It’s probably never easy to figure out how to react to what we hear and learn in wartime, in any war. The Russia-Ukraine war is no exception.
Many of us – along with many other citizens throughout the world – found some level of comfort with what we thought were the effects of our famous “Cold War.” When that period of geopolitical tension between the United States and the Soviet Union ended with the December 26, 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, many people took up a more relaxed way of thinking about America’s relationship with the new Russian Federation (now generally shortened to “Russia”).
But it didn’t turn out the way we expected, did it? Now, even with the many “little” wars that came and went after the Cold War ended, we find ourselves shocked and at a loss for what to do or say.
And as the horrors mount up, many of us don’t know how to react, especially to such distressing news as the murders of civilians in Bucha or the almost-unbelievable and deadly attack at the train station in Kramatorsk. These are realities – identified and confirmed, along with many more, for all we know – and several readers have referred to their difficulty in responding to what we learn.
My solution: Keep the conversation going. If nothing else, we want and need to be informed, and it’s my opinion that the more we learn from one another, especially about what other people are thinking, the better prepared we are to come to conclusions for ourselves and with our loved ones.
And others seem to be thinking along these lines, for I’ve recently had readers asking if I know what young people are thinking about the war.
Well, I’m the fellow to ask, for I am blessed that so many of my former students have stayed in touch with me over the years. Not being shy, after hearing this request from readers I’ve asked some of these former students (as well as several other young people I know) to share their thoughts so others can learn what they think.
[Incidentally, among our contributors several people asked not to be identified, so I’ve used only initials and locations if readers want to refer to specific comments.]
Here’s a sampling of what I’ve heard from my young colleagues:
From JJ in San Francisco, USA: “As for Ukraine, I believe Russia is taking things too far. The people of Ukraine do not deserve the torment they are currently going through, and they have tried to hold peace negotiations multiple times. However, Russia has been unwilling to cooperate in such negotiations, which makes [things] worse. In addition, I wish more countries would step up to support Ukraine. While I understand that many countries have placed sanctions on Russia, I do not believe that such measures are enough, as they are simply just ‘watching from the stands’ as an entire country suffers.”
From JQ in Manhattan, New York City, USA: “The Russia-Ukraine war is a combination of many events over the last decade. It is a self-consuming event if you have Russian or Slavic heritage because of the many wars they have had to endure. War is often started at critical economic times, and the pandemic could not have helped those leaders who needed to find better resources in order to resolve the many critical challenges their countries are facing.”
From BE in Stockholm, Sweden: “It’s been surrealistic and awful in the past weeks due to everything that is happening in Ukraine. As a reaction, however, the whole of Europe seems unified, and there are many organizations and businesses trying to do everything they can to support the Ukrainian people. For example, businesses are making donations for humanitarian help and offering free services to the Ukrainian people, and communities are sending clothing and other supplies in order to help the Ukrainian people in these difficult times.”
From JG in Manhattan, New York City, USA: “This horrible conflict is yet another example of how history repeats itself, and how tensions between people can be carried on for so long. I am reminded that the world around us is indeed continuing on (though it seemed ‘frozen’ for some time), and I am extremely humbled and inspired by Ukrainian resilience. While I do not have any answers, I hope the world can band together and unite towards peace.
“The reasons for the war are vast, but I think mainly can be traced to the fact that Russia thinks they are a world power. This dangerous disconnect between idealism and realism and the fear of being democratized like the Ukrainians fueled the assault. While many people in Russia were either unable or unwilling to see what their leaders were doing, there was and is a great amount of support for this ‘special military operation’ within the Russian population. This has been of course steered by suppressing free-thinking and independent media reports. Russia thought they can blitzkrieg Ukraine, but instead, this turns into a bitter battle.
From AO in Hannover, Germany: “For the western European countries, it’s the last chance to take on the real challenges instead of settling into the typical lethargy of late Roman decadence. Unfortunately, the longer this goes on, the more Russia will become second to North Korea, and all they can do is threaten with nukes. Additionally, we will see a new forming of alliances between different countries. While this will affect us in the medium term, the more pressing issue is to identify what can we do to help those who had to leave everything. The support by people in many countries has been quite overwhelming and overall supportive, which is important to point out.
From BL in Manhattan, New York, USA: “I’ll start by saying, no government of any country is perfect, including those of Russia and Ukraine. That being said, in my mind one word keeps replaying in my mind – unprovoked. There is no doubt that since the fall of the Soviet Union, Putin did not agree with how things ‘shook out.’ To him, this invasion was decades in the making. Russia was wronged, and he is determined to right that wrong – at seemingly no expense.
