May 9th 2022
Conflict always draws attention, and, hopefully, support. In the modern day, world events have more eyes– and screens–on them than ever.
Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the political climate between Ukraine and Russia had always been tense, but it reached its boiling point on February 24th. On this day, Russian President Vladmir Putin sent troops to attack the smaller country southwest of them. The Russian military has taken control of Ukrainian cities such as Donetsk, Luhansk, and Maruipol. Most crucially, they have attacked Kyiv and Kharkiv, the capital and second largest cities in Ukraine respectively.
In a time so dangerous for Ukrainian citizens, any extension of support is welcomed. Many nations have spoken out against the actions Russia has taken, and are doing so over news and radio stations. In the grand total, 141 countries have voted in favor of condemning Russia.
Several big-name companies have either partially or entirely pulled out of Russia, refusing to support the country’s imports. This includes auto companies such as Ford and Toyota, tech giants like Nintendo, Apple and Amazon, and to the entertainment conglomerate, Disney. With the grip that the Western world has on Russia’s economy, inflation has skyrocketed by 12.5% as of March 11th, and rubles (the Russian currency), has lost about 20% of its original value.
On April 28th, President Biden asked congress for 33 billion dollars in aid for Ukraine. He stated that though the task was already pricey, “caving to aggression is going to be more costly if we allow it to happen.”
Additionally, these measures are mirrored to the amount of conversation online. Left and right, accounts are changing their icons to blue and yellow: the Ukrainian flag. The hashtags #StandWithUkraine, #StopRussia and #Ukraine have gained a great deal of popularity since February. These tagged posts also have multitudes of content featuring Ukrainian people, mostly of those evacuating or raising awareness of the current situation. On a platform in which each person’s page could be considered their home, millions of people all over the world have set up a digital welcoming sign for those displaced and hurt by the war.
This form of social action is aptly named Digital Activism. This refers to the phenomenon of people using social media, podcasts, and other technology to spread a political movement. However, these types of ‘activism’ may only be labeled so tentatively.
While some believe that supporting Ukraine through online activism is just as necessary as charity work, petitioning, or protest, others believe that those who boast support of Ukraine over the internet may not be doing enough for the cause, or could even be directly hurting it.
One student with a personal connection to the issue is Sasha Sukhina, a student who moved from Ukraine to America during 2020. While she is here with her immediate family, her aunt, brother, and extended family and friends all are still in the midst of the war.
At home, Sukhina tries her best to help her country from afar, “It is difficult”, she explained, to be separated from her family. “Especially because [they] are very busy, so I can’t talk to them that much.”
Though separated by war, Sasha tries her best to aid her country from America, “My mom works in an organization called US Ukraine Foundation. After the war started, we’ve been working on collecting money and supplies. We were participating in programs, like concerts. Also, I made first-aid kits.” All these efforts were geared towards shipping resources towards Ukrainian citizens and refugees.
Not everyone can do things like this, however. This is especially true for those busy with daily life, who may not feel they have a personal stake in the war. This begs the question, What is good allyship? The answers are varied, to say the least.
For some people, such as Atholton History teacher Mr. Abrahms, all activism has its roots in the same place of wanting to help. “I think it’s great,” he commented on the subject. As someone who specializes in teaching World History, he takes an interest in current events that could be in the next generation’s textbooks.
Sukhina further explained the origins of the war, “At the beginning of 2013, our president, Yanukovych, ran away because he was feeling pressure from the Russian government. Back then he was going to send a request to be a part of the European Union [or EU], and, of course, the Russian government didn’t like that. They had some information about Yanukovych, and they were manipulating him.”
Mr. Abrahms further explained that the tension of today was caused by the “possibility of Ukraine becoming part of the EU or NATO. Essentially, the problem is that Russia decided that Ukraine was moving more to the West than [Russia] wants it to.” Right now, the situation is so dangerous because a world power has decided that it wants to, more or less, reabsorb a nation that has already declared independence over 30 years ago. Forcefully immobilizing the country from making its own decisions through invasion and attack, in the eyes of Mr. Abrahms, Sukhina, and many political powers, is a blatant act of war.
