Readers of the Quest need no introduction to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The ongoing humanitarian crisis in its second week has already killed thousands and displaced at least 2 million Ukrainains, with likely more to come. The Quest sat down to talk with the Associate Professor of Russian and a native Ukrainian Marat Grinberg to discuss the ongoing situation. Last Thursday, Marat attended a talk in the Oregon Jewish Museum titled ‘Understanding The Crisis in Ukraine.’ The speech is available on the Reed’s website if you wish to learn more about the conflict.
Marat was born in Soviet Ukraine and lived there for the first 16 years of his life. He would define himself as a “Soviet, Russian-speaking, Ukrainian Jew and an American.” These overlapping identities are a testament to the cultural mixture of the region as well as its inseparable Russian influence. Tension between Russian and Ukrainian peoples is nothing new. Ukrainians have always strived to display their independence, and a section of the Russian populace has always seen Ukraine as Малая Россия or ‘Little Russia’. Despite the distinct identity and language of Ukraine, Marat wants to make clear that “what is happening now is essentially a civil war”. Many families are split along the Ukrainian-Russian border and many see the two nations as having a shared history, but whatever solidarity was once shared is being torn apart by Vladimir Putin’s campaign. Tensions have been continuously mounting on the border since 2014 when Russia took the Crimean peninsula in a bloodless annexation. Putin has also been backing violin seperatist militias in Eastern Ukraine for the better part of a decade.
Although Putin has had imperialist intentions for some time, even Marat is shocked by the decision to launch a full-scale ground invasion. Whilst Marat predicts that this campaign is ultimately suicide for Russia, the amount of pain and suffering inflicted will still be immense. “Ukraine is just a step for Putin,” says Marat, and the possibility of Russian incursions into Poland and the Baltic states are not off the table. That being said, the ‘special campaign’ in Ukraine is certainly not going as expected. Russia is facing stiff Ukrainian resistance and has yet failed to occupy any major cities. However, the stalling of the campaign should be no cause for celebration. Marat says that because “Russia is stuck, they can inflict so much pain”, as seen in the many devastating reports that have come out in the last few days of the Russian military blocking humanitarian corridors and firing on civilians attempting to flee. On a more positive note, Marat highlights that the solidarity with Ukraine, both governmental and civilian, appears to be genuine. A powerful example of this is images of Polish people leaving strollers at the Ukrainian border for those fleeing with children, as well as the Polish government offering all of their Soviet-era warplanes to Ukraine. Whilst Eastern Europe is likely united more in fear than anything else, countries have opened their doors to Ukrainains to an unprecedented extent. We are very early in this conflict, and a swift resolution seems increasingly unlikely. Nonetheless, Marat Grinberg and the Quest urge people to keep paying attention and express continued solidarity with the people of Ukraine.