As the Russian invasion into Ukrainian territory continues, University of Nebraska-Lincoln professors publicly take a stance to show support for Ukraine’s independence.
Olha Tytarenko, associate professor of practice of Russian and head of UNL’s Russian program, said that everyone was aware that war was coming, but it was still an earth-shattering moment when troops marched in and the first attack was launched.
“Despite all that, a human part of me did not believe the war would be happening in reality,” Tytarenko said. “We were devastated because all evidence suggests that Putin expected to defeat Ukraine in two days, so that means the first two days were very hard for Ukranians. Everyone was shocked that Kiev was bombed, that all major cities were bombed from the sky during the night.”
Tyler White, associate professor of political science and director of the national security program, said this crisis has captured the attention of students across campus because of the chilling nature of the conflict itself and its implications on the rest of the world.
“In our country, we’ve been debating about these silly notions of freedom like not wearing a mask or not getting a vaccine. You see these people fighting who are putting their lives on the line for their country, for these democratic ideals that we sometimes take for granted,” White said.
White also said there are potential risks for nuclear escalation due to rumors of Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal being used in the war, leading to a possible world war. He said that President Joe Biden’s administration is responding in a way to not cross a line to prevent a nuclear disaster. Nonetheless, White said these unprecedented times are challenging the United States and other countries in responding rapidly without escalating destruction.
“There’s a lot of confusion, misunderstanding and frustration over what to do about the suffering that they clearly don’t like to see in Ukraine,” White said.
Tytarenko explained that there was a propaganda narrative created by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the state which fostered the war. In the 20th and 21st century, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine were united under one communist regime, the Soviet Union. However, the nation crumbled in 1991 after Ukraine fought and obtained sovereignty over their territory. Tytarenko said the narrative that is sent to the citizens is that the war will bring a new world in which the “three brother countries” will be reunited and become stronger geopolitically.
“Russian soldiers came to Ukraine thinking they were going to liberate Ukraine, and no one was welcoming them as liberators. They were all shocked, so you can see the impact of the state propaganda, even on soldiers. In many instances, they didn’t even know what this military operation was all about,” Tytarenko said.
Putin has made several false claims, such as genocide occurring to Russians in Ukraine. White said that these ideas have been condemned by European Union countries with U.S. intelligence gathering evidence in the past six months against the disinformation that has been spread and Putin’s true intentions to keep Ukraine under the Russian sphere of influence.
“What it did was it took away a lot of Putin’s arguments. Lacking that ability to cast out on their motives, they were pretty naked in their aggression,” White said. “What we’re seeing is unprecedented with the European Union sending weapons, the Germans sending weapons, the Swedes sending weapons. I don’t know if that would happen in much less than a week.”
Tytarenko said the world is involved in one way or another, which begs the question of whether this is a world war. She said that harsh economic sanctions placed on Russia is one powerful way countries are indirectly battling Russia’s intrusion.
“You look at how stores in Omaha and Lincoln removed the merchandise from Russia, this is already support. I can’t think that this is World War III in a slightly different format everyone imagined. If the world was not united before in understanding Russia, now it’s kind of a revelatory moment for everyone to see what is happening in the world.”
Tytarenko said the Russian Federation will not be the same as before. During the Crimea crisis, Tytarenko said the sanctions were mainly imposed on businesses and oligarchs, but now every citizen will feel the effects of the failing economy.
In spite of the catastrophe that Ukrainians are enduring, White says the great leadership of President Volodymyr Zelensky gives hope for everyone to believe in Ukraine’s victory against the Russian forces.
“He has a true X-factor that is important in these kinds of battles and that is his messaging is good. Anyone who has been watching in the western world has fallen completely in love with Ukraine and Zelensky because they see these virtues in him that they so badly want to see in their own societies. He is in many ways a reminder of our better angels,” White said.