Ukraine 101: What you need to know about war in the country

As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky leaves Saudi Arabia hoping to garner support, we answer frequently asked questions about the country including the history of its conflict, Nazis and other hearsay.

Ukraine has been provided with a series of lethal and non-lethal apparatus to counter the brutality of Russia’s war. The invasion has lasted longer than a year with more than 8,000 civilian deaths according to UNHCR documents, while other records including a leaked US intelligence file allege the total count exceeds more than 350,000, though its purported numbers are yet to be authenticated.

Ukraine’s conflict has driven up oil and gas costs, catapulting petrol prices to an all-time high, food security has been threatened and an increased likelihood of reduced spending habits along with higher inflation has emerged. Here, we answer a series of frequently asked questions about the country, it’s war and politics.

Why did Russia invade Ukraine?

Since the fall of the USSR, former Soviet states which includes Ukraine, retained a close relationship with Russia. Though much of this was either under duress and/or due to corruption. In the case of Ukraine, it was mostly a case of lawlessness, with its people unable to change the circumstances of their future thanks to a long period of oversight from presidential criminality.

Fast-forward to 2013, and Ukraine’s president (and long-time friend of President Putin), Viktor Yanukovych, rejected the European Union association agreement claiming it would leave a financial hole in the country’s economy. This left many, with dreams of joining the EU angry at the decision.

Millions stepped out onto the streets inspired mainly by journalist Mustafa Nayyem, a refugee from Afghanistan following a post he published on Facebook calling on Ukrainians to gather in the Maidan (square). Millions answered the call and remained there until the Yanukovych administration stepped down and fled to Russia under the protection of President Putin, where he remains today.

Journalist Mustafa Nayyem was influential in starting the Maidan.

Thereupon, unknown sniper units shot and killed 100 protestors, and shortly after, separatist units supported by special covert Russian forces attempted to take control of multiple cities, targeting city halls in Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, and Kramatorsk but were ultimately repelled by the Ukrainian armed forces and volunteer groups.

A more predictable frontline was molded following a 2015 ceasefire agreement penned by multiple parties including Russia and Ukraine. Frequent clashes and skirmishes continued, but ultimately, Russia invaded Ukraine.

Both sides are accused of human-rights violations.

Misrepresentations of right and left leaning politics

Ukraine’s people have a different perspective on the positions of left and right-wing politics from the West in comparison with the former Soviet era. Though the US & Europe pitched the former USSR as a left-leaning/Marxist/Communist nation, in reality, their ideas aligned more with the far-right when considering the consolidation of wealth by the elite, slave labour camps, and secret police groups. This distortion of left-wing politics within Ukraine’s population retired its people with a specific image of what political spectrums are throughout the world based on their experiences of life under Soviet rule, thanks to Western propaganda.

Multiculturalism as a foreign concept

There lives an affinity in the country for South Asian entertainment including Bollywood music and cinema, with some well-versed in screenplays, etc. For the most part, Ukraine’s understanding of the world’s cultures solely relies on stereotypes brooded by Western interpretations via both news and entertainment. A personal example will be that when speaking with one or two people about Muslims, their viewpoint largely reflects that of news media, as their real life interactions are sparse. As a consequence, expectations of meeting Muslim people will mirror that of what they consume until corrected.

A yearning to join the European Union doesn’t quite fit the ideas of a Ukrainian populous who, largely are without a balanced perspective for multiculturalism thanks to the statistics of a mostly Western-influenced white demography. Don’t get me wrong, spaces exist for an egalitarian society, but when the nation’s heartbeat developed an arrhythmia during Russia’s invasion, tensions mounted and refuge sought abroad ended in an aversion to cultural diversity.

Leaving Ukraine was a difficult task for South Asian and Black students and has been documented well by several news outlets, where pets were categorized as a higher priority by authorities at the border. Refugees who were not native to Ukraine and/or non-white people were subject to beatings and prevented from boarding transport to safety resulting in emergency treatment for hypothermia. There is confusion as to whether it was the Polish or Ukrainian authorities who were responsible for preventing their access to neighboring countries, but civilian nationalist groups were involved too.

Favouritism of a white euro nation

It isn’t hard to spot the favouritism and praise received by Ukraine. Other nations hit by the malice of war have not seen treatment of an equal nature, and instead have been shunned or even criticised.

Intervention in Ukraine is different from that of other nations living through conflict, with a no questions asked policy for refugees fleeing the country. Ukrainians have been privy to an unrivaled worldwide rescue operation chiefly executed by Western states, and/or nations looking to satisfy said superpowers. Sizeable chunks of GDP have been donated to Ukraine with unwavering and contrasting news media support along with a depiction of its people that others would likely not receive.

