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The importance of Ukrainian statehood and why it continues to matter

| Monday, March 21, 2022

Russia’s brutal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has united the free world with the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian state. 20,000 foreign volunteers have joined Ukraine’s Legion of Territorial Defense and funding has poured in for humanitarian assistance and the Ukrainian military. On our campus, thanks to the generosity of the Notre Dame community, the Ukrainian Society has raised over $6,700 in support of Catholic Relief Services’ humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. As Ukrainians ourselves, we are eternally grateful for this outpouring of support. In these most heartbreaking days in decades, it has been impossible to ignore the blue-and-yellow flags and pins adorning our campus.

As the war approaches its fifth week, it is imperative that the attack on Ukrainian statehood and daily suffering of the Ukrainian people not be normalized as another afterthought in the scope of current events. While the demonstration of global solidarity with Ukraine has been encouraging, we cannot allow this passion for the Ukrainian cause to wither away with time. Putin’s assault on Ukraine is more than another foreign war — it is an authoritarian attack that threatens the liberal democratic foundation of the Western world.

Vladimir Putin has made his motivations for attacking Ukraine explicitly clear. Eight years ago, when Putin’s “little green men” invaded Crimea and Russia initiated a separatist movement in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, Putin claimed to “actively defend the rights of Russians” from “the mercy of nationalist and radical militants.” His reasoning is flawed on multiple counts: these “Russians” established their identity as Ukrainians by voting in support of Ukrainian independence in 1991, and they enjoy significantly greater democratic rights in Ukraine than they would in Russia. In fact, it is the Putin regime that would subject them to the mercy of a nationalist and radical militant who fought a brutal war in Chechnya and invaded Georgia. Now, Putin murders the very “Russians” whom he claims to protect.

In the early hours of February 24, 2022, Putin stated that the Russian Federation would engage in a “special military operation” to achieve the “demilitarization and de-Nazification of Ukraine.” Russia’s president is deluded on both fronts. First, Ukraine’s quick militarization was precisely in response to Putin’s 2014 invasion, meaning that he aims to reverse Ukraine’s defensive response to his own actions. Second, Ukraine’s democratically-elected leader, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is Jewish; de-Nazification of a state led by a Jew must surely be a difficult task to accomplish. Furthermore, on March 1, Putin’s missiles rained down near Babyn Yar, a Ukrainian Holocaust memorial park where tens of thousands of Jews were massacred and buried in mass graves. Putin’s claims should never be taken seriously.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is best understood by analyzing reality on either side of the border. In Ukraine, we see the truth. A theater sheltering over a thousand civilians, blatantly labeled “kids” on the ground outside, was bombed in Mariupol. A maternity hospital in the same city was also attacked, killing three civilians and injuring seventeen. Ten people waiting in line for bread in Chernihiv were shot and killed by Russian soldiers. These are Putin’s war crimes, for which he is responsible.

In Russia, we see the suppression of truth and the lies of state propaganda. Within only the first two weeks of the war, police arrested more than 13,000 protesting citizens. This week, police in Novosibirsk arrested a man holding a blank sheet of paper. In an act of horrific disinformation, Russian officials baselessly claimed that the Mariupol maternity hospital attack was staged. Underlying Putin’s regime of lies is his “Z” propaganda campaign, which has rallied the Russian populace behind his unjust war. It is telling that he feels the need to lie to his own people about the deliberate slaughter of Ukrainian civilians in order to gain domestic support, and similarly shameful that the average Russian believes the lies he is fed. This is today’s Russia, a nation of puppets built upon a castle of sand.

Putin’s actions are a threat to the entire free world. While expressions of admiration and unity with Ukraine are valuable, they lack significance if forgotten a month from now. Ukraine’s principal crime is that its people value liberal democracy and strive to better implement this foundation for governance. Putin’s war on Ukrainian statehood endangers the system of liberal democracy in the face of the authoritarian threat, for liberal democracy holds little value if it cannot even stand up to protect its own brothers. Democracy is government by the will of the people — if the Ukrainian people seek to govern themselves, who is Putin to determine their just regime?

Christian McKernan


Marko Gural


March 18

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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