Russian President Vladimir Putin has commenced an invasion of Ukraine, sparking a conflict that some predict could be Europe’s biggest land war since WWII. As the world watches power moves between Putin and US-led NATO allies, it is ordinary Ukrainians – and Russians – who must deal with the terror unfolding in their homes once more.
Ukrainians in Peril
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine over territorial sovereignty is unfortunately not a new one. In 2014 Russia annexed Crimea, and the Ukrainian government lost control over parts of the Russian-backed separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
In the past 8 years 14,000 lives have already been lost in the conflict. Putin’s breathtakingly aggressive invasion will cost tens of thousands more. For many Ukrainians, the new attacks reopen old wounds, forcing them to relive historical trauma.
Millions have fled Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014. Those who remained did so not out of Russian patriotism but because they had no other choice – no job prospects elsewhere, and no resources to relocate. As one Ukrainian told The Conversation, “if there is no light in the tunnel, then there is nowhere to go.”
The isolation of these separatist regions has come with massive costs to their citizens, with job losses and rising prices, pensions left unpaid, infrastructure deteriorating, and separation from relatives. Still, the majority of Eastern Ukrainians have no strong pro-Russian or pro-Ukrainian sentiment. They just want to live their lives; concerned with COVID quarantines, feeding their families and their children’s education.
Footage continues to emerge of Ukrainians desperately trying to escape the country or flee the frontlines. Europe is bracing for possibly millions of refugees from the region, numbers that promise to exacerbate existing tensions over migration.
Those that still remain in their homes are terrified for their lives. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reported 137 Ukrainians have already lost their lives, but this is just the start.
Russians Protest the War at Home
While Putin pushes to enact his maniac vision of a USSR reboot, hundreds of ordinary Russians have taken to the streets to protest the war. Protesters report anger and disappointment over the violent attack on a country often referred to as their ‘brother’.
Groups of Russians gathered in the streets of major cities all across Russia, shouting ‘no to war!’ and unfurling Ukrainian flags. Russian police responded by detaining them in the hundreds.
OVD Info reported more than 1,300 Russians had been taken into custody in attempts to silence protests in Moscow, Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and beyond. Some observers are hopeful that the war will further undermine Putin’s regime among the Russian masses – perhaps the only positive to the situation.
Kyiv is facing full-scale attack within days if not hours. Unfortunately, there is little the West will be able to do to intervene in the conflict directly. Russian military might far outstrips Ukraine’s, and President Biden has reiterated promises not to send troops into Ukraine.
If Russia ‘wins’ in Ukraine, that will be when the real ‘World War III’ is most likely to start. Sanctions will grow ever tougher, and long-term repercussions are already irreversible.
It’s not an exaggeration to predict a restructuring of the world order. And as always, it will be ordinary civilians who bear the brunt of the trauma.
This should be a wake up call. In this century, if a powerful country invades a weaker country, no-one is is sending troops to help. In fact, at the time of publication Italy is refusing even to stop the sale of luxury goods into Russia.
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