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.
Most of the news coverage in Ukraine focuses on the strategic, military, and political developments. While these updates are useful it overlooks the role ordinary people play in waging and ending war. The effects of grassroots activism may not be quantifiable, but the collective effort of everyday Ukrainians is crucial in supporting the efforts of their army. Ukrainians have taken on their Russian occupiers in any way possible: from small acts of defiance like destroying road signs to higher-profile events such as protests in occupied cities. The grassroots movement in Ukraine is showing that average citizens do not want to live in a Kremlin-governed country.
How are ordinary people contributing to Ukraine’s war effort? Click here to find out.
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 building in Mariupol Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Strategic Update – Week 8 of War
Eastern Flank: Russian offensives in the Donbas and Kharkiv regions have intensified over the last several days. Western officials still believe that Putin would like substantial results by the Victory Day Parade, which marks the Soviet Union’s defeat of the Nazis, on May 9th. The escalation in fighting has made reporting the details more difficult. However, officials indicate that many Russian troops are withdrawing from Mariupol and heading toward the Zaporizhzhia oblast, which is a strategic point on the way to eastern Ukraine.
Russia is Still Attacking Mariupol: Despite the removal of troops, Russian forces are still bombing strategic points within Mariupol. On Thursday, Kyiv officials announced that Russian troops began an “unprecedent” bombing of the Azovstal steel plant. The factory has transformed into a shelter for civilians and Ukrainian soldiers. Officials in Kyiv are trying to organize an evacuation of civilians from the factory, but Russian forces have blocked numerous attempts over the past several weeks.
Reports from Azovstal: There are various different groups of soldiers within the steel plant, including the Azov Regiment, marines, and national guardsmen. While the semi-volunteer Azov battalion has claimed they will stay and fight, military officers have pleaded for evacuation plans:
Azov Battalion: Captain Sviatoslav Palamar of the Azov battalion reported via Zoom that Ukrainian forces would continue to fight while asking world leaders to save trapped civilians. The captain said that supplies are running low, but defiantly claimed, “we're going to battle and fight for as long as we have to."
36th Marine Brigade: Commander Serhiy Volynsky made another video appeal this week asking for world leaders to stage a Dunkirk-style rescue of civilians and soldiers within the factory. Volynsky indicated that his previous appeals to world leaders, diplomats, and even Pope Francis have not been heard. He concluded by saying: “My main message to you today is: Save Mariupol troops. Have an extraction procedure for us. It’s not 1940 anymore, it’s 2022 today…People will just die here, the wounded will die. Civilians here die with us in bunkers, in private houses and residential buildings. They just get shot there. The city [is] almost completely wiped out from the face of the Earth.”
Referendum in Kherson? Russian forces have controlled the southern city since March, but troops have not targeted civilians as they did in cities surrounding Kyiv. Residents fear that Russian soldiers’ benevolent behavior indicates that they plan to stage a referendum to declare Kherson independent.
Strategic corridor: Russian General Rustam Minnekayev announced plans to seize control of the Kherson region and strategic points in eastern Ukraine. Capturing the Kherson region would allow Russian forces to set up a land corridor from Russian-occupied Crimea. From there, they could launch attacks on Odesa and Krivy Rih.
Stay Away: Russian President Vladimir Putin once again warned Western nations against meddling militarily in Ukraine: "If someone from the outside tries to intervene in Ukraine and create strategic threats for Russia, our response will be lightning fast…We have all the tools that no one can boast of. And we will not be bragging about them, we will use them if necessary."
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Credit: Flickr
World Continues to Rally Around Ukraine
Gas Shutdown: Russia shut off its supply of natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria this past week. The move came after Poland and Bulgaria refused Russia's Gazprom’s demand to pay for the energy supply in rubles. EU member nations announced they would supply the two countries with their surpluses of natural gas. The Russian strategy seems to have little impact at this point since neither nation has reported an interruption in gas delivery. Kyiv Gets More High-Profile Visitors:
NOT Joe Biden: The U.S. sent Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Kyiv last weekend for a meeting with President Zelenskyy. The visit gave the duo the opportunity to announce both additional funding for Ukraine and a new nominee to serve as ambassador to the country. Ukraine has been without a Congressionally confirmed US ambassador for over two years after President Trump ousted Marie Yovanovitch. Shortly after the duo reentered Poland via train, Russian forces attacked rail lines in western Ukraine.
U.N. Leadership: U.N. Secretary General António Guterres also paid a visit to Kyiv this past week where he called the war “an absurdity.” While in the capital, Russia showed its brazenness by launching missiles at the city, which was the first such attack in over a week. Despite Russia’s hostile attitude toward the international diplomat, Guterres met with President Putin following his visit to Kyiv. Guterres called the meeting “very useful” and said the two sides were close to a deal that would allow civilians in Mariupol to evacuate.
The Potemkin Stairs famous for being featured in the Soviet film Battleship Potemkin. Credit: Flickr
Spotlight Remains on Ukraine
Cultural Confliction: Ukraine’s port city of Odessa is grappling with its deep ties to Russia. As the war continues to rage in the east of the country, some residents are wondering whether certain cultural markers with direct ties to Russia should be removed. One iconic piece of Soviet history in Odesa is the Potemkin Stairs (pictured above), which were featured in the movie Battleship Potemkin. Others worry about Russia’s increasing influence over TV and social media. The debate over the removal of monuments may sound familiar to Americans who have been embroiled in a heated argument over dismantling confederate monuments in southern states.
Filmed in Kyiv: British megastar Ed Sheeran revealed that he finished filming his recently-released 2step music video in Ukraine just days before Russia’s invasion. The music video also features American rapper Lil Baby who travelled to Kyiv to produce the video. Sheeran said that all streaming proceeds from the video will go toward humanitarian agencies operating in Ukraine.
Ukrainians Return: TLC’s popular reality TV show 90 Day Fiancé last week released a special last week entitled 90 Day Diaries: Ukraine. The episode followed three Ukrainian women who had previously been featured on the show. Each character shares their personal story about how the war is impacting their family and friends back home. One character, who was infamous for taking an undisclosed amount of money from her American suitor while refusing to meet him in real life, had returned to Ukraine and is currently living alone in the city.
Silhouette of a woman trying to stop a tank in a field. Credit: Pixabay
Economics of Aid
Billions More: On Thursday, President Biden requested an additional $33 billion in aid for Ukraine, which is more than double the amount of the package Congress approved last month. Biden indicated last week that the initial $13 billion was almost exhausted. During his announcement, the President attempted to defend the aid: “The cost of this fight is not cheap, but caving to aggression is going to be more costly if we allow it to happen.”
Price Shock: The World Bank announced that the war in Ukraine could cause the biggest rise in prices since the 1970s. The hardest hit goods will be natural gas, wheat, and cotton. Wheat prices are already at a 60-year high, but prices are expected to rise by more than 42%.
Ukrainian refugees protest in Krakow Poland. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Projections Rise: After Russia invaded, the United Nations initially estimated that 4 million Ukrainians would flee the country. Now that over 5 million Ukrainians have left, the U.N. predicts that the number will rise to 8.3 million. U.N. officials indicate that they will need $1.85 billion to adequately care for the refugees. Where that money will come from will be a question that Western nations will need to answer.
Some Human Moments Prevail
Despite the tragic circumstances surrounding the war in Ukraine, videos shared over social media show that humanity still exists.