March 4, 2022 | NEWS | By Eli Jaynes | Illustration by Sierra Romero
The Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to escalate as the conflict enters its second week of intense fighting.
Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion in the early morning hours last Thursday, Feb. 24, and has since maintained an all-out assault on the country. With Russian forces bearing down, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on the Ukrainian people to mobilize in defense against the invasion. A current order from the Ukrainian government prohibits men ages 18 to 60 from leaving the country in order to bolster the ranks of the heavily outmatched Ukrainian army.
While the conflict is constantly evolving, the Russian advance on major cities has been somewhat slower than many anticipated.
Russian forces have taken one major Ukrainian city, Kherson, a strategic port city on the Black Sea. Other major cities, such as Kyiv and Kharkiv, have not fallen to Russian forces. They are being heavily bombarded.
In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city with a population of 1.5 million, Russian air and rocket attacks are particularly egregious. Russian strikes are hitting apartment buildings and other residential areas, as well as buildings in Freedom Square, at the heart of the city. Reports also show Russian attacks destroying key civilian infrastructure, cutting off heat, water, and electricity to Ukrainians across the country.
As of March 1, the UN estimates that 227 civilians have been killed, and another 525 injured, though it is difficult to report accurate numbers. These reports almost certainly undercount the true civilian toll taken at the hands of Putin’s forces.
Alexei Pavlenko, a professor of Russian language and literature, is disturbed by the war. Pavlenko was born in Kyiv and spent the first 15 years of his life in the city that is now under devastating attack.
“I find myself checking the news all the time, I’m not sleeping well,” Pavlenko says. “It’s not a happy time.”
When the dust eventually starts to settle on the Russian invasion, Pavlenko and Political Science Professor John Gould foresee a Ukraine that is very different from the one we know.
Gould points to a British intelligence report that cited anonymous sources within Russia to illustrate what Ukraine might look like after the invasion.
According to Gould, “the Russian occupation plan, their inside sources say, is to ‘Astroturf’ Ukraine’s pro-European civil society by, I assume, removing key cultural, political, civil, and cultural leaders from public life after any ‘victory.’”
Zelenskyy claims to be “target number one” for Russian forces, which illustrates Gould’s point. In addition to removing key Ukrainian figures like Zelenskyy, Gould believes that the Russian state will try to crack down on Ukrainian media and nonviolent demonstrations that may threaten Russian dominance.
Pavlenko’s comments tend to be in tandem with Gould, though he stresses that Russia’s goal is not to annihilate Ukrainian culture.
“The idea is to maintain Ukrainian culture, maintain Ukrainian language, as long as it’s not anti-Russian.”
Growing up in Soviet-era Ukraine, Pavlenko remembers popular Ukrainian TV stations, Ukrainian music, and Ukrainian schools, even though the country was under Soviet control. He believes that the Kremlin may even be welcoming to Ukrainian-language institutions, so long as they fit into a pro-Russia mold.
No matter how the conflict unfolds from here, Ukraine and all of Europe will be permanently altered. The conflict is already the largest land war Europe has seen since 1945, and it has caused one million refugees to flee Ukraine in a week’s time. An additional one million people have been displaced internally within Ukraine, and the total refugee count could eventually more than triple that number.
For John Gould, the international community must avoid a wider war at all costs. He says escalation would make the war much more deadly, especially for Ukrainians.