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.
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The war has killed thousands and displaced millions of Ukrainians over the last four months. Many have fled their homes in the east and sought refuge in the de-facto western capital of Lviv. The influx of people has only created more sources of frustration and hardship for internally displaced peoples (IDPs). The most glaring issue is western Ukraine's astronomical rise in rent prices. In some cases, the cost of an apartment has tripled or quadrupled. Many IDPs who lost their livelihoods are running out of money and cannot pay the steep housing prices. Landlords believe that they have the right to make higher profits and are unwilling to lower rent prices. The Ukrainian government has historically left the rental market unregulated, but the Zelenskyy administration needs to step in and alleviate the burden for the Ukrainians who already have lost so much.
How are business owners exploiting refugees in western Ukraine…click here to read more.
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Ukrainian soldier standing in front of a destroyed building. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Strategic Update – Week 17 of War
Retreat Begins: On Friday, after weeks of intense fighting, Ukrainian forces began to withdraw from Severodonetsk and head to stronger positions to the west. By Saturday, Russian troops had complete control of the city. The fighting involved intense street-by-street battles over the last few weeks, with Ukrainian troops ultimately taking refuge in the Azot chemical factory before staging their retreat (no relation to the Azov Steel plant in Mariupol).
Missile War: As Ukrainian troops began to move west on Friday, Russian forces launched over a dozen coordinated missile strikes on military facilities in northern and western Ukraine. Reports indicate that most missiles originated from Belarusian territory. These strikes fit into a larger pattern of Belarus’ involvement in the war.
Civilian Targets: On Sunday, a Russian missile struck a residential building in Kyiv which wounded five people and killed one. This was the first attack on the capital since early June.
Toeing the Line: China’s General Secretary Xi Jinping has not officially condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but recently said that the war has “sounded an alarm for humanity.” The General Secretary, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, did not offer any solutions but cryptically stated, “trying to block other people’s road will only block your own road in the end.”
The European Union flag on top of an outline of Ukraine. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Candidate Status - Achieved: European Union leaders voted to approve Ukraine’s candidate status on Thursday. The move comes after German, French, and Italian leadership all voiced their support for Ukraine’s bid to join the organization. While the decision is a significant one, Ukraine has a long road to becoming a full member of the bloc. It could be a decade or more until Ukraine fulfills the requirements to formally enter the Union. In addition to granting Ukraine candidate status, Moldova received the same recognition. Meanwhile, Georgia’s application fell short as the country was only recognized for its “European perspective” which some surmised is a prelude to formal candidacy.
Russian Response: In a mixed bag of responses from Russia, President Putin stated, “We have no objections.” But other Kremlin officials have labeled the enlargement as “hostile.” Ukraine’s desire to become more aligned with Europe flies in the face of Putin’s hopes of bringing Ukraine under Russia’s influence.
Virtual Appearances: President Zelenskyy made a life-like appearance as a hologram at four large tech festivals around Europe. He used the opportunity to ask leaders in the industry to invest in his country. In return, he offered unparalleled support from the Ukrainian state to implement the new technology throughout the government. Ukraine has been on the forefront of a digital currency transition, as it already accepts donations for the war effort in the form of cryptocurrency.
The logo for Kyiv rave organizing group "Cxema." Credit: Wikipedia/Cxema
Pivoting in Times of War
Kyiv Techno Gets Political: Organizers of Kyiv’s popular techno collective, Cxema, have turned from organizing raves to helping their country fight Russian attackers. For these artists, the war has fundamentally altered their relationship with electronic music. Many are now afraid of loud noises or are too nervous to put on noise-canceling headphones for fear of missing an air raid siren.
Ben Stiller Pops By: Ben Stiller, an American actor, visited Ukraine this past week where he toured Kyiv and had a meeting with President Zelenskyy. Stiller is an ambassador for the United Nations refugee agency. The two have more in common than some may think, as they are both well-known actors and comedians in their respective countries.
Banning Russian Culture: As we have previously reported, Ukraine is attempting to limit the influence of Russian culture in its society. The Ukrainian parliament voted through two laws that place severe restrictions on Russian books and music. Books written by Russian citizens will not be printed unless the author renounces their passport and takes Ukrainian citizenship. The laws now head to President Zelenskyy’s desk where he will likely sign them.
Inside the lobby of a "Tasty and that's it." Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Rebranded McDonald’s Breaks Records: Fifteen “Tasty and that’s it” locations sold a record 120,000 burgers on the company’s opening day in Russia. The CEO of the chain said the sales were unprecedented and hoped they would open 1,000 locations within five years. Despite the West imposing sweeping sanctions due to the invasion, Russian businesses continue to survive and even grow.
U.S. and the U.K. Levy More Sanctions: U.S. President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. and the U.K. will ban the import of Russian gold. Russia is one of the largest producers of gold and Western leaders hope the new sanction will undermine Kremlin officials' ability to continue the war in Ukraine.
A Ukrainian Railways' train. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Irpin Residents Move into Trains: On June 15th, Ukrainian Railways set up five train cars as temporary housing for homeless residents from Irpin. The trains have been retrofitted to provide laundry, toilets, and showers for the people living on them. Russian forces destroyed much of the city and killed hundreds of civilians in March. An NGO is providing free meals, and residents have access to playgrounds, barbecues, and cinemas.
Some Human Moments Prevail
Despite the tragic circumstances surrounding the war in Ukraine, videos shared over social media show that humanity still exists.
With Ukraine’s ascension to EU candidate status a relevant clip from Zelenskyy’s show “Servant of the People” has been circulating the web.
The famous and sometimes controversial fighter Mike Tyson expressed his support for Ukraine.
A Ukrainian couple gets married against the backdrop of war.
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