While Kyiv defends itself from a Russian invasion, over 5,000 miles away from Lincoln, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln hosted a “Stand with Ukraine” panel conversation about the situation and what has changed. 

Professors Courtney Hillebrecht,  Gerald Steinacher, Olha Tytarenko, Hana Waisserova, Regina Werum and graduate student Lukasz Niparko discussed the current attack on Ukraine through the lens of international law, history and regional perspectives. The meeting was held in the ballroom of the Nebraska Union and available on Zoom.

“It will never be the same again,” Tytarenko said of Ukraine. “Europe will never be the same again.” 

But the nation has held firm longer than expected, she said, as United States intelligence indicates that Russian President Vladimir Putin believed he would control the country within two days, but the fighting has raged on for over six days. 

Hillebrecht said Russia's aggression is more than just an attack on Ukraine, but also marks a shift in the established world order following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Shortly after Hillebrecht began speaking, the event was Zoom bombed with obscene shouting, pornographic material and loud noises, interrupting the conversation. The organizers quickly resolved the issue and commented on attempts to delegitimize conversations related to the conflict online. 

“The war continues here,” Niparko said, “It exists online.” 

Hillebrecht then continued, remarking that Putin refers to his troops as “peacekeepers” follows the increasingly legalistic trend of the world order since World War II. The removal of Russia from international sporting associations and SWIFT as well as other sanctions will help to delegitimize Russia on the world stage, she said, but will not stop tanks from rolling into Kyiv. 

Mykhailo Smyshliaiev, a Ukrainian and Lincoln resident, spoke about the situation on the ground in his home country and its impact on his family. Ukrainians in the US believe in and fight for this country, he said.

Werum said as a German, she has a complex relationship with the history of Ukraine but saw similarities between the Ukrainian experience and that of other countries in the region. 

“Ukraine is the quintessential example of the European experience in the 19th, 20th and 21st century,” she said. 

Werum also pointed out concerns of food instability for Ukrainians and the rest of the region if conflict continues. 

“Ukraine is the breadbasket of Eastern Europe,” she said, “It’s like Nebraska except with wheat.” 

Much of the conflict, Werum said, is being prosecuted on contrived and ridiculous grounds, like the portrayal of the Ukrainian president as a nazi. 

“Putin has called for the ‘denazification’ of Ukraine,” she said, “which just makes my head hurt… It makes no sense.” 

While the efficacy of sanctions is mixed, Hillebrecht said, they are likely to put pressure on Putin from inside his own country, especially those levied on his oligarchs.

Warum was confident that the conflict could help wrangle EU countries into agreement on key issues. 

“There's nothing like a common adversary to help you come together and stop bickering,” she said. 

Steinacher said it is vital for the west to take a side in this conflict and begin to act more strongly before it gets out of hand. 

“We are trying not to sit here and stand by helplessly as we watch history repeat itself,” he said.