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.
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This Week's Takeaway...
Brittney Griner, the WNBA star, is on trial right now in Moscow for bringing cannabis vape cartridges in her luggage. Her detainment has drawn the attention and support of fellow athletes, including LeBron James and Megan Rapinoe. Many have also criticized the Biden administration, saying the president has not done enough to try and find a way to bring her home. Yet as Griner’s trial and negotiations for her release take place, one cannot ignore the backdrop of war between Russia and Ukraine. The U.S. has been a steadfast supporter of Ukraine since the war began, sending billions of dollars in aide to the country. Bringing Griner home would most likely mean a high-profile prison swap with Russia, therefore undermining the Biden administration’s strong stance against Russia during its invasion of Ukraine. Yet, as Biden comes under greater pressure to make a deal, a prisoner trade may become inevitable.
What does Griner’s situation mean for Ukraine and the broad support it receives from the U.S…read more here.
Representative Victoria Spartz (R-IN). Credit: Spartz's Office
Rep. Spartz Making No Friends: In last week’s newsletter, we discussed Ukrainian-born, U.S. Congresswoman Victoria Spartz’s allegations against Zelenskyy’s administration. Now members of her own party are saying her comments are hurting the U.S.-Ukraine relationship at the worst possible time. Those in the G.O.P. also see her comments as creating a further divide between those who want to continue to support Ukraine, and the Trump faction which is starting to resist the idea of sending additional aid.
Not a Great Boss Either: In a Politico article, Rep. Spartz was featured as one of the worst bosses to work for on Capitol Hill. She allegedly frequently yells and curses at her staff, and is notorious for quickly switching from being nice to fully enraged. She apparently even compared the writing skills of her staff to those of elementary school children.
Mutual Understanding: The Polish parliament, in a near-unanimous decision, agreed to allow Ukrainian refugees the right to stay in the country for 18 months from February 24th 2022. The move also allows Ukrainians to access social benefits, healthcare, and education. The decision shows the strong solidarity between the two nations, despite Poland’s well-known anti-immigration stances. In response, President Zelenskyy submitted a bill to his parliament which would grant Polish citizens greater rights, such as access to healthcare and education within Ukraine, and makes it easier for them to do business in the country.
Rescue workers in the aftermath of the missile strike in Vinnytsia. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Strategic Update – Week 20 of War
Deadly Strike: On Thursday, several missiles struck a shopping mall, dance studio, and other civilian buildings in Vinnytsia, located over 160 miles southwest of Kyiv. Estimates as of Friday indicate 23 dead and 70 wounded, but officials expect that number to rise. At least 50 buildings were damaged in the attack. In discussing the assault, President Zelenskyy called on Western officials to label Russia as a terrorist state.
Speculations: Attacks on civilian targets in Mykolaiv and Dnipro that left several dead followed the brutal attack in Vinnytsia. Russian forces launched over a dozen missiles that targeted universities, hotels, and malls throughout the large cities. Some analysts speculate the attacks indicate Russia is running out of high-precision missiles and is launching without consideration for civilian casualties. But the prevailing belief is that Russia is intentionally targeting civilians to break Ukrainians’ will to fight back.
Ending the Operational Pause: On Friday, the Institute for the Study of War reported that they believe Russia is emerging from its ten-day operational pause in the Donbas region because of renewed attacks near Slovyansk and Bakhmut. While ten days is insufficient to resupply troops, the analysts believe Russian troops are under pressure to continue their assault. The premature restart means that the “Russian offensive may therefore fluctuate or even stall for some time.”
Ukrainian Cineomovment group "FreeFilmers" photo which translates to "Creative East." Credit: FreeFilmers Facebook Page
Claiming Gold: Ukraine’s Viktoriia Kozlovska and Taisiia Marchenko competed at the acrobatic gymnastics’ world championship being hosted in Birmingham, Alabama. The duo won gold as they performed an emotional performance for the crowd. The two women could not attend the last championship in March, which Azerbaijan hosted, due to outbreak of the war.
Film Group: A cineomovement that originally started in Mariupol is seeking to expand the number of films coming out of eastern Ukraine. The group, FreeFilmers, is a collective of eight artists who have self-produced their own work. On their website, the artists claim they are dedicated to “decentralizing” the cultural process. The group is mostly dedicated to capturing life in eastern Ukraine focusing on the struggle for equality and freedom.
Summer Plans: A British travel writer is urging readers to vacation in Poland this summer to help Ukraine. She describes a Poland that is standing in solidarity with Ukraine, displaying the Ukrainian flag, hanging anti-Putin posters, and a country that has taken in waves of refugees from the war. She argues that you can help the people who have aided those fleeing the war by spending money in Poland.
A wheat field in Ukraine. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Lifting the Blockade: Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, and the U.N. are slated to sign an agreement this week to help resume the export of grains through the Black Sea. Grain exports have largely stopped during the four-month war and have led to global food security crises. The Russian Defense Ministry said the measures to export food, especially to Russia’s allies, are broadly supported. Russia has deflected any responsibility for the global food crisis and instead blames Western sanctions.
Critical Timing: The announcement came as Ukrainian officials announced that grain exports this month are down over 40% compared to last July. They cited the naval blockade in the Black Sea as the primary reason for the steep decline.
Global Crisis: Countries in western and sub-Saharan Africa are suffering from the blockade on grain exports. Ukraine accounts for over 10% of the grain imports in multiple countries throughout the region. The U.N. reported that over 40 million people in these countries will face “acute food insecurity” this year, which is an increase of over 30 million in the last three years.
Lake Balaton in Hungary, which is now home to over 400 Jewish refugees from Ukraine. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Jewish Refugees Find Refuge in Hungary: About 400 Jewish Ukrainians have settled in a camp near Lake Balaton in Hungary. Many Jews passed through the camp on their way to the U.S. or Israel, but others stayed in hopes of returning home. The Chief rabbi who runs the camp says it is a shame for the Jewish community in Ukraine, as their culture was just starting to flourish again in a country where the holocaust and Soviet rule ravaged their communities. Unfortunately, many Jews in the camp believe that the longer the war lasts, the less likely people from their community are to return after it ends.
Some Human Moments Prevail
Despite the tragic circumstances surrounding the war in Ukraine, videos shared over social media show that humanity still exists.
A 10 year old Ukrainian, who is a world champion in checkers, raised money for the Ukrainian war relief effort, beating every person who challenged her.
France ended their bastille day celebrations by lighting up the Eiffel tower with yellow and blue lights.
One police officer in the Donetsk region is risking his life to save civilians.
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