There is no doubt that the invasion of Ukraine has sparked panic across the world with the effects felt in both international economies and on the food table. But Ukraine’s rattle of self-importance has marred the need to take notice of cataclysmic events elsewhere, evident in the nation’s governmental attitude.

As the Ukrainian president arrives at the Arab League in Saudi Arabia to request support for his country, one cannot help but think of the hypocrisy in what he asks. A set of exploitative pleas, such as his call for members to think of the Muslims of Ukraine. But where was this call before? Why does Mr. Zelensky ask for this now? The answer is – there probably isn’t much care for minority communities and this move is one of few dice rolls he has left.

What equipment has Ukraine received?

In a relatively short space of time, Ukraine has received almost $50 billion in military aid. The Eastern European nation has been privy to an insurmountable roster of lethal and non-lethal equipment which includes the UK’s Challenger 2 battle tank, with the United States gifting the M1 Abrams tank and Stryker armored vehicles. The famous NLAW anti-tank weapons which are used to disable moving targets including tanks, armored vehicles, and in some cases aircraft, have been of particular help alongside the Bayraktar drones sold by the Turkish government. In recent months, there has been talk of sending fighter jets which could tip the scale of war in Ukraine’s favour, though could inspire an escalation in violence.

How much of Ukraine does Russia control?

The current line of contact in Ukraine

Russia attempted to attack Ukraine using a pincer strategy, and this ultimately collapsed. To save face, Putin repositioned his troops to the east resulting in an expansion of territory already claimed in Donbas with intermittent shelling of major Ukrainian municipalities. The country’s counter-offensive may cause more hardships if Moscow can garner support from allies for weapons.

Are there Nazis in Ukraine?

There have always been accusations of Nazism and far-right activity within Ukraine, especially within the footballing world which became apparent approaching the 2012 European Championships. Though the answer to this question is not so straightforward.

Yes, there are groups including Azov Battalion who have waved flags and regalia depicting Swastikas, but we can say the same of any country as there are anecdotes of Nazi sympathizers in every army. When looking at the United States, there are plenty of far-right-leaning militias and personnel within their army, even if not waving a Nazi flag when considering Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and other reports.

Wagner Lt Col Dmitry Utkin

Russia continues to employ the services of the mercenary group Wagner (named after Adolf Hitler’s favourite composer Richard Wagner, who also held controversial views) headed by Nazi sympathiser Dmitry Utkin, whose catalogue of tattoos confirms his affinity for Nazism.

There is definitely a Neo-Nazi problem in Ukraine, this much is true and it is difficult to ignore. Most Ukrainians oppose the fascist leanings employed by certain paramilitary organisations like Azov Battalion, but other viewpoints held by others are simply individualistic ideologies maintained within groups largely opposed to them.

A supporter of Nazi views is no different from a person who holds fascist viewpoints. The only difference are that labels make such beliefs more obvious and there are many who subscribe to similar ideologies without assigning the aforesaid identities. Put it this way, if it were legal to form private militias all over the world, how many of them do you think would hold fascist beliefs?

The bottom line

Ukraine is, for the most part, just like any other country in Europe. There are Ukrainians who hold bygone views and some who eat, sleep and read what they see on the news just like anywhere else in the world. The problem lies at the feet of systems, corruption, and a government bequeathed to them via their Soviet history made worse by successive regimes bent on ignoring issues that both benefit and work against them. A case in point again is Azov Batallion, a former volunteer group now absorbed by the National Guard, and when independent of the Ukrainian armed forces was a formidable fighting machine able to quickly recover lost territory. The Ukrainian government says they’re in the process of ridding their army of individuals who hold fascist values, but that is hard to do without losing good soldiers. I say, lose them and build better.

Once this war is over, Ukraine will be back to normal and with huge debts to pay back. Its land will be flatter, its people vacant, and its economy in ruins, and no doubt more problems to overcome. Like any war, when it ends a war of the minds will begin and Kyiv will be at the beck and call of Western allies who will constantly remind them of their obligation to pay them back. And that could be in the shape of financial deficit, access to resources or even the expansion of military outposts.

Any country subject to Western interventionism will be at war with its own character. That is not to say that it is a bad thing, but bureaucratic interventionism is. Politics is not black and white anywhere and the same can be said for Ukraine, which not only must contend with Westernisation but its own complex of historical propaganda inherited from its Soviet era.

Photo credits: Live UA, Ty Faruki, Chatham House, Channel 4 News.

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