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...
Ukraine’s long history of being controlled by different governments and empires has made the country a mosaic of various ethnic minorities. While Ukrainians and Russians are the two predominant ethnic groups in the country, Ukraine also has significant Hungarian, Roma, and Tatar populations. Ukraine’s relationship with these groups has not always been ideal, with many facing discrimination from their neighbors and the government in Kyiv. Fissures between minority groups in Ukraine may give Kremlin officials the opportunity to sow discord within the country. As the war continues to rage, Ukrainian officials will need to determine how to best unite these groups under the Ukrainian flag. Who are Ukraine’s minorities and how do they fit within the country, especially during war… read more here.
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Map of fighting in eastern Ukraine. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Strategic Update – Week 15 of War
Slow Gains: Fighting has significantly slowed in Ukraine compared to the first two months of war. Kremlin officials have concentrated most of their forces on capturing the city of Severodonetsk in the Donbas region. During the last week they have only been able to capture a marginal amount of territory. Russia no longer has a significant presence in the Kharkiv region, and attacks on the cities of Bakhmut and Slovyansk have temporarily stopped. The Institute for the Study of War predicts that Russia will capture Severodonetsk within a few weeks but at the expense of other objectives in eastern Ukraine.
Civilian Casualties: The U.N. reported that the war has killed nearly 4,500 civilians and injured another 5,500 over the last three months. U.N. officials warned that the actual number is likely much higher. Most of the casualties have been in eastern Ukraine where the most intense fighting continues to take place.
Ukrainian flags fly outside of buildings in Kyiv. Credit: Flickr
The Stars Align
Look Who Showed Up: In what amounted to likely an awkward visit, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi all visited Ukraine for the first time since the war began. The group arrived via train and used the trip to visit sites of alleged war crimes while also discussing plans for Ukraine’s reconstruction. The trip likely proved tense as the countries’ support for Ukraine has been brought into question. Germany has slow-walked the delivery of lethal support while Macron claimed that Putin should not be humiliated for his decision to invade Ukraine.
Boris Too: In another surprise trip, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also visited Kyiv. This is his second time stopping in Kyiv since the war began. Johnson has been accused of using his unwavering support for Ukraine as political cover for his domestic missteps. The prime minister recently received a fine for disregarding COVID-19 regulations during his country’s lockdown.
More International Captives: Two U.S. military veterans who were fighting in Ukraine have been captured by Russian forces. Andy Huynh and Alexander Drueke went missing outside the city of Kharkiv last week. The two appeared on the Russian news channel RT and are being held in the separatist-controlled Donbas Region. The U.S. State Department is aware of their capture and stated they are in communication with Kyiv and the Red Cross regarding their status.
Medic Makes it Out: Russia freed Ukrainian medic Yuliia Paievska this past week. The medic gained fame by recording the vicious battles that took place in Mariupol. In the videos she captured, viewers saw her efforts to save both Ukrainians and Russians. Russian media had tried to portray the medic as a member of the far-right group Azov battalion, but Ukrainian officials disputed those claims.
Gabe Pimsler and a student of his at the Svyatohirs'k monastery in 2018 Credit: Gabe Pimsler
Monastery Ruined: As the battle rages in eastern Ukraine, cultural sites have not been exempt from attacks. The Svyatohirs'k monastery in eastern Ukraine saw rocket attacks hit its buildings and grounds. One of the churches could be seen burning on Telegram and Twitter feeds. The monastery’s origins in the area date back to the 1600s with the current location serving as a popular tourist attraction for Ukrainians. Two monks and a nun were killed in the attack as Ukrainian officials condemned the attack.
Ukraine Unlocked Co-founders Gabe Pimsler and Phil Kopatz visited this site twice during their travels to the country. Above you can see a photo of Gabe in front of one of the churches with a student of his.
Eurovision 2023: Following his visit to Ukraine, Prime Minister Johnson said that Ukraine “deserves” to host the Eurovision competition in 2023. The European Broadcasting Union which plans the event said that Ukraine cannot host next year due to the war. Ukrainian leaders criticized the decision saying that they have submitted detailed plans about how they plan to host a safe Eurovision.
All In: Ukrainian poet and musician Serhiy Zhadan is continuing to produce new work even as bombs reign down on his hometown of Kharkiv. Zhadan is not personally producing much writing, but his band, Zhadan and the Dogs, is continuing to make new work and perform while also fulfilling their military duties. The artist follows in the footsteps of past politically active literary leaders: Taras Schevchenko, one of Ukraine’s most well-known poets of the 19th century, faced exile as he advocated for an independent Ukrainian cultural identity within the Russian Empire.
Wheat field in Ukraine. Credit: Mercy Corps
Successful Planting: Ukraine’s Minister of Agriculture reported that farmers successfully planted 95% of the possible arable agricultural land for the spring. This is a promising development after recent reports that the war has blocked 30% of the world’s wheat products and is “creating global food shortages.”
Visa System Fails: Nearly 480 families and 180 single adults are homeless in England after arriving with visas that were supposed to help them procure housing. The government initially placed many refugees with volunteer host families, but this arrangement often broke down. Local authorities treat the families with indifference and leave them in hostels or hotels. The situation is similar to what Afghan refugees experienced last year.
Some Human Moments Prevail
Despite the tragic circumstances surrounding the war in Ukraine, videos shared over social media show that humanity still exists.
Two Ukrainian soldiers sing a duet in the trenches.
More artists show support for Ukraine as Sir Paul McCartney waves a Ukrainian flag on stage.
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