Six months ago, my sister asked me if I thought there was going to be a war in Europe in the near future. What sprung to mind was how the consequences of global warming and rapid decline in natural resources could be potential triggers for warfare. However, I wanted to believe that even such pressing issues would be dealt with diplomatically, without resorting to an armed conflict. At that moment, war in Europe was somehow unthinkable for me. I thought it seemed natural that the hopeful improvement of the pandemic would make people all the more willing to preserve peace after a tumultuous three years – which is, of course, a privileged standpoint.
Peace agreements and preventive measures taken after World War II have made it possible for Europeans to live peaceful and safe lives without any armed threats to the union’s or nations’ sustainability. As the historian Yuval Hariri puts it, “we’ve built a house for humanity based on co-operation, collaboration and based on our understanding that our future depends on our ability to unite”. The consistently turbulent 20th century has given humans a lot of material to learn and grow from. However, learning from it is certainly not what everyone has decided to do with it. Too many countries have been experiencing national and regional conflicts for far too long, proving that the legacies of colonialism as well as of past wars, regimes and foreign interventions reinstate how fragile the state of peace is.
The invasion of Ukraine has shattered the impression that war could be kept away from the shores of Europe. As students in Ireland, how do we react? What can we take from this situation?
An important and frightening realisation that has dawned on the younger generations of the world is that little can be done to prevent power thirsty leaders acting on inaccurate facts and personal beliefs from causing irreversible harm. The management of the pandemic already could have gone so much better if it had not been for the denial of scientific facts and findings. Now, we are witnessing Vladimir Putin forge the legitimacy of his actions by lying to his own nation about the state of current affairs and twisting the meaning of historical events. Unexpected to most Europeans and long dreaded by many Ukrainians, the unprovoked invasion is the initiative of a man that continues to believe in the supremacy of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire, and denies the history of the independent nation of Ukraine.
The consistently turbulent 20th century has given humans a lot of material to learn and grow from. However, learning from it is certainly not what everyone has decided to do with it
The patriotism shown by Ukrainian citizens is remarkable, yet not necessarily surprising, considering how far back the origins of their culture go and considering that they are their own people. I believe one thing that is essential for students to prioritise when discussing current events, is history. The more we know about the history of Ukraine, the stronger and more valuable our arguments become in the face of the Russian dictator’s claims.
Another aspect that is important to highlight is the tendency to generalise and to consider the ambitions of a dictator the ambitions of a country and its citizens. With evidence of ongoing protests and accounts made by Russian civilians and soldiers, it is evident that many Russians are as against this war as the rest of us. Language is incredibly important when talking about the invasion – to call things what they are, but also to ensure not to spread misinformation or group people into an initiative they are not actually in favour of. We have to put ourselves into the shoes of people that have been deprived of any unbiased source of information and should therefore be all the more supportive and aware of the courage they display despite the danger it puts them in.
Whether within the Russian borders or outside, the attention that Putin’s actions and speeches are getting is powerful. To tell the truth about courses of events is crucial to pave the way for the future to look brighter than the past. Shamelessly and explicitly advocating for transparency is an action we must employ for the duration of this conflict, as with any other. It requires us students to properly inform ourselves – something that one can learn and should never cease to try and improve, just like the ways of assisting those in need should never cease to be improved. It is crucial that no misinformation should be spread as this horrible event shows what the act of misinforming can lead to.
The more we know about the history of Ukraine, the stronger and more valuable our arguments become in the face of the Russian dictator’s claims
We can contribute in small ways to the salvaging of this crisis by providing support for those in need, applying the correct use of language and employing a readiness to learn from real world affairs just as much as we learn from our somewhat-insulated college curricula.