“Unprovoked. But why now? Why right this minute did Putin decide to act? And who and what is he willing to sacrifice? Ukraine is not currently a NATO ally, but the country did not do anything specific, right now to my knowledge, to invoke this invasion. Too many lives are being lost or displaced, in addition to the physical damage of the sites and monetary fall outs that are coming from this. It’s horrible. Gut wrenching, really. We say we should learn from history, and yet, history is repeating itself over and over. I cannot fathom the potential outcomes known and not known – from having to start your life over as a Ukrainian (or Russian, honestly) within the country if it remains or doesn’t monetarily collapse, or now as a refugee in a new place … hopefully with your whole family intact with at least the belongings that meant the most to you. Scary, overwhelming, unnecessary.”
From DC in Staten Island, New York City, USA: “It’s hard to see a conflict at this scale happening in my lifetime. I’m not sure I’ve ever been as worried about the use of nuclear weapons as I am today.
“I’m happy to see the united front in the western world and the sympathy from everyone around me in the US. I do hope we can [make this] be this way for others though – it’s not clear to me why we weren’t rallying for refugees from Syria, for example, in the same way.”
“Watching television about this has been upsetting, except for watching the heroic Ukrainian people fight back. I hope I could be even a quarter as brave as some of those fighting right now.”
From MS in Odessa, FL, USA: “In true United States fashion, I have noticed that many people seem to have varying opinions about the ongoing war in Ukraine. It is interesting to me that so many people are having trouble grasping that.
“While wars are a continuous part of development and exist all across the world, it is not something that we should sit idly by and watch. The current situation in Ukraine is a genocide executed by Vladimir Putin. Per the U.N. definition of genocide, it is an ‘act committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.’ In my opinion, Putin is actively trying to destroy the Ukrainian people, shown through the bombings of hospitals and schools, where innocent people and children are trying to live their average lives. Putin has not only crossed the line of war crimes, but has now started a genocide of the Ukranian people.
“Personally, I am disgusted by the images we are being constantly shown in the media, of children, families, pets, etc sitting in bomb shelters with all of the belongings they could grab. I am disgusted by the media pointing out that these are Europeans, not refugees from Syria or other places, and that is why we should care. I am disgusted that in order to recreate a state that dissipated over 20 years ago, a power hungry, authoritarian feels the need to destroy a national group. I am disgusted that this is happening to an entire nation of people.
“I agree with the many countries that are imposing sanctions on Russia, and frankly I believe that harsher sanctions can, and should, be imposed. It is important that before more military action is taken by other countries, including the United States, sanctions are continuously imposed on the Russian economy. Although, it is apparent that Putin does not care about the Russian economy tanking at this point. And, in my opinion, the worsening Russian economy is causing a ‘rally around the flag’ effect in Russia. More and more Russians are supporting this war, although it is hard to get an accurate reading with threats of arrests and jail time for non-supporters, because their economy is in crisis and the only thing they can do is support their leader.
“All in all, I do not agree with wars and genocide, and think that this situation has gotten very messy with the involvement of so many countries and international organizations. It is hard to say what should be done and how this situation should be handled. The one thing I know for certain is, innocent lives should not be taken in any scenario. Regardless of nationality, every person should have the right to peace in their home, and that right has been taken from the Ukrainian people.”
I send my sincere thanks to our young friends and colleagues who shared their thoughts. And as noted below, additional comments from other readers (regardless of age) are welcome. They will help us keep the conversation going. And help us all understand, to some degree, what’s happening.
Share your thoughts. Please submit your comments below, in “Leave a Reply,” or send directly to:
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Deb Hunt says
Thank you, Guy, for posting this. My feelings align with so much of what these young people shared. I think we are all at a loss as to how we can help our sisters and brothers suffering in Ukraine. It is also important to remember that the press and other media outlets in Russia are being suppressed or outright dissolved. I’m not defending Russia, just noting that many Russians do not agree with Putin’s actions/agenda.
GUY ST CLAIR says
From Joan Williamson in Madley Herefordshire, England:
Thank you for your email and sharing your thoughts on the war in Ukraine.
Your readers might like to know of an excellent account of the state of politics in Russia entitled “Putin’s People” by Catherine Belton, a well known and respected Financial Times investigative journalist. She does not pull any punches.
The book is published by William Collins (Harper Adams) in London, and will be available in NY I should imagine.
The book caused a stir, especially in Russia, and Belton was subjected to a court case, which largely went in her favour. I can only say that she doesn’t show Vladimr Putin or his henchmen in a good light.
Do read it , the hairs on the back of your neck will stand up! And you will have a better understanding of what really goes on the Kremlin.
Guy St. Clair says
From Madelyn Blair, Jefferson Maryland, USA says:
I so appreciate that you have asked for the thoughts of young people. It’s so easy to go to those who ‘have the wisdom of age.’ It’s young voices that will determine the future — if we let them. Thanks.