The BBC News as well as British-Iranian reporter Christiane Amanpour have been Mr. Abrahms’ main sources of news about the invasion of Ukraine and the following Ukrainian refugee crisis. Since the invasion, he has also seen several people on Facebook changing their accounts in support of Ukraine. In his opinion, seeing people support Ukraine online is mostly a good thing, and he enjoys taking part in it.
“People taking the time to put an emoji down are doing it because they want to support.” Abrahms reasoned. For many who may not be able to do more for the Ukrainian people on other sides of the world, it is a noted effort to show support on the internet, where everyone can see it.
“They may need to back up words with actions,” Mr. Abrahms further acknowledged. As someone who was able to donate to the cause and see the good it does for the Ukrainian people, he hopes that “people are taking steps to contribute.”
It must be mentioned that this current situation has gained more traction in less time than many other ongoing crises, such as the Afghanistan refugee crisis, or the Syrian refugee crisis. Both have been going on for many years prior, but have received a lot less coverage in western media. It is evident that there is some bias to what holds the current zeitgeist in the West, usually considering issues that feature white people instead of people of color. These problems are systematic and run deep in society. It is also important to acknowledge the history that America has had with Russia, and the bad blood that runs between the two countries. As a global superpower, the impact of the country doing something this monumental is earthshaking, to say the least.
Looking at the current issue in Ukraine can serve as a jumping off point for other crises. Learning how to help refugees in Ukraine sets a standard for how to help refugees in other places, especially those that have been in crisis for even longer than Ukraine.
First of all, research needs to be done regarding the subject. The best way to become more comfortable with the topic is to educate oneself on the topic, and share the discussion with others, both online and offline.
With a situation of this nature, writing to local politicians won’t be as helpful as contributing more directly. While Ukranians stand up for their country and freedoms, allies around the world can help online. For those not able to engage in more involved activism, more can be done online than just showing support on social media. Several brands have made it possible to donate to Ukrainian relief funds directly or partially through shopping and usage of their applications. Grammarly, the Ukrainian-American writing assistant, has vowed to pay 5 million dollars towards Ukrainian relief funds this year. The Starbucks foundation has donated over 500,000 USD to multiple organizations that send relief towards Ukraine and its refugees.
Besides that, there is always the tried and true method of donations. ”I sent a check directly to an organization in Baltimore that donates to a fund for Ukraine.” said Mr. Abrahms.
“I appreciate people and organizations…but people do take advantage of pretty much everything. There have been a lot of scams,” Sukhina explained. “Not everything is as straightforward as it may seem. They say “‘Hey, we are collecting for Ukraine,’ and then they keep the money,” withholding it from those in actual need. “They’re thieves,” she stated. She specifies that it is crucial that people check the credibility of Ukraine relief funds, instead of sending money to shady companies. Direct donations to Ukrainian support groups, such as the Ukrainian Crisis relief fund, Ukrainian Red Cross, and MSF (Medicins Sans Frontiers, or Doctors Without Borders), are good for aiding those in need.
Raising awareness through usage of the Ukrainian flag can be done offline as well as online. For several weeks after Ukraine’s invasion, Mr. Abrahms hung the Ukrainian flag in the back of his class, and when he took it down, he decided to bring it to his own neighborhood; “I’m flying the Ukrainian flag on my house and I don’t have a drop of Ukrainian blood.” Along with this, he sports a pin of the Ukrainian flag on his jacket every day.
“I really appreciate this support, not only in America, but in all parts of the world,” said Sukhina on the subject. Collecting money is important, but she added that many Ukrainian refugees left with only the clothes on their backs, “nothing else.” With this in mind, support, whether it be online or in real life, can help more people feel less alone.
No matter how little or how much an individual is able to do in support of Ukraine, all is necessary in order to aid them, and hopefully soften the blow of future crises, not just involving the West world, but of all fleeing, injured, and hurt peoples. In a world in which platforms, apps, and websites exist that let information and relief be passed as quickly as possible, there is no bad post, no wrong conversation that can be had. Without publicity, as the Washington Post’s tagline declares, these stories are left to ‘die in darkness.’