Updated: Apr 1
By Melinda Wang & Shayl Khatod
Capturing the war in a series of definitions.
LIBERATION, (from something), as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is the act or process of freeing a country or a person from the control of somebody else. On February 21st, 2022, Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, addressed his nation. His mission: to liberate the state of Ukraine.
In his speech, Putin spoke of Ukraine as an “inalienable part of [Russian] history.” alluding to Lenin’s great quest to unite the Russian Empire as the Soviet Union. In his speech Putin raised the questions, “why was it necessary to appease the nationalist [Ukrainians], to satisfy the ceaselessly growing nationalist ambitions on the outskirts of the former [Soviet] empire?” and “What was the point of transferring to the newly, often arbitrarily formed administrative units – the union republics?” However, he renounces this statement, by stating his vision of new territorial administrations in the regions of what historically is Russia’s.
Galvanized by Lenin and his ambition to unify the Slavic States, on February 24th, Putin sent 150,000 troops into the Eastern regions of Ukraine, to “liberate” the Ukrainian people, under the original 1924 Soviet Constitution.
RESILIENCE [uncountable], as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is the ability of people or things to recover quickly after something unpleasant, such as shock or injury. On February 24th, 2022, Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine, addressed his nation. His mission: to liberate the state of Ukraine.
Zelensky called upon his people to act, to hoist their flag of blue and yellow in unification, to remain resilient against Russian despotism. He urged his citizens to stay calm as cataclysm approached. To stay grounded as the people of Kherson, Mariupol, and Donetsk woke up to sounds of bombs, to shells raining down, and to the screams of their loved ones as they perished in the street. For their resilience, the citizens of Ukraine paid a human price.
CRISIS, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is a time of great danger, difficulty, or doubt when problems must be solved or important decisions must be made. The Russian invasion received widespread condemnation from the international community. New sanctions and tariffs were imposed on Russia by the NATO alliance. The European Union and the US Department of Defense funded an effort to deliver military equipment to the Ukrainian frontline, and to issue a block on Russian Aircraft entering European Airspace. Russian ambassadors in Europe were met with anti-war protests, as the force of empathy for the citizens of Ukraine spread throughout the world.
The United Nations formally condemned the actions of Russia, marking the Russian invasion a humanitarian crisis of a global scale, and formally establishing the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU). Matilda Bogner, head of the HRMMU urges sympathy for Ukraine to fuel the international response to the war, and for the voices of the Ukrainian people to be heard. In an interview with the UN News, Bogner discussed the war in Mariupol, and specifically the humanitarian aspect. “My colleagues interviewed a former prisoner of war, and he was from Mariupol and he was forced in Mariupol to collect the bodies on the city streets. He told us that Russian soldiers were expected to meet the daily quota of one truck of corpses per day. And that is, as he said, in Mariupol meeting with that quota was not a problem at all”(Bogner - 2022).
ANNIVERSARY, as defined by Oxford Dictionary, is a date that is an exact number of years after the date of an important or special event. We are now past the one year anniversary of the Russo-Ukrainian War. While anniversaries often have a celebratory connotation, this anniversary draws attention to the event which caused Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II.
We are not celebrating this war. Rather, we seek to call out this war for its effects. We seek to call out the conflicting ambitions and beliefs that divide our globe, and the larger picture in tandem to how empathy can unite us. The larger picture can look a little different to each person. But a theme remains: we, as people—as soldiers, refugees, civilians––are inevitably affected by this war in some way. From the rumbling of tanks in Kyiv to a battered doll in the arms of a child refugee, we need to reiterate the point that we are all affected.
According to the UN Human Rights Committee, there are more than 21,000 civilian casualties, with 8,006 dead and 13,287 injured. As devastating as these numbers are, there are so many people who are apathetic to their impact. But these numbers are only a single factor in the larger picture. What about soldiers fighting this war on both sides? The people around the world who see and hear the war through the media? What do these statistics mean for non-citizens? All the numbers contribute to the larger picture, but fail to impart the human struggle and loss. The true weight of the war lies within those struggles.
Olha Boniak is from Dubno, in the Rivne region in Ukraine. In her creative nonfiction piece, June, Boniak explores how the Russo-Ukrainian War has impacted her daily life, and what she can do to remember those who have fallen in the war. In the last paragraph, she writes “Perhaps this is where our strength lies now: in remembering and honoring those who got us through the past 8 years and 113 days. You can’t distance yourself from the war going on in your own country, and we have to accept that” (Boniak, 2022).
HERO, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is a person who is admired by many people for doing something brave or good. Heroes can be invisible, and are often overlooked during distressing events like war. Heroes are actually one of the figures we need most during war. Boniak’s personal experience spotlights the importance of remembering uncelebrated heroes, and also evokes empathy from the reader. Through powerful stories like Boniak’s, more people can realize that heroes need empathy to be understood and to be recognized.
EMPATHY, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is the ability to understand another person’s feelings, experience, etc. We are Reflect Empathy, a Los Angeles based organization seeking to spread empathy to not only those who are suffering the effects of the Russo-Ukrainian War, but also those on the outside looking in with a desire to empathize. Reflect Empathy is looking for written or drawn submissions that encapsulate the theme of connecting people through avenues of empathy, no matter where we are.
Please consider showing empathy by making a donation that will help us to support Ukrainian students and refugees. One third of donations will go to Polyphony Lit, to help us to promote literacy worldwide. One third of donations will go to Teenside, to help us to provide publishing opportunities for young Ukrainian writers. And one third of donations will go to Reflect Empathy, to help us create a scholarship for Ukrainian students.