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.
Pardon the interruption! We have returned after a brief two-week hiatus to celebrate the marriage of Ukraine Unlocked co-founder Philip and his wife Lillie!
This Week's Takeaway...
Ukraine’s military was unprepared and overwhelmed in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea. Ukrainian armed forces had a meager 130,000 soldiers, with only about 7,000 being combat-ready. The last eight years of war taught military leaders the principle of “maximization.” Ukrainian soldiers use every resource at their disposal to overcome their lack of manpower and technological prowess. As a retired U.S. general highlighted, Ukrainians were using aspects of radar that he had never heard of before. Despite Ukraine’s resourcefulness, many expected Russia to dominate the airspace within days of the February 2022 invasion. Ukraine relies on aged planes, but through western support has acquired shoulder-held missiles and surface-to-air missiles. These weapons have destroyed over 200 Russian aircraft and are part of a small arsenal of weapons that Ukrainians are using to overcome deficits in other strategic areas. Ukraine’s maximization principle is an integral part to their successful defense over the last three months.
How did Ukraine’s military transformed from amateur to professional…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 cars in Kramatorsk. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Strategic Update – Week 12 of War
All Eyes on the Donbas: Over the first three months of the war, Ukrainian forces prevented Russia from capturing the two largest cities in Ukraine, Kyiv and Kharkiv. Russian forces have now turned their attention to capturing the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
On the Ground: Ukrainian forces are attempting to repel Russian attacks in the cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. Russian troops are attacking from multiple sides, and an advisor to President Zelenskyy admitted that Ukrainian army is ceding territory. If Russia were to capture the cities, then they would have full control over the Luhansk region.
Fighting Elsewhere: The majority of Russian troops are in the Donbas, but Russia is still deploying artillery strikes in other strategic areas in northern and southern Ukraine. Shelling has killed several civilians and damaged infrastructure in the Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhzhia regions.
Azovstal Falls: Last week, 264 Ukrainian military personnel left the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol and were transported to Russian-held territories for medical treatment where they await processing. There are allegedly several hundred soldiers left in the plant, but their status is unclear. The fighters in the plant were the last center of resistance in Russian-controlled Mariupol.
Passport Regime: President Putin issued a decree to fast-track the process for Ukrainians in Russian-controlled areas to acquire a Russian passport and citizenship. Kremlin officials are using passports as a way to “Russify” the area and undermine Kyiv’s authority. Russia launched a similar tactic in Russian-occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk in 2019 and in Georgia in 2008. Over the past three years Moscow has issued roughly 800,000 passports to Ukrainians.
Oleksandr Zinchenko of Manchester City football club. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
First of Many: A group of Russian and Belarussian nationals have been accused of murdering Ukrainian citizens in a town located outside of Kyiv and are now wanted by prosecutors for war crimes. The fighters were apparently working for the Wagner Group, a private Russian military business funded by oligarchs close to Putin. Now prosecutors want to bring the group before a court, but they suspect the wanted individuals are fighting on the frontlines in the Donbas region. The inclusion of the Belarusian pair in the accusations marks the first-time international mercenaries have faced war crimes related to the war since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.
Title Dedication: Manchester City defeated Aston Villa, sealing their title as Champions of the Premier League for the 2021/2022 season. The Club’s midfielder and Ukrainian national Oleksandr Zinchenko draped himself in his country’s flag as he wept on the field. Zinchenko said after the match “They [Ukrainians] are surviving in my country despite Russian aggression. I’m so proud to be Ukrainian, and I would love to one day bring this title to Ukraine, for all Ukrainian people, because they deserve it.”
Looking Ahead: The Ukrainian and Wales national teams face off on June 1st for Europe’s final spot at the World Cup. The upcoming games are being hosted in Qatar this winter.
US Law School Steps In: Columbia Law School announced the establishment of the International Claims and Reparations Project (ICRP) this month. The initiative seeks to identify legal frameworks in which countries can claim international reparations. Ukraine has asked the group to submit advice on how they may seek payments from Russia for damage done to the country. Zelenskyy has taken the chance to access experts on this issue by appointing ICRP’s Director Patrick Pearsall as an academic advisor on this issue area.
WWIII: Polarizing philanthropist George Soros made bold claims at the 2022 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He claimed that “The invasion may have been the beginning of the Third World War and our civilization may not survive it.” Soros used his speech to also advocate for “open societies,” saying that we have seen a decrease in these since 9/11. Soros is a self-proclaimed advocate for democracy starting the organization “Open Societies Foundation.”
Eurovision Stage 2022. Credit: Eurovisionary
Eurovision in Kyiv 2023?
Ukraine Eurovision Winners: Ukrainian folk-rap artist group Kalush Orchestra won this year’s Eurovision contest. The song “Stefania” is about the mother of one of the artists in the group. The win also brings with it the right to host the contest for the following year. President Zelenskyy made the optimistic proclamation that Ukraine would happily welcome Eurovision to his country in 2023.
Bullet Holes Bloom: Community members in the now infamous city of Bucha, where one of the worst atrocities of Russia’s invasion played out, are trying to heal in a new way. Ukrainian-Canadian artist Ivanka Siolkowsky has taken to repainting the bullet hole-riddled walls and doors with flowers in hopes of covering up the destruction with color. She hopes the art will help alleviate some of the burden that came with the horrors the city experienced.
Books Continue On: Julia Orlova, founder and managing director of Vivat publishing house, is continuing to produce books from the city of Kharkiv despite an onslaught of Russia attacks. Vivat is working with printers in western parts of the country so books can continue to be made. They have even reported an increased demand for adolescent and young adult books since the start of the war.
Major cryptocurrencies. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
War Time Recession
Crypto Woes: Ukraine’s government raised over $60 million dollars in crypto assets during the first three months of war, but the crash of the crypto market meant the value dropped by $9 million. Kyiv officials were able to spend about $45 million on military equipment before the steep decline. Officials in Ukraine still plan to attract investors via crypto and have not been deterred by the market volatility.
Nike Leaves Russia: After suspending operations at the beginning of March, Nike announced that they would not be renewing their franchise agreements in Russia and would be closing its stores. The decision comes right after Starbucks agreed to cease its operations and workers in Moscow lowered McDonald’s famous Golden Arches.
Black Market: Nike’s closure has some Russians speculating that there will be a resurgence of shuttle traders that existed during the 1980s in the Soviet Union. Shuttle traders procure goods from abroad and then sell them in the country. Russians may still be able to access coveted goods through shuttle trading and other third-party markets despite sanctions and the closures of companies.
Ukrainian refugees holding shirts that say "Russian war ship, go f*ck yourself" in Krakow, Poland. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
A Breath of Fresh Air: Over 135,000 Ukrainian refugees have resettled in the Spanish countryside since the beginning of the war and are bringing new life to the decaying villages. A Spanish official said the arrival of refugees may be crucial for the survival of the rural areas. Affordable housing is a challenge, but church and government officials are attempting to provide adequate shelter for Ukrainians. Many of the Ukrainian women are optimistic about their prospects in Spain. As one woman said, “Jesus has brought me to paradise.”
Some Human Moments Prevail
Despite the tragic circumstances surrounding the war in Ukraine, videos shared over social media show that humanity still exists.
During remarks at an event in Dallas, Texas former US President George Bush made quite a gaffe when he said "the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq... I mean of Ukraine." The Iraq war was one of the most controversial policy decisions of the Bush Administration with many saying the invasion had no justification.
Ukraine’s government has an app that allows you to access digital services, like picking up mail and boarding domestic flights, with just your smartphone. They now have a video in English to show how great it is.
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