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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Community members praise Ukrainian war efforts, express concerns for the future of Western support

On the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, students and professors reflected on the impact of the war and the role of U.S. support.

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In February 2022, Nathan Syvash ’25 — a freshman at the time — received a text message from one of his friends with news of Russia’s attack on Kyiv, Syvash’s home. As the reality of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine set in, Syvash said he immediately called his parents.

“Every time I would call my family, I would ask myself, ‘Will they pick up?’” Syvash recalled.

Other Ukrainians, such as East European, Eurasian and Russian studies visiting professor Lada Kolomiyets recounted how her “body trembled” as she fled her home in Kyiv out of fear that “Russians would kill her children simply because they speak Ukrainian.”

EERS department chair Lynn Patyk said she remained in “shock” in the days and weeks following Russia’s attack.

“We had been reading reports for several months,” Patyk said. “[The reports] said Russia was amassing troops around the Ukrainian border … everyone in our field was on the alert, but most of us were convinced that Russia was not going to make that move because it seemed really crazy.”

Patyk explained that most people in both the academic and public spheres expected Russia to win the war within weeks due to Russia’s greater number of resources and troops.

“We were really astonished and very pleasantly surprised when [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy and his government of the Ukrainian people really dug in and waged this incredible resistance,” Patyk said. 

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent think tank, military casualties have surmounted over half a million. Additionally, 22,000 civilians have died, and reports estimate 5.1 million people have been internally displaced, 6.2 million people have fled Ukraine and 17.6 million more people need humanitarian assistance.

While Feb. 24 marked the second anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine war, for others, the war has gone on for longer. EERS professor Victoria Somoff explained that her hometown Donetsk — in eastern Ukraine — has been occupied by Russia since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. According to Somoff, Russia has taken “brutal and atrocious” actions in the occupied region. Somoff added that she believes that the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression was not stopped in 2014 led to the ongoing invasion today.

Somoff further explained that Russia absorbing some Ukrainian territories for the “sake of peace is… not a solution for Ukraine.” Somoff mourned the desecration of places important to Ukrainians, including the airstrike on the Mariupol theater. According to reporting by the BBC, the word “children” was spelled on the ground outside the theater-turned-refuge shelter.  

“We see rape as one of the weapons of Russian army intimidation — they would open mass graves where people were tortured, children were killed — and shoot at cars with white flags,” Somoff said. “It’s intentional murder, torture, humiliation and destruction.”

According to reporting by the BBC, days after Ukrainian General Oleksandr Syrski took over as the new army chief, Russia captured their first city in over nine months — Avdiivka, a “stronghold” for Ukrainian defense. Zelenskyy attributed this loss to the failure of weapon delivery by allies, which has prompted European countries to pledge more of their artillery and aid to help Ukraine. The uncertainty regarding the extent to which the U.S. will continue to support Ukraine is amplified by the pending aid package in Congress, according to Reuters.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy Spencer Boyer said he hopes that the U.S. Congress can move forward the aid and assistance because Ukraine “desperately needs it.” This winter, Boyer is visiting the College as a Magro Family Distinguished Fellow in International Affairs. On Feb. 22, he spoke at a discussion of the Russia-Ukraine war hosted by the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding and the Dartmouth chapter of the Alexander Hamilton Society. 

“American leadership is incredibly important,” Boyer said in an interview after the event. “We have seen that our allies and partners really depend on U.S. leadership, and it concerns me that there is a question about how much we will continue to lead going forward.”

The former Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy, Kyiv and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor — who also spoke at the Feb. 22 discussion with Boyer — explained that the possibility of Ukraine losing the war would be “a real threat” for the U.S., considering there are U.S. troops stationed in Poland, Romania and Slovakia, all of which are NATO member countries. 

Both Boyer and Taylor agreed that the U.S.’s future foreign policy depends heavily on the result of the presidential elections. On Feb. 11, presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump said Russia can “do whatever the hell they want,” adding that he would not protect any NATO country that doesn’t “pay enough.” 

NATO Article 5 on collective defense states that it aims to “create a pact of mutual assistance to counter the risk that the Soviet Union would seek to extend its control of Eastern Europe to other parts of the continent,” according to the NATO website.

Somoff explained that although there is general support for Ukraine in the West, there is “no urgency.” Somoff said she is afraid that this is “what Putin … has been waiting for.”

“Americans have really busy lives,” Patyk said. “[They] are absolutely occupied and overwhelmed with their own things. Staying focused on Ukraine is extremely hard, especially when we have a polarized country, and one party has really decreased their support for Ukraine in an absolutely alarming way.”

Somoff added that people have gotten “used to” the war. 

“Even the people that support Ukraine, they no longer think about it, they don’t talk about it, they don’t understand the implications this can have,” Somoff said. “But every day is [February 24th] for Ukrainians.”

According to reporting by the BBC, there are “bleak” prospects of the war stopping soon. The Ukrainian military hopes to enact a counter-offensive in 2025, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

“Ukrainians will not give up, they will continue,” Taylor said. “They know they need to retrain, rearm and re-equip. They expect that the weapons that have started to come in will give them an edge so that they can disrupt the Russians in their headquarters with this long-range fire and even make the continued occupation of Crimea untenable.”

Kolomiyets expressed unwavering faith in Ukrainian solidarity and spirit, adding that she lives by the words of the former commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian army, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, who said, “Do what you can where you are.”

Syvash expressed difficulty grappling with conflicting feelings that came with being at Dartmouth while the war waged in Ukraine. He said he felt “survivor’s guilt” alongside a sense of responsibility to use his “privilege and platform” to continually advocate for Ukraine in the West.

“Ukraine is the frontier between a very big monster and the rest of the world,” Syvash said. “I hope that [American] people will go and vote, will think before they vote and will base their decision on facts and knowledge.”