The war against Ukraine has been waged by the Russian Federation since 2014 with Russian “annexation” of Crimea and Russian military incursion into Ukraine via supposed Eastern Ukrainian “separatists.” Yet on February 24, the escalation of this war made visible to the world Putin’s plan to not only control a few of its “territories” but to erase Ukraine and Ukrainians because they have been unwilling to accept Putin’s plans to rule their land.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and his Ukrainian colleagues stepped up with courage and passionate love for Ukraine to inspire Ukrainians and the world to fight this brutal attempt at occupation. Many other remarkable Ukrainians — government members, children, elderly, soldiers, farmers, musicians, para-olympians — became ordinary heroes fighting for their lives, lands, and freedom. They also inspired the world to respond to this aggression and to unite. World governments, businesses, public figures, stars, and millions of ordinary people decried this war.
Yet Putin has not stopped. The war is ongoing and worsening as I write. Thus, Putin escalation of his horrific violence on human rights and territorial integrity of an independent democratic nation requires that we should continue to escalate our responses to him and his military occupation. Bullies, whether they are a garden variety or are nuclear-weapon wielding, should be stopped from bending the world to their demands or lying to the world about their acts.
•. The war in Ukraine continues to be brutal, and Putin openly declares he will continue to make it worse for Ukrainians. His so-called negotiations are always accompanied by a significant increase in his military attacks, not cease fire.
•. Putin and his henchmen have no plans for diplomacy and never will, and the sooner the world realizes it, sooner we can come together and stop this war.
•. Putin’s military, which at times are represented as naïve or unaware, are killing on Putin’s command. After two weeks the world must realize they know exactly what they are doing and seem willing to execute orders without questioning.
•. If you were not aware of Russians’ attitudes toward Ukraine and Ukrainians over the past few centuries, this war made them clear. To many Russians, Ukrainians are ethnically and culturally inferior. Ukraine, Putin claims, never existed! While there are remarkable Russian people, here in the U.S. and in Russia, who feel affinity with Ukrainians and reject Putin as their leader, many Russian people have been raised on anti-Ukraine and anti-West propaganda for dozens of years. Putin has been “elected” by them for over 22 years now and will remain their president for life. Hoping that all Russian people gain a moral compass or awareness of Putin’s crimes against humanity may be naïve.
•. While Russia treats Ukrainians as inferior, expendable people, whose land they have the right to “liberate” for their own rationales, many Russians under Putin have been molded especially to hate the U.S. and the “Western” values it represents. Even in the current disinformation propaganda from Russia about why they are attacking Ukraine, the new tactics include outlandish accusations that Ukraine is manufacturing “biochemical warfare” materials for the Pentagon! Putin and Russia under Putin have based much of the national identity on hating the U.S. and the West. If the U.S. hopes to be safe from aggression of varied kinds coming from Putin’s government, including via cyber warfare and other “special operations,” Americans should begin to consider the damaging and already heavy costs of Putin’s aggression against the U.S.
•. In seeing the bombed hospitals and homes, it may be easy to overlook that Ukraine is beautiful, and is both an ancient, historically rich land and a vibrant nation. If you have not seen pictures of Ukraine, I recommend the official Visit Ukraine site (oh how I wish that remained true) at www.Ukraine.ua. What Putin’s army is destroying is not just human lives but a remarkable land and culture.
•. Americans are learning more about Ukraine and its history — that Ukrainians are not the same as “Russians;” that both Imperial and Soviet Russia targeted many Ukrainians in genocides, including the 1930s Holodomor; that Ukrainian language is not a dialect of Russian but is as different as English is from Dutch. Ukraine has remarkable musicians, from classical orchestras to very popular contemporary groups such as Go-A, Okean Elzy, or DakhaBraha. Ukraine also has extraordinary artists, such as Maria Prymachenko, who was a self-taught Ukrainian folk art painter. Picasso called her “an artistic miracle,” and UNESCO declared her the 2009 world artist of the year. Prymachenko’s museum, filled with her original art, was just destroyed in the attacks.
•. Looking away from other genocides and violence is often the result of human beings becoming fatigued when confronted with wars and human suffering. Wars, hate crimes, and conflicts worldwide, whether in Ukraine or here in the U.S., should remain present in our hearts and minds so that we always work toward ending such injustice and wrongness. Otherwise we fall prey to Joseph Stalin’s (and now Putin’s) agenda: We treat the death of one person as a tragedy but death of a million as merely a statistic.
•. At this time, most Ukrainians feel strongly that what’s needed is aid for the Ukrainian military to stop further violence and destruction. If the war is stopped, the refugee crisis as well as all other crises brought on by this senseless war could be at least held back from getting far worse. If the war is stopped, Ukrainians will rebuild their lands, homes and lives in Ukraine. If not…
Again, people worldwide are witnessing a horrific war, and for Ukrainians it is a war against the people and places we know and love. I hope that all of us continue our passionate work to stop this war. I also hope that this war is another wake up call about the appalling impact of such violence on humanity (as well as on animals and nature). We should again consider how we rid the world of advanced weaponry that destroys human lives. This war is a reminder to stay united together to prevent all wars and all forms of violence toward people everywhere.
Oksana Yakushko is a psychologist, professor of psychology, and Ukrainian immigrant.