Britteney Griner in Russia. Credit: Alexander Zemilanichenko via the AP
After 10 months in custody in Russia, WNBA star Brittney Griner returned to the U.S. following a controversial prisoner swap. In return, Russia received a convicted arms dealer, leaving many to ask if the U.S. got too little in the exchange. While pundits debate the merits and drawbacks of the swap, another debate is raging in economic circles: experts are clashing over the post-war makeup of Ukraine’s economy and how those fit into E.U. membership. Interest in Ukraine is growing, and not only in the context of investment, as the language learning app Duolingo reported a significant global increase in interest in Ukrainian. Ukraine’s ascent into global notoriety has been led by its President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who recently won Time Magazine’sperson of the year.
All this and more in the below newsletter!
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.
WNBA star Brittney Griner. Credit: Wikimedia commons
Freedom & Recognition
Griner Gets Out: After spending 10 months in Russian detention, WNBA star Brittney Griner was freed in a prisoner swap between the U.S. and Russia. Griner arrived back in the U.S. on Friday while the Biden Administration sent Viktor Bout, a convicted arms dealer, back to Russia. Some critics of the deal say the U.S. did not get enough in return for freeing Bout, noting that Marine Paul Whelan still remained in Russian custody. The New York Times did a deep dive on the details of the deal which you can read here.
Person of The Year: Zelenskyy and the “spirit of Ukraine” are Time Magazine’s“Person of The Year.” The publication has been handing out the honor since 1927. The cover of the magazine shows Zelenskyy donning his military green zip-up surrounded by other notable Ukranians. Time featured both Zelenskyy and his evolution from acting to leading a country through war, but also shared some of the incredible stories of everyday Ukranians.
Nobel Laureate Attacks Putin:Yan Rachinsky, the chair of the Russian NGO Memorial, received a Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway this past week. During his acceptance speech, he criticized Putin by calling the war in Ukraine “insane and criminal.” Ukrainian human rights leader Oleksandra Matviichuk also received the prize on behalf of the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine. Matviichuk pushed for a tribunal to be established to bring war criminals like Putin and Bealrusian leader Alexander Lukashenko to trial.
Human Moment: Ukrainian soldiers do their best takes on popular Tik Tok dances.
A nutcracker rendition. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
What to Watch This Christmas
Boycotting the Nutcracker: Ukraine’s Minister of Culture, Oleksandr Tkachenko, is calling for a boycott of Russian culture while the war continues to rage. In an opinion piece for The Guardian, he argues that the Kremlin is not only trying to conquer Ukraine’s territory but also its culture. In response, he says it is necessary for the world to step away from Russian cultural institutions, including classical plays such as the Nutcracker. Tkachenko does add nuance though, stating that once the war ends people can resume their consumption of Russian art.
Ukrainian Language Interest Spikes:The language learning app, Duolingo, released statistics this past week showing a large growth in interest for learning the Ukrainian language. It has gone from the 20th to the 17th most popular language on the platform, fueled by a 1,600% growth in Poland and Germany. On the flip side, many Ukrainians turned to the app to learn German and English as they readjust to their temporary homes.
Firefighters attempt to put out a fire after a Russian missile attack in the Odesa Oblast. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Freezing the War: On Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that Russia is aiming to temporarily stop the war during the winter so they can regroup and recover. Russia has not achieved a major military victory over the last five months, but has sustained a high casualty rate. A Ukrainian military leader reported at the beginning of December that Russia was losing 50-100 soldiers a day in the Bakhmut area alone.
Russia’s Ulterior Motives: Stoltenberg’s announcement comes after the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) repeatedly stated over the last several weeks that any ceasefire would only benefit Russia by allowing them to regroup. Furthermore, the ISW believes that Putin is trying to undermine Western support for Ukraine by portraying officials in Kyiv as unwilling to compromise.
Human Moment: Kharkiv is decked out with Christmas decorations.
Ukrainian refugees at the Berlin Central Station. Credit: Mathias Berg via Flickr
Sewing Discord for Refugees
Russian Propaganda Infiltrates Germany: With over one million refugees in Germany, Russian state propaganda has been attempting to demonize Ukrainians as a driver of Germany’s cost-of-living problems. A coordinated network of Telegram, YouTube, and Instagram channels push the narrative to the fringes of German political thought. Anti-refugee sentiments have intertwined with weekly demonstrations against rising energy costs.
Case Study: One German-language Telegram channel, which has amassed over 10,000 followers, regularly posts doctored videos that portray Ukrainian refugees trying to undermine Germany. The fake videos assert various conspiracies, from arson to spreading monkeypox.
Winter Forecast: Weekly demonstrations opposing coronavirus restrictions have transformed into protests over rising energy prices and Germany’s support for Ukraine. Experts expect an influx of refugees during the winter, just as Germans will be feeling the impact of the energy crisis. Some analysts believe Russia’s intentionally targeting civilian infrastructure to push more refugees into Europe and undermine support for 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
Center for Economic Policy Research Logo. Credit: Center for Economic Policy Research
Private vs Public
Debate Over Ukraine’s Post-War Economy: While Russia’s war is still raging, economists are arguing over how to rebuild Ukraine’s post-war economy. The Center for Economic Policy Research of London, an non-partisan non-profit, believes deregulating the economy and removing any vestiges of Soviet labor practices are the best paths forward. Economists at the organization believe Ukraine’s government cannot handle allocating funds for rebuilding. Systemic corruption is still a significant concern for many onlookers.
But is it Going too far? Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel-winning economist at Columbia University, believes that dismantling labor laws and the drastic deregulation will only undermine Ukraine’s rebuild. He highlighted the likelihood of environmental degradation and inadequate access to housing and healthcare. Furthermore, military success requires citizen support, and some worry that wage cuts and fewer protections will undermine that support in the future.
Incompatible with E.U. Goals? Some experts worry that Ukraine’s government is dismantling labor protection at a time when the European Union is trying to expand legal protections for collective bargaining. While cooperation between public and private institutions is vital, a full dive into the free market may hurt Ukraine’s long-term prospects.
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