Ukraine Unlocked

Russian Invasion Reverberates Around the World

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Week of 2/18-2/25

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. 
This Week's Takeaway...
In a foreboding move, President Putin officially recognized the separatist territories in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as independent states. Immediately following the declaration, Russia sent troops to both the rebel-held territories in eastern Ukraine and shortly after began an all-out assault on cities across the country. Officials and journalists reported attacks in Kharkiv, Odesa, Mariupol, Kherson, and the capital of Kyiv. Videos poured in from across social media of apartment buildings being attacked, tanks crossing the Ukrainian border, and troops being captured and killed on both sides. President Zelensky has both asked Ukrainian citizens to remain calm while also urging them to take up arms against Russian invaders. The invasion has thrust global attention onto the country as leaders scramble about how best to respond. 
Read a summary of the various moving pieces happening around the globe and in Ukraine here

Please understand that we have strayed away from our typical format to cover the events surrounding the invasion in Ukraine. We plan to return to covering historical and cultural topics in the coming weeks.  
Ukrainian soldiers preparing to battle Russian forces. Credit: New York Times
 Major Battles and Martial Law
  • Russia takes Chornobyl: Russians forces took over the site of the well-known Chornobyl nuclear power plant. The Ukrainian national guard and Chornobyl security forces fought to retain control of the site, but ultimately retreated. The site contains 15 active nuclear reactors and a large depository for nuclear waste. Ukrainian officials worry about the potential ramifications of battles affecting the site and recreating another nuclear disaster. President Zelensky said that the attack on the plant was “a declaration of war against the whole of Europe” and that Ukrainian soldiers “are giving their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated.”
    • Radioactive Ramifications: If this facility were to be destroyed, then it could contaminate all of continental Europe with radioactive dust. 
  • The Aviation Situation: Russian forces seized control of the Hostomel cargo airfield early Thursday morning, which is a strategic military location in the suburbs of Kyiv. Control of the airfield would enable Russia to easily transport troops and machinery into the heart of Ukraine and attack the capital. As of early Thursday evening, Ukrainian officials announced that they had repelled the Russian paratroopers and recaptured the airport.
    • Fighting Back: Ukrainian officials reported that they destroyed at least five Russian jets during Thursday's clashes.
  • Martial Law: President Zelensky implemented martial law and expanded the state of emergency in Ukraine. Ukrainian troops can now act at their discretion without concern about civil law. The decree also places strict curfews on citizens.
    • Mobilizing Troops: As part of the state of emergency, military reservists aged 18-60 are being summoned for active duty. It also stipulates that men of the same age group cannot leave the country.
Ukrainian Soldiers prepare for military parade. Credits: Vitaliy Holovin/
Can Ukraine’s Reformed Military Repel the Russians?

Since the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Ukraine has worked to reform its military to better respond to a potential Russian invasion. Changes include increased funding for the armed forces in addition to more transparency within military leadership. How do Ukraine's armed forces stack up against Russia's?
  • The Russian Giant: Experts believe that Russia has 900,000 active-duty troops with another two million reservists. These numbers dwarf Ukraine’s 145,000 full-time soldiers and 900,000 in the reserves.
  • US Support—Probably Not Enough: Since 2014, the US has provided Ukraine with $2.5 billion in military assistance. This has included anti-tank systems, small arms, and troop training. While this may appear like a large amount of aid, in comparison with the Russian military it is pocket change. One prominent researcher at the Rand Corporation suggested that the US no longer provide military aid since it would be useless against a full-scale invasion. Instead, he pushed leaders to find a diplomatic solution.  
  • Volunteer Groups, with Questionable Ties: Much of Ukraine’s military successes in 2014 came with the help of volunteer groups. One of the most successful but controversial groups is the Azov Battalion. Facebook had previously banned its users from praising the group on its platform because of the organization’s extremist right-wing views. The other challenge brought about by using volunteers is the lack of centralized control. This lack of authority is even more dangerous when contending with these extremist groups. 
Ukrainian solidarity protest in Washington DC, drag queen at a Kyiv Pride Parade, Jewish prayers in Odesa. Credits: New York Times
Minority Groups Prepare for the Unknown

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan sent a letter to the United Nations, claiming that Russia had compiled a “kill list” of Ukrainians to be attacked or detained if the country was invaded. The list included activists, journalists, ethnic and religious minorities, as well as members of the LGBTQ community. Since the list has been published, several groups have had to consider what they might do in the event of an invasion:
  • LGBTQ: Russia has a long history of denying members of this community basic human rights. LGBTQ individuals across Ukraine expressed fear that they could face attacks or imprisonment for their sexuality if Russia took over parts of the country. Members of Kyiv Pride have been organizing to help support the Ukrainian army resist Russian forces. It is important to note that Ukraine also has a tenuous relationship with its queer community. In recent years, Kyiv Pride Parade counter-protesters, who see the movement as morally disgraceful, have attacked parade participants. 
  • Jewish Groups: In Odesa, Jews are preparing to evacuate in the event of an all-out war. While some fear a Russian occupation, others have thought about the possibility of fellow Ukrainians using the chaos to wage anti-Semitic attacks.
  • Diaspora: In New York there are a 150,000 Ukrainians living throughout the city. As many watch and read on about what is happening in Ukraine, the prospect of total war in their homeland evokes fear and anxiety. 
Ukraine's National Bank. Credit: Wikipedia
Economic Security and Stability
  • Money Isn’t an Issue: Zelensky reassured citizens that Ukraine’s banking system has more than enough financial security to meet the needs of its citizens and the state during the Russian invasion. Ukrainians will still be able to access ATMs and bank. Zelensky also instated temporary restrictions to protect the value of the Hryvnia, such as suspending the foreign exchange market.
  • Doubling Down: Fearing an invasion on Wednesday, the Ukrainian parliament passed a resolution to increase the military budget by almost 900 million dollars. The money will be used exclusively for national security and defense measures during the Russian invasion. The funds will be crucial for Ukraine’s military defense.
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