By Lucy Frost-Helms
The recent invasion of Ukraine instigated by Russian forces under the instruction of Russian President Vladimir Putin has posed enormous concern across the world.
In response to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, an informative panel discussion sponsored by Amnesty International was hosted on March 10 at 3:30 p.m. in the Humanities Hall at the University of Montevallo. According to Amnesty International’s official website, “Amnesty International is a global movement of more than 10 million people in over 150 countries and territories who campaign to end abuses of human rights.”
The panel was organized by Emily Torres, a senior majoring in political science at the University of Montevallo and primary representative of the UM branch of Amnesty International. The panelists included Dr. Clark Hultquist, professor of history, Dr. Scott Turner, professor of political science and Dr. Alexander Mechitov, professor of management information systems. Three Ukrainian women, Anya Hall, Snezhana Popova and Snezhana’s daughter, Dasha Popova, represented their home country.
The panel discussion began with Torres introducing the topic of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict.
As of March 10, Torres stated, “There have been 1,506 civilian casualties in the country. The US officials say that 2,000-4,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since the beginning of the conflict. What’s really horrible is that these numbers are probably very low. The actual numbers are considerably higher.”
A general consensus of news outlets such as the Associated Press, United Nations, and Kyiv Independent depict similar numbers. However, exact numbers within the death toll are difficult to track due to the instability of the situation. These are all close estimates.
As of March 8, two days before the panel, “The number of refugees reached 2 million on Tuesday, according to the United Nations, the fastest exodus Europe has seen since World War II,” according to the Associated Press.
A moment of silence in remembrance of those who have lost their lives thus far followed Torres’ introduction.
Mechitov, a Russian native, began the panel discussion by clarifying that the invasion of Ukraine was not spontaneous.
“He [Putin] has been prepared for this war for a long time, since summer 2021. He has been accumulating resources for eight months.”
Turner later added that “The Russian war against Ukraine did not start two weeks ago. It started in 2014 when Russia initially annexed the Crimean region, which was part of Ukraine; and by annex I mean simply made it part of Russia. Following that, Russia instigated an insurrection in Eastern Ukraine that’s been going on ever since the Ukrainian military has been engaged with Russian-backed forces in Eastern Ukraine for the past eight years. So, what we’re witnessing now is a culmination of a project that began eight years ago.”
Hultquist also supported this notion and elaborated on the historical atmosphere in Eastern Europe, stating that “No group in Europe is ethnically unified. Ukraine has long been victimized by larger powers.”
The Russian concern of Ukraine leaning towards joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an organization created after the aftermath of World War II to provide collective security and protection to its members, which Russia is not a part of, is also a factor.
However, Mechitov clarified that “There is no justification of this war. Why he [Putin] is doing this is not very important. We have to look at what he is doing.”
Mechitov also emphasized how the influence of Russian political propaganda is attempting to justify the invasion of Ukraine, which Russian mass media calls an operation, not an invasion.
Hall, who immigrated to the United States from Ukraine in 2008, grew up in what was formally the Soviet Union and explained the role of political propaganda in her upbringing. Hall was committed to the communist manifesto, even writing letters to Fidel Castro in Cuba to encourage his communist mission.
“My grandfather spoke up against the propaganda, was sent to a labor camp in Kazakhstan, escaped, then was captured and hanged. I was glad my family was targeted because I believed the propaganda.”
Towards the end of the discussion, Snezhana Popova and her daughter, Dasha Popova gave insight as to how the conflict has personally affected them. Dasha has a close friend in Ukraine who she has been unable to contact regularly. She said that in her latest conversation with her friend that there is no internet, water, or stable place to sleep.
“They’re making holes in the ground, sleeping there. She has a five-month-old boy. It’s so hard to sit here and know that your friends might be dying today. Imagine you live your life, go to college, plan for your future and wake up at 4 a.m. with bombs everywhere.”
She later said, “I don’t know if she’s alive.”
Snezhana Popova, in regards to now living in The United States, said “Right now we are safe, but right now we are losing our country again and it’s not easy.”
In closing statements, Dasha Popova said, “Cherish the democracy in The United States. Do not lose what you already have.”
Mechitov added, “To do that, we have to support democracy in other countries,” to which Turner responded, “And support democracy here.”
The invasion of Ukraine has sparked international outrage. To support Amnesty International and those affected by the invasion, visit their website to donate, sign petitions and learn more about the situation.