Feb. 24, 2022, will forever be etched in the hearts of Ukrainians as the start of the full-scale invasion launched by Russia, continuing the annexation of Ukrainian lands and military aggression towards Ukrainian people that was started by Russia in 2014. Not only does this unprovoked attack break every international law, but it aims to bring Ukraine under Russian control and destroy Ukrainian identity. Russia’s objective was that Kyiv would fall within three days and the government would thus be toppled, while the international community did not see a way to stop Russia. Yet, for 365 days Ukrainians have been courageously defending both their home and democracy worldwide, paying for it with the highest price there is—their lives.
The story today, one year later, is dark, sobering and heart-shattering, yet hope blossoms. Russia murdered tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers. 18 percent of Ukraine, roughly the size of Iceland, is under brutal occupation where torture, disappearances, looting, hunger and rapid Russification roam. Russia continues to move forward with bombing civilian infrastructure in cities all throughout Ukraine in a deliberate attempt to starve innocent populations into submission. According to the U.S. Department of State, between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens, 260,000 being children, were deported from their homes to Russia. Within Russia, a land propagandized by narratives claiming Western and Ukrainian desires to destroy Russia, any considerable opposition to the government hell-bent on war cannot be taken seriously. And in September 2022, Russia annexed the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts, 15 percent of Ukrainian territory, making it quite obvious that the pretext for invasion was never about NATO expansion, Ukrainian neo-Nazism or Russian-Ukrainian brotherhood. It was always about Russia wishing to extend its cruelty across borders and placing the Slavic and Eastern European worlds under its own territorial and cultural monopoly. Any doubt of this reality can be cast away just by reading Putin’s essay from July 2022.
Yet hope continues to carry Ukrainians forward in their displays of resilience and indefatigable defense of their home, culture and livelihood. Despite the existential threat the Ukrainian state sees today, these past 365 days of war demonstrated the steadfast unity against Russian revanchism within and outside of Ukraine. The Ukrainian diaspora witnessed an explosion of pride and cultural unity all throughout the West to embrace in the fullest possible extent what was theirs all along and what will always remain theirs. The Ukrainian army, with the crucial help of Western allies, dispelled any foolish notion that Russia holds the direction this world will take, let alone the fates of its neighbors, in the palm of its hand. The past year also witnessed successful offensives that liberated cities and villages, including the city of Kherson, the capital of the Kherson oblast illegally annexed by Russia.
We, the members of Vassar Alliance for Ukraine, represent a microcosm of global solidarity with Ukraine. While we collectively feel the sustained pain of hearing and reading about scenes of death and destruction in our homeland or country of heritage, we recognize that there is no choice but to resolutely unite and do whatever we can within our role to support Ukraine and its people in the most important fight for freedom of the century. We want to extend our gratitude to the outpouring of donations we received from the Vassar community in previous events in support of charities that help Ukrainians on the ground and refugees in New York City. We also want to thank the efforts of many students and faculty to spread the word about our organization’s efforts, stay informed about the invasion and independently seek ways in which they can alleviate the pain that all Ukrainians feel today.
We want to give a special shout-out to the student workers of the Russian Department. In an email to students, they expressed their solidarity with Ukrainians, provided resources to help and stay informed and promoted our organizational efforts independent from the Russian Studies Department and its faculty. We at Vassar Alliance for Ukraine believe that the Russian Department has an elevated responsibility to communicate its support for Ukraine as the lone victim of the largest war in Europe since World War II. Since it is abundantly clear that the invasion is being prosecuted partly in the name of suppressing Ukrainian identity, especially as Russian occupation authorities govern in hostility to Ukrainian language and culture, the Russian Department’s promotion of our organizational efforts as well as their open acknowledgement of Russia’s perpetration of violence on a mass scale would be a helping hand towards strengthening the campus community’s pro-Ukrainian resolve. We urge them to do so and urge the rest of the Vassar community to keep Ukraine in their hearts while seeking ways to help, even if it just means staying informed. Moving forward, we continue to invite the Vassar community to help us in our mission of finding avenues to support Ukraine and its people.