Gart: How You Can Help
The Russian attack on Ukraine requires a fundamentally different approach than the current activism around social justice issues.
On Feb. 26, as Russian troops marched toward Kyiv, the United States government reportedly offered Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy a chance to escape the country. Zelenskyy apparently responded quickly: “The fight is here,” he said. “I need ammunition, not a ride.”
The bravery being displayed by Zelenskyy, and the country of Ukraine as a whole, is incredibly heroic. Yet it’s important to recognize the gravity of this situation: The leader of a 44-million person-strong country is, himself, taking up arms to battle a hostile invasion by their dictatorial neighbor. This is no normal situation — what we are witnessing is, in the worst possible way, history in the making.
But here’s the catch: Even as Russia violates international law in a bid to expand its control over Europe, the rest of the world has had no other choice but to watch in horror. Thanks to Russia’s possession of nuclear weapons, any push by another country beyond sanctions or donations to Ukraine could potentially escalate this conflict to nuclear war. The United States, like many other countries, is simply not willing to get militarily involved in yet another international conflict that could result in the loss of hundreds or even thousands of American lives. Americans don’t want a war — and for the time being, there won’t be one. And yet, what Russia is doing is still completely unacceptable. Ukrainians are fleeing their homes en masse, and casualties are beginning to pile up on both sides.
For the young Americans sitting at home, this conflict, and the protests it has inspired, might appear superficially similar to the other social injustices we’ve seen occur over the past few years. During May 2020, young activists took to the streets to protest the death of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police. As a result, tangible policies were enacted by states across the country, including a change in funding for New York’s police force and nationwide neck restraint and no-knock entry laws. Women’s marches continue to inspire millions across the globe, and climate strikes have proven the power of the young generation once and for all. Even if lawmakers didn’t always go as far as protesters may have wanted, these protests were still socially and politically inspiring for much of America.
But the Ukraine-Russia conflict cannot be grouped in with the rest of these issues. In each case, activist movements fought for policy change, both on the local and national levels. By taking to Instagram, Twitter and even Capitol Hill, people made their voices heard and demanded that the American government take action. In this case, however, American intervention could quite literally lead to World War III.
As much as it might make us feel good to think we’re making a difference in stopping Putin’s advancement on Kyiv, we cannot make the same type of impact on this situation — and quite frankly, it’s arrogant of us to believe that reposting an Instagram infographic will stop a foreign invasion. If we don’t make the distinction between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the myriad other social issues plaguing our world, we risk dangerously reducing the magnitude of this conflict.
Look no further than the popular Instagram account “chnge,” known for their outspoken posts regarding social justice issues and valuable compilation of reliable charities to donate to for each issue. Within the course of a day, chnge switched the link in their Instagram account from a t-shirt advocating for reproductive rights to a t-shirt that reads “NO TO WAR'' three times over. While the proceeds for the shirts may go directly to relief funds in Ukraine, this is still the exact type of performative activism that is inappropriate to apply to this conflict. Buying a t-shirt will not stop a hostile international takeover — even if it might make you feel better than your peers. Yes, modern activism has a more general problem with performativity, but the fact that this conflict is occurring thousands of miles away makes efforts like these all the more silly.
So, is there anything productive and non-performative we can actually do in light of this conflict? First, talk about it in a responsible manner. The danger of misinformation is as potent as ever right now. The same pictures of captured troops are circulated on social media, claiming to be Russians in some instances and Ukrainians in others. By keeping this topic in mind and encouraging healthy conversations, we can rid the spread of misinformation and keep the general public informed on the war’s most important facts. However, discussions around this issue must center around the facts of the invasion, and not rely on unauthenticated information from the internet. As long as discussions concern the actual details and aren’t a bid to stay relevant, they can have a positive impact on informing the public.
Next, it’s imperative to support our peers with friends, family or other connections to Ukraine. This is an incredibly distressing time for people with a close relationship to Ukraine (as well as the countries that neighbor it), and we must provide the proper comfort to these people, both within the Dartmouth community and beyond.
Finally, there is one tangible thing we can do to make a difference in Ukraine: Donate. As cynical as it may sound, money talks, and by donating to the right charities, Americans can do their part in contributing to aid for Ukrainian civilians. Charities like UNICEF, Voices of Children and CARE are all making noble efforts to help people in need and will use donation money responsibly. But it’s also important to note that though money may help injured Ukrainians, our wallets will not stop this conflict from happening, and believing that they will is simply inaccurate.
We are, once again, living through history. But we need to accept that we can’t protest our way to the end of this war. While other social justice issues can be tangibly solved by the American government changing its laws, the Russia-Ukraine conflict simply cannot. The times that lie ahead are dark for Ukraine, but as depressing as it may be, our lives likely won’t be significantly affected here in America. So instead of engaging in performative activism that threatens to reduce the true scale of this conflict, we must act responsibly — even if that means self-restraint instead of vocalization.