Film poster for Freedom on Fire. Credit: IMBd and Evgeny Afineevsky
A key tool in the Ukrainians' arsenal for repelling the Russian invasion has been social media. Viral content is being used to boost morale at home and demoralize Russians invaders as part of a larger strategy to push back on all fronts. Popular clips about Ukraine aren't just limited to social media platforms: Netflix's Winter on Fire received an Oscar nomination for documenting the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution. The director seems to love the word "fire" as he's releasing a new film called Freedom on Fire focusing on the recent invasion of Ukraine. The movie used 43 different cinematographers to capture the human moments of the war, like an old man who stared down a Russian tank. Russia's invasion has gravely impacted the global food supply chain but a new railway terminal in Hungary is reigniting the conversation about the utility of train transportation in Ukraine and Europe. Defying the invaders has taken many different forms, with one opera singer who fled Ukraine carrying only a bag and her favorite Ukrainian sheet music going on to perform at a church in Boston. This is where we are after nearly eight months of war.
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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.
Olha Abakumovaand her daughter. Credit: Jodi Hilton for NPR
Memories of My Home: If you had to flee your homeland, what would you bring as a reminder of your former life? Of course, you would pack the necessities, but what non-essential item would you bring to remind yourself of your roots, family, and/or hometown? For Olha Abakumova, a Ukrainian opera singer, she managed to fit a few pieces of Ukrainian sheet music into her small suitcase before fleeing to the U.S. to stay with her sister. Olha said, "The Ukrainian works are very important to me. They connect me with my motherland, culture and my roots." For Ukraine’s Independence Day in August, she attempted to maintain some resemblance of normalcy, and connect with her roots through music, by performing the Ukrainian national anthem at a small Ukrainian church courtyard in Boston.
Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art logo located in Chicago. Credit: UIMA
A Surviving and Thriving Community
Chicago Connections: Midstory, a “thinkhub” that progresses the narrative of the Midwest, recently wrote a feature on the Ukrainian art community in Chicago. The piece describes the first enclaves of immigrants arriving from Ukraine to Chicago in the early 20th century, followed by a cultural boom in the post-WWII era. The large, concentrated population of Ukrainian immigrants gave way to two museums located in Chicago's west side, the Ukrainian National Museum and the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. These are two of the most important Ukrainian cultural institutions in the country, playing an integral role in preserving artifacts from the country as the war continues to rage.
A Ballet for the Ages:Alexei Ratmansky, a Russian-Ukrainian ballet dancer, debuted his new piece,Wartime Elegy, at the Northwest Ballet in Seattle back in September. Alexei was born in Russia but spent most of his childhood in Kyiv, where much of his family still lives. Up until February 24th, the day Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, Ratmansky had been working at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. Ratmansky’s new piece is a nod to Ukrainian folk culture, with dancers donning traditional garb while moving to traditional music. The piece joins a growing list of the artist’s works that deal with his dual identity as both a Ukrainian and Russian.
Freedom on Fire:Film director Evgeny Afineevsky, who also directed the documentary Winter on Fire, is releasing a film about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The film, Freedom on Fire: Ukrainians Fight for Freedom, uses 43 different cinematographers to capture the invasion from around the country. Afineevsky, who was actually born in Russia but now resides in the U.S., hopes the film will keep Ukraine at the center of the world’s attention.
Ukrainian footballer makes a passionate plea for supporting his country at the Ballon D’Or.
Twitter account for the Defense Ministry of Ukraine. Credit: Forbes
Every Tool at Our Disposal
Social Media as a Tool:While the war rages, another battle is being waged online by a team of social media experts. The Defense Ministry’s Twitter account has accumulated over a million followers by posting funny videos, memes, and catchy thank-yous for countries who have delivered support to Ukraine. But the group also has another goal: to demoralize Russian invaders by making fun of their failures and showing Ukrainian victories. The group is as much focused on its audience in Ukraine as it is on groups abroad, including Russians.
Mixed Reception: In the wake of Russia’s mobilization of its fighting age population, hundreds of thousands Russians fled to Central Asia. Kazakhstan estimates that it has admitted 200,000 Russians. The group, which has been given the name "relokanty" (those who relocate), has been met with mixed reactions. While some groups have sprung up to support the new arrivals, others have voiced anger because prices for accommodation are rising significantly as a result of their arrival. Questions remain as to how long these Russians will stay in Central Asia and if the end of the war would trigger their return.
Decimated border guard station in Kyiv Oblast. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Targeting Energy Infrastructure: On October 22nd, Russian missiles struck energy facilities across western, central, and southern Ukraine. As Ukraine’s counteroffensive continues to generate successes, Russia has turned its attention to targeting civilian energy infrastructure. According to Ukrainian officials, 1.4 million households lost power in Saturday's attack. Since October 10th, Russian attacks have disabled 30% of Ukraine’s civilian power grid.
Iranian Drones: Russia’s attacks have been fueled by Iranian-built drones, which are not as nimble as the U.S.-made drones Ukrainians forces have deployed, but are extremely powerful. The drones can carry about 100 pounds of explosives for over 1,200 miles, which is more than quadruple the range of many high-tech missile systems.
Forced Deportation: Russian President Putin recently signed a decree declaring “martial law” in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. The order clears the way for Russian proxies to tighten censorship, set curfews, and forcibly relocate residents, especially in the Kherson Oblast as Ukrainian forces advance. A Ukrainian official warned that this is “a preparation for mass deportation of the Ukrainian population” after a Russian proxy-leader in Kherson said roughly 50,000 to 60,000 residents would be moved. Kremlin officials could use the exodus to swap out Ukrainians for Russians, thus changing the ethnic composition of the area in an attempt to give legitimacy that Putin has backing in the region.
Art characterizing life in the bomb shelters in Ukraine, which has become a common experience.
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Rendition of the EWG terminal in Hungary near Ukraine. Credit: Global Railway Review
All Economies Lead to Ukraine
Revamping Railroad: On Tuesday, Hungary inaugurated a brand new, state-of-the-art railway terminal near its border with Ukraine. Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Péter Szijjártó, claimed that the terminal can process up to 1 million containers of grain a year and will play a crucial role in transporting Ukraine’s grain to ports on the Adriatic Sea. The East-West Gate terminal (EWG) will run exclusively on green energy and will have its own 5G internal network for employees.
Zooming out: The grain deal Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and the U.N. signed in July that allows the safe passage of cargo ships from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports is set to expire at the end of November. Kremlin officials have recently expressed reservations about extending the agreement. Therefore, broader access to ports on the Adriatic Sea may prove beneficial for Ukraine and the world’s strained food supply chain.
Reemergence of Railroad? As our guest contributor Will Zadeskey highlighted in his piece on restoring railroads in Moldova and Romania, railway lines offer a safe and efficient passage for grain shipments. Zadeskey aptly underscored the importance of the new railways with his closing statement: “The renewed trade routes also provide Ukraine with enhanced economic security in case the recent grain deal with Russia falls through.”
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