal: In an emotional address to NATO members in Brussels, President Zelenskyy requested more military aid to Ukraine, including tanks, planes, anti-ship weapons, and air defense systems. He has dropped calls for NATO to close the sky over Ukraine and did not mention the possibility of his country joining the military treaty organization. Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine have hit a dead end, and Western officials are increasingly worried that Russia may use chemical or nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands. Credit: Flickr
Crimes of International Proportion: As President Biden started his diplomatic tour to Europe this week, Secretary of State Blinken announced the administration’s belief that Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine. However, the punishment Putin could face is still unclear. While agencies like the International Criminal Court have begun investigating potential humanitarian violations, bringing Putin before a judge would be nearly impossible. Attacks on Ukrainian civilians would need to be clearly linked to the Russian leadership. Furthermore, if an international court were to issue arrest warrants, Putin and his supporters would need to be caught outside of Russia. Ultimately, any legal proceedings would likely be a symbolic gesture.
Jobs Sprouting for Ukrainians: As the flow of Ukrainian refugees into Europe continues, countries have established programs to help individuals find jobs and childcare. European countries are looking to capitalize on Ukraine’s highly-skilled workforce, with 70% of its population holding secondary or higher education degrees. There is one major obstacle: many Ukrainians will be forced to pick up a new language the further west they move because Ukrainian and Russian are not widely spoken. While in France mothers can instantly enroll their children in schools as they search for work, education systems in Poland are overloaded and are not accepting any more students. With no end in sight, the war will test European countries’ efforts to integrate and accommodate refugees.
A digitized photo of girls performing a national Ukrainian dance in the 20th century. Credit: PICRYL
Ukrainian Culture Perseveres
Artful Resistance: One artist in the Russian occupied city of Nova Kakhovka, a city just north of Crimea, has turned the mechanics of war into his form of protest. Max Kilderov painted an abandoned Russian tank after art supplies ran out in his city. He claims it is his way of standing up against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Moving Online: Vienna-based historian Sebastian Majstorovic is digitalizing cultural items in an effort to save significant markers of Ukrainian heritage from being destroyed. Majstorovic has established the group Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online (SUCHO), a volunteer-led organization that works to provide an online library of various Ukrainian heritage pieces, ranging from monuments to music.
Main square in Lviv. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Supply Chain Shortages: Kyiv’s supermarkets are operating at about 60% capacity. Logistical issues are delaying shipments of perishable food items, meaning some vegetables are arriving moldy or damaged. Silpo, one of the largest grocery store chains in Ukraine, closed 22 stores in Kyiv alone. Company representatives are claiming they closed the stores because half of the city’s two million residents fled, but supply chain issues are not helping. Traditional shipping methods via land and sea are unavailable, resulting in a greater reliance on trains and trucks. Silpo is trying to keep supplies flowing across the country, with 200 truckloads of goods being delivered throughout Ukraine every day.
Gouging Rent Prices: Landlords in western Ukraine are taking advantage of the influx of refugees by tripling rent prices. One family returned to Odesa after reporting that the cheapest option they found in the western city of Uzhhorod was one room for $950 a month. Before the war, a one-room apartment in the city cost less than $200 a month. Before the war the average Ukrainian earned around $800 a month, so most cannot afford the outrageous rent prices.
Your Money isn’t Welcome in Russia: Vladimir Putin plans to make unfriendly countries pay in Rubles instead of dollars or euros for natural gas. It is unclear when officials will implement the new policy, but economists speculate that Putin is trying to bolster the Ruble’s value. However, experts say that this measure is unlikely to help the Ruble’s value. Russia is still supplying European Union member countries with 40% of their natural gas.
Central train station in Warsaw. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Refugee Flow: Over 3.6 million refugees have left Ukraine since February 24th. The UN reported that at least 4.3 million Ukrainian children, over half of the adolescent population, have been displaced because of the conflict. In addition, close to two million have fled the country. US officials announced on Thursday that they are prepared to accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, with special priority given to vulnerable groups, such as LGBTQI people, journalists, and dissidents. The US government also announced the allocation of at least another billion dollars in humanitarian aid for Ukrainians.
Lviv is Ready to Fight: Almost 200,000 Ukrainians have sought shelter in Lviv since the start of the invasion, increasing the city’s population by a third. The city has turned about 500 public institutions, such as schools and theaters, into refugee shelters. Civilians are filling the streets with obstacles for tanks and lining doorways and windows with sandbags. Unscrupulous landlords may be trying to take advantage of the situation, but business owners and city officials are trying to create a safe environment for internally displaced Ukrainians.
Some Human Moments Prevail
Despite the tragic circumstances surrounding the war in Ukraine, videos shared over social media show that humanity still exists.
A cellist in Kharkiv performs Bach in front of his destroyed city.
Girls in Kyiv metro turn station into their playground.
Want to Help Ukraine?
Looking to lend support to Ukraine, below are some ways you can help: