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.
Congratulations to Ukraine Unlocked cofounder Philip and his fiancé Lillie who are getting married next week! So that the founders of Ukraine Unlocked can properly enjoy the festivities, we will not be publishing a newsletter next week. We will continue on the week of the 20th.
This Week's Takeaway...
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought into question nearly every single relationship between the two countries: from concerns about the over-reliance on Russian energy to how the countries interact with international organizations like NATO. Yet for many Ukrainians, they are confronted with their deep ties to Russia every day. Nearly a third of all Ukrainians speak Russian as their first language (with some reports estimating the number is even higher). Most Ukrainians were raised speaking Russian, making it difficult for them to fully transition to Ukrainian. Even before the war, Ukraine’s government had made a concerted effort to make its national language more widely spoken. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is likely to hasten these efforts, with some Russian speakers taking it upon themselves to give up their native tongue.
What does the future of the Russian language look like in Ukraine...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.
Destroyed Russia tank near Mariupol. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Strategic Update – Week 9 of War
Fighting in the East: Russian forces have ramped up attacks in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Artillery strikes have targeted the towns of Lyman, Vuhledar, Popasna, and others. Russian attacks have killed at least 21 civilians and injured another 27. Ten of the casualties came after Russia shelled the Avdiivka coke (material for steel) plant, which is one of the largest in Europe. The plant was still operational, and workers had just finished their shift when the attack started. The regional governor noted, “There are no safe cities in Luhansk region.
Last Stand in Mariupol: On Wednesday, Russian troops made a second attempt in a row to infiltrate the Azovstal steel plant. Mariupol’s mayor reported intense fighting on and near the factory’s premises. The status of Ukrainian troops is unclear, but as of Wednesday evening, Kyiv still had contact with the remaining forces at the plant. Kremlin officials announced that they would initiate a three-day ceasefire on May 5th to allow the 200 remaining civilians to evacuate.
To Hell and Back: The United Nations and Red Cross successfully evacuated 127 civilians from the Azovstal plant on May 1st. After leaving the facility, the civilians completed a challenging three-day trip spanning over 140 miles to Zaporizhzhia. The evacuees lived in the basement of the plant for two months with only scant updates about the broader war efforts. Supplies dwindled over the last few weeks, which only exacerbated their challenges. One woman described some of the difficulties: “We had to boil water with candles because there wasn’t hot water. My grandfather was running under the shelling to other buildings in the complex to get water.”
600 Dead: On Wednesday, the AP concluded their investigation into the March 16th attack on the Mariupol theatre. Ukrainian officials originally estimated that 300 civilians died, but the AP determined that at least 600 civilians died in the attack. Survivor Oksana Syomina said, “All the people are still under the rubble because the rubble is still there — no one dug them up…This is one big mass grave.”
Targeting Infrastructure: On Wednesday, Russia launched attacks on electric power facilities, fuel and ammunition depots, and other key supply lines near Kyiv, Cherkasy, Dnipro, and Zaporizhzhia. Kremlin officials are angry that Western nations are supplying Ukraine with weapons and are trying to slow their transportation into the country. Meanwhile, the US and other allied nations are hoping their stringent sanctions will prevent Russia from accessing crucial materials for their own war efforts.
Prelude to All-Out War? Western analysts are concerned that the attacks are a prelude to Russian President Putin expanding the “special military operation” to a full-scale war during the May 9th Victory Day Parade. A war declaration would allow Putin to mobilize more troops and declare martial law. Against this backdrop, Russia’s strategic ally, Belarus, began military exercises on Wednesday and could join the war within the next few weeks.
One of two long-haul Boeing airplanes owned by Ukrainian International Airlines. Credit: Flickr
Where To Go?
Looking to Lease: Ukrainian International Airlines (UIA) is looking for partners who are interested in leasing their aircraft and crews. Since the war began, UIA has ceased most of its operations and parked aircraft abroad after air travel grew dangerous. If UIA can find a partner, it would go a long way in ensuring Ukraine has a flagship airline after the war subsides. The presence of a well-established international carrier will be crucial in bringing international travelers to Ukraine in a post-war country.
Purgatory in Mexico City:Some Ukrainian refugees are fleeing to Mexico in hopes of crossing into the U.S. at the Tijuana-San Diego border. A camp of about 500 refugees has sprung up on the outskirts of Mexico City as many wait for clarity on how President Biden will deliver on his promise to admit 100,000 refugees into the U.S. While some have had luck entering the country from Mexico, the Biden administration has yet to announce a formalized process.
Still Not Joe Biden:Add House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the growing list of politicians who have visited Ukraine during the war. The Congresswoman from California led a group of fellow Democrats who visited the city to show their support for Zelesnkyy and his government. President Zelenskyy even awarded the Speaker the Order of Princess Olga to recognize her efforts for strengthening the Ukrainian-American relationship.
Head Scratcher from the Pope: Pope Francis stated this past week that NATO’s “barking” at Russia’s door may have caused Putin to invade Ukraine. The comments came after the Pope said that he wanted to speak with Putin before going to Ukraine to try and negotiate a peace deal.
British megastar Ed Sheeran. Credit: Peer Magazine
Spotlight Remains on Ukraine
The Sheeran Remix:Last week we shared that Ed Sheeran filmed the music video for his song 2Step in Kyiv just days before the war broke out. Now the pop star has teamed up with Ukrainian artist Taras Topolia of the band Antyilia to create a remix of the song. Topolia is now fighting with the Ukrainian military and filmed his portion of the music video from the frontline for the remixed song.
Pirate's Gold:Ukrainian officials are accusing Russian soldiers of looting historical collections of gold and art. The thievery appears to be taking place in the besieged cities of Mariupol and Melitopol, where armed Russians are raiding museums for their valuable collections. Soldiers are apparently whisking away pieces to the Russian-separatist-controlled Donbas region.
Curling Victory:The Ukrainian men’s and women’s teams competed in the European C-Division Curling Championship this week. The competition took place in Helsinki where the teams arrived without any of their equipment. Opponents pitched in to supply the Ukrainians with everything from housing to uniforms. The women’s team missed the playoffs but the men’s team qualified and will advance to the first round of the competition.
Destroyed road near Kyiv. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Billions a Week: The Kyiv School of Economics estimates that Russia’s invasion destroys $4.5 billion of infrastructure per week, with a conservative total estimate of $92 billion since February 24th. When the infrastructure damage is combined with the impact on the GDP, the pause of investments, and the loss of millions of workers, the overall cost of the war is well over $600 billion. That number is over four times Ukraine’s annual GDP.
Ukrainian refugees holding shirts that say "Russian war ship, go f*ck yourself" in Krakow, Poland. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Stopping Sexual Assault: The U.N.’s office on Sexual Violence announced a framework to assist survivors who faced sexual violence during the war in Ukraine. The office tweeted, “Wartime rape can no longer be dismissed as an ‘inevitable byproduct of war.’ It must be recognized by all parties as a crime that can be prevented and punished.” Officials plan to increase sexual and reproductive health services, mental health services, and legal support for Ukrainians inside and outside of the country.
Some Human Moments Prevail
Despite the tragic circumstances surrounding the war in Ukraine, videos shared over social media show that humanity still exists.
An ex-pat fighting in Ukraine has amassed a large following on Twitter. This week James Vasquez, a Connecticut native, tweeted his thanks to Elon Musk for his Starlink system, which can provide internet in hard-to-reach areas.
A young girl and her cat survived the evacuation from Mariupol.
Want to Help Ukraine?
Looking to lend support to Ukraine, below are some ways you can help:
Help forPEACE, which seeks to connect foreign donations with on-the-ground organizations in Ukraine