The image that I can’t get out of my head this week is that of Marina Ovsyannikova. The brave Russian television producer risked a lengthy jail sentence when she burst into a live news bulletin going out on state-owned broadcaster Channel 1, where she had worked for some years, carrying a placard denouncing the war and accusing the Russian media of lying to the people.
Philosopher Edmund Burke supposedly wrote that: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Ovsyannikova’s protest, which will be one of the few anti-war messages to make it into the majority of Russian living rooms, was on this measure significant.
For any of us who thrilled to Mikhail Gorbachev’s embrace of openness in the late 1980s, the way Vladimir Putin has gradually rolled back free speech and the democratic liberties that flowered briefly in post-Soviet Russia has been terribly depressing. Stephen Hall, lecturer in politics, international relations and russia at the University of Bath, mourns this end to “glasnost”.
Meanwhile in much of Ukraine, families continue to huddle in basements, only coming out to try to find food and water. They are scared, cold and hungry. Marnie Howlett, a lecturer in politics at the University of Oxford who has spent a long time working in Ukraine, relays the hopes and fears of her friends who are hiding from the onslaught of war.
From the one province of Ukraine that Russia has managed to exert some degree of control over, Kherson, we get an idea of Putin’s playbook for taking control of Ukraine (and, perhaps, elsewhere). In the town of Melitopol, Russian troops kidnapped the mayor and installed a pro-Russian puppet in his place, who promptly announced her intention to call a referendum. Stefan Wolff, professor of international security at the University of Birmingham, fears this may be a model for further conquest.
Negotiations continue. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has signalled that he is prepared to give a pledge not to seek Nato membership, but insists that Ukraine’s 1991 borders must be respected. This may be a sticking point – although, as Kerry Goettlich, lecturer in international security at the University of Reading, observes, borders can rarely be said to be sacred – or even sensible.
What you can do
Here in the UK, many people have signed up to host refugees fleeing the violence. Before you do though, Sophie Alkhaled, who has researched the experience of Syrian refugees resettled in the UK, has noted a few things you need to think about if you want to be a good host to traumatised people whose lives have been turned upside down.
For many of us, social media is shaping our views of the conflict and its victims. Manos Tsakiris, a professor of psychology at Royal Holloway University of London, observes that the way Ukrainians are interacting with us via social media is helping us to empathise with them.
It’s important, too, to think about some of the people who bring us the news of this conflict. On Monday, Oleksandra Kushynova – a young “fixer” working with Fox News was killed doing her job. Fixers, who are often local journalists and translators who help foreign reporters, are the unsung heroes of war reporting, risking their lives often for little reward. Tim Luckhurst of Durham University, a former BBC reporter and producer who has worked with a lot with fixers in his stints as a war correspondent, says their sacrifice must not go unnoticed.
Do make time to listen to The Conversation Weekly podcast. This week’s episode looks at the history and evolution of Ukrainian identity and is well worth a listen.
And for a deeper understanding of some of the issues involved in the Ukraine war, I hosted a webinar this week with four outstanding scholars of global politics and economics, which is a lively and enlightening hour’s viewing.