Ukraine Unlocked

The Very Human Cost of War

The media coverage of the conflict surrounding Ukraine continues to focus on the politicians pulling the strings from the top, which obscures the stories of everyday people that have been deeply impacted by this crisis. You do not have to travel far within Ukraine or Russia to find families who have lost loved ones to the ongoing war.
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Week of 2/4-2/11

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...

The media coverage of the conflict surrounding Ukraine continues to focus on the politicians pulling the strings from the top, which obscures the stories of everyday people that have been deeply impacted by this crisis. You do not have to travel far within Ukraine or Russia to find families who have lost loved ones to the ongoing war. For most people, the impacts are physically, mentally, and emotionally traumatizing. While the current geopolitical implications of the tensions between Russia and Ukraine dominate the headlines, we must remember that this war has been raging for eight long years and has already claimed the lives of over 15,000 people and displaced over 1.5 million others.

Read Our Short Analysis Here
Ukrainian athletes at the opening ceremony of the 2022 Olympics. Credit: AP News David Phillip
 Going for Gold
  • Icey Winter Olympics: Ukrainian athletes are aiming for gold in every event but are realistically hoping to bring home medals of all colors from the Winter Olympics currently taking place in China. Athletes from Ukraine are competing in 12 different events this year. This year’s competition adds an extra layer of tension as the games are set against the backdrop of the escalating conflict between Ukraine and Russia. As of Thursday evening, Ukraine has yet to win any medals.
    • No Photos, Please: Ukraine’s Minister of Sports and Youth advised athletes against taking photos with their Russian competitors. While the recommendations may be warranted, it does cut against one of the missions of the Olympics: to bring nations together through sports and comradery.
    • Drowsy Vlad: As Ukrainian athletes were introduced at the opening ceremony, Putin appeared to have fallen asleep. Some have speculated that the Russian president pretended to dose off as a slight towards the Ukrainian athletes.
Ukrainian soldier walking in a trench on the eastern front. Credit: AP
War: Not All Fun and Games
  • War Games: On Thursday, Russian and Belarusian military commanders conducted joint military drills near the border of Belarus and Ukraine. The regimes have been planning these drills for months, but NATO leaders are concerned that it is a staging maneuver for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. British policymakers have been sounding the alarm bells and stressing that Russia planned the drills for February because the ground would hopefully be frozen, making it easier to transport heavy machinery into Ukraine. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov scoffed at this notion and took a jab at the British, bitterly contending that "They say Russia is waiting until the ground freezes like a stone so its tanks can easily cross into Ukrainian territory. I think the ground was like that today with our British colleagues, from which numerous facts that we produced bounced off." Evidently, diplomatic talks continue to rely on insults and conjecture.
    • Peeved Putin: Vladimir Putin spoke to reporters this week in France after a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, where he highlighted why he does not want Ukraine to join NATO. Putin vehemently argued that if Ukraine joined NATO, then Ukrainian officials would try and take back Crimea, which would drag NATO members into a full-scale war with Russia. Putin acknowledged that NATO's combined military forces dwarf Russia's but reminded the audience that Russia has a large cache of nuclear weapons. Using this veiled threat of nuclear war, Putin said that there would be no winners in this scenario and that Russia and NATO must find a satisfactory diplomatic solution. For Putin, a good starting point is getting Ukraine to implement the Minsk Agreements from 2015.
    • All is Quiet on the Eastern Front: While NATO officials have been warning about the imminent possibility of Russia invading Ukraine, both soldiers and citizens alike are carrying on with business as usual, which can be characterized as a desensitized state of anguish.
Backstage at Ukraine Fashion Week Credit: Ukraine Fashion Week
Fashion Galore
  • Down the Catwalk: Ukraine’s Fashion Week went off without a hitch this past week. The popular event included 35 different shows throughout the capital and showcased designers of diverse backgrounds. The event made a point of displaying the work of up-and-coming student designers from around the country. One particular project chose to focus on the large amount of waste that comes from discarded clothing. This is the 25th anniversary of the event and is widely known as the first fashion show to be established in a post-Soviet state.
A wheat field in Ukraine. Credit: Moscow Times
Business is Booming
  • Cash Crops: Ukraine’s Minister of Agriculture reported that production in the agricultural sector grew by over 21% in 2021. Agriculture has been the largest sector of Ukraine’s economy for the past several years and has played a prominent role in its record-breaking GDP growth last year. The minister also noted Ukraine’s critical role in global food security, highlighting that food supplies exported from Ukraine feed over 400 million people worldwide. Ukraine is the second-largest exporter of grains in the world, only trailing the United States.
Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. Credit: New York Times
Your Weekly Dose of History
  • The Breadbasket of Europe: Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union in 1941 while waging a war against France and Great Britain may seem like a blunder, but it was all part of Hitler’s strategic plan that he laid out in his autobiography Mein Kampf. In the chapter “Eastern Orientation or Eastern Policy,” Hitler argued that Germany would need ample living space (Lebensraum) and that it was their historical destiny to expand to the east. He viewed Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine, as the breadbasket of Europe because of its highly fertile black soil. Hitler thought that Slavic people were inferior and that any historical achievement was due to German influence. He launched Operation Barbarossa in 1941 with the belief that the Wehrmacht would quickly defeat the Soviets, execute most of the inhabitants, and turn the remaining Slavs into slaves for the new German occupants. However, the USSR resisted and waged a bloody four-year war that led to the death of 27 million Soviet citizens. The Nazis tried to fulfill one aspect of their plan by indiscriminately executing people throughout Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. While it is impossible to estimate the exact number, the Nazis killed around 7 million Soviet citizens during the war. As the Ukrainian Canadian research center noted, “In a very real sense, then, the most destructive war in the history of humanity was fought over control of the ‘breadbasket of Europe.’”
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