Yesterday marked a month since Russia invaded Ukraine. It is a very sad milestone. Millions of people have been displaced. Thousands have been killed. It is particularly sad that a few people make these decisions and so many innocent people suffer. There was a big NATO summit with heads of state patting each other on the back and making grand proclamations of unity. It is great that the US will now accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. But the war continues and people continue to die. It has happened in the past. It is happening now. And unfortunately it will happen in the future.
Russia invaded Ukraine under manufactured pretexts: de-Nazification of Ukraine, regaining historically Russian territory, keeping Ukraine’s neutral status relative to NATO. On further examination these reasons are not justifiable. None of the grievances is new or urgent. There were and continue to be numerous diplomatic options to avoid this senseless loss of life and suffering. Ukraine has never been a threat to Russia. Ukrainians have mostly embraced Russians throughout history. Ukrainians trusted Russia so much that they sent all the nuclear weapons in their possession back to Russia. Ukrainians just don’t want to live under anyone’s thumb any more.
De-Nazification of Ukraine: The fact is that there has not been any systemic government sponsored ethnic cleansing of Russians or any other foreigners in Ukraine. My dad was a black man studying in Ukraine. I was not a white kid growing up, walking to school, playing with other white kids in Ukraine. We went everywhere and never had any issues–sporting events, malls, train stations, public markets. In fact the only person who was ever harassed was my mother who was interrogated by the KGB about why she was dating a foreigner. Her response, “Why do you bring these foreigners to our country if you don’t want your people to interact with them?” Sure, Ukraine is not without its controversy. Since 2014 when Russia invaded Ukraine’s borders the far right Azov regiment which has white supremacist ideology has gained some popularity. The leaders of that movement played their cards right purporting to be defenders of the country, defenders of the people, while also pursuing racist ideology. Estimates of their ranks are in the hundreds of people. They are a small militia, a gang, a far cry from a national army or a state policy. They are like the KKK in the US, on a dramatically minuscule scale. To paint with a broad brush and describe them as a national Ukrainian movement is simply false. They have been openly denounced by the Ukrainian government including Zelensky.
Regaining historically Russian territory: Many changes to the current geographic map of Ukraine happened in the period between 1917 and 1991 when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a country. Present day Ukraine is an agglomeration of territories which historically can be traced to Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, and yes, Russia. This is the history of all European countries. Name a village, town, or city in Europe and throughout history that place has been under the rule of a number of surrounding empires and present day countries. This is pretty much the history of the world–those with power take over territories. South America, North America, Asia and Africa have been partitioned and cleaved by a few former European empires. Listen to the speech on this topic by the Kenyan ambassador to the UN. Almost without exception countries in Africa have people of the same ethnicity, culture and language living on both sides of so many borders. Should those governments take up arms to bring their people into their country and rescue them from tribalism happening across the border? Where does this stop and when does it end? Stalin pursued Russification policies in all the former Soviet republics. Upon his death the USSR leadership decided to give Crimea as a gift to Ukraine from Russia as a reparation of sorts. The majority of Crimean residents, however, voted to join an independent Ukraine in 1991. They did not vote to remain in the USSR. What next? Will Russia invade Alaska next because Alexander II sold it to the US in 1867? He knows better. This is one man’s war and he is merely being a bully.
Keeping Ukraine a neutral, non-NATO state: To get to the bottom of this you have to go back to the Cold War and the creation of NATO vs the Warsaw Pact. These were security alliances that drew the line of what was considered Western bloc capitalist countries and Eastern bloc communist countries. Over time Warsaw Pact countries and countries which were once part of the Soviet Union, namely the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) joined NATO. Did this sit well with Russia? Of course it did not. But this is where the argument of keeping a neutral buffer breaks down. The fact is that NATO has been on Russia’s borders with Estonia and Latvia since 2004. Why not attack those countries before they joined? Why not attack them in the past 18 years if neutrality is the argument? These are sovereign nations and not just a disobedient kid living in your basement. Ukraine too is a sovereign country. In 1994 the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances was signed by Kazakhstan, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, United States, and the United Kingdom. At this time Ukraine had in its territory about a third of the Soviet nuclear arsenal. Ukraine had more nuclear warheads than any country in the world but the US and Russia. Ukraine also possessed significant means of the design and production of nuclear weapons. Ukraine agreed to give up the weapons, the capability of production, and sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in exchange for assurances of security from Russia, the US and the UK. It was a great move for world peace. In retrospect, it was a bad move for Ukrainian peace. Where are those assurances now?
About a week after this war started I wrote a personal piece titled “A Dose of Gratitude” which I shared with a number of people. I am incredibly grateful for the words of support I received. I connected with many of you whom I had not communicated with in a long time, and a number of you whom I speak with often on different topics. Some people read it to their kids. Some had their kids read it and it fostered healthy family conversations. It gives me hope that we can relate to the human condition and see more of our similarities than our differences. I know this is not the only world conflict out there. There are many similar instances of suffering happening today. Because of this I am even more grateful to so many of you who responded to my plea for financial support of various Ukrainian causes. It was most generous of you. I am happy to provide an update on Oksana Gladunin’s family–they made it out of Kharkiv safely to Lviv and across the border through Hungary to Germany. Oksana’s husband Aleksandr had to stay in the country as men are not allowed to leave. The children, however, are safe with their mother in a peaceful place. Thank you to everyone who donated to the GoFundMe initiative. My mother continues to communicate with her cousins, their families and friends she has in Ukraine. They have moved to smaller towns which have a lower likelihood of aerial bombardment. They are older and do not have an appetite to move to a new country, despite the danger and current challenges of every day life. People adapt. People survive.