Month of war takes its toll

March 26, 2022

“When I first saw that Russia was declaring war on Ukraine, it did not hit me right away,” Lisle High School junior Nick Yasinski said. “I was just more in shock because it has been going on for eight years now, since 2014 or so. Now people have decided to be more informed about it and post stuff. It is just a really atrocious thing that is happening right now. It is a lot to deal with.”

Yasinski lived in a city in Ukraine that had been under the control of Russian separatists. He moved to the United States in 2015 because of the 2014 protests when Russian-backed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych left Ukraine under pressure from the Ukrainian people. Ukraine wanted to join the European Union, and Putin said that Russia strongly opposed this. This created a lot of tension between both countries.

“We started protesting [in Kyiv],” Yasinski said. “At first it was really peaceful, just some flags, and then the Russian president Putin sent out his Russian SWAT team (SOBR), and they started out beating people with plastic bats. It went from that to real guns, and that is when the schools were closed mostly throughout the country. Our economy went down because no one worked, no one went to schools, teachers did not get paid. No one wanted to work, they were just focused on the future of our country.”

The situation between Russia and Ukraine became so strained that eventually, Russia invaded Crimea, a southern region of Ukraine, which today remains occupied by Russia. Citizens of Ukraine were specifically impacted as some people did not identify themselves as Russian.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Currently, Yasinski’s father is serving in the Ukrainian militia in Odessa, a coastal city about 287 miles from Crimea. Odessa is near Kherson which is another city in Ukraine now taken over by Russian forces due to this current attack.

“I have not heard from him in a while. It was his birthday a couple of days ago and I texted him, but he has not gotten back to me,” Yasinski said. “Same thing with my friends, obviously the whole internet, and the Chernobyl thing that is happening right now. Everyone in Ukraine and other NATO countries are in shock.”

One of Yasinski’s hometown friends is also fighting in the militia right now. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, made a law stating that male citizens ages 18-60, cannot leave and must fight for the country.

“This should not be happening. Kids are dying, pregnant women are dying, and men are staying to fight and defend their country when that should never be a thing,” Yasinski said.

In the 1700s, Ukraine was a part of the Russian empire under the leadership of Catherine the Great. In the early 20th century, Ukraine wanted to be independent, but their attempt did not succeed as they became a part of the Soviet Union. In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Ukraine declared independence that same year. To this day there has been tension between both countries which impacts Russian and Ukrainian thought today.

Vladimir Hudson, a senior at Metea who has Russian roots, recently spoke with his friends and family in Russia regarding their knowledge of this current issue.

“[The Russian people] know very little to nothing, they know that Russia is in Ukraine, but they do not know that there is an ongoing attack,” Hudson said. “I have a cousin that is serving right now and none of them are told what is going on, they are being shipped out.”

Hudson states that from what he knows, soldiers are told that they are going to a training, and they show up and it is not training. There are videos where you can find soldiers giving up their weapons because they realize they were not sent to a training. Hudson says that they do not want to fight once they realize what is going on. Russia is not a free country, so when you are between the ages of 18 and 25, you have to serve one year in the military.

Yasinski agrees with Hudson as he stated that the Russian people do not want to fight.

“We [Ukrainians] are asking ‘what are you doing here on our land?’ and they [Russians] are saying that ‘we did not know we were supposed to kill people,’” Yasinski said. “10,000 people got arrested in Russia for protesting saying ‘stop the war,’ Putin did the same thing in 2014. He arrested his people saying ‘it is my country and I can do whatever.’ He arrested his own people because no one wants to fight, no one wants to kill each other. How are they going to trust him [Putin] when he is arresting his own people when they do not want to fight?”

The Russian news has been giving its citizens “false news,” according to Yasinski. Most articles from Russian news state that this is a peaceful mission, and no one is dying which is misinformation. The Ukrainian civilian death toll is estimated to be over 900 people. There have been between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian soldiers who have been killed in Ukraine. These numbers go up to 40,000 of those who are either killed, wounded, taken prisoner, or are missing in total according to The Wall Street Journal. However, it is believed that the numbers are far higher than what is being reported as it is difficult to determine the accuracy given the present crisis.

“The reality is that they are showing the cities [in Ukraine] that have not been affected, so Russia will vote for Putin if they do not find out the truth,” Yasinski said. “That is why Putin is cutting off Russia from the internet, [except for] the [Russian] news. He does not want them to search up some website or some other news and say ‘is this really happening? Is this the side that I am really on?’”

Hudson has many friends in Russia and has contacted them about the current situation between Ukraine and Russia. He states that the majority of people are impacted by the censoring in Russia, as many people do not even know there is a war going on.

According to VICE News, multiple Russian TikTok users are receiving payments to disperse the Kremlin propaganda. They are receiving payments from 2,000 to 20,000 Rubles ($19.46 to 194.65 USD) which go towards creating videos to encourage Russian citizens to unite despite their ethnic background.

“I think media coverage is definitely never the complete story. I think you have to use some of your own thinking, read from a lot of sources, gain your own knowledge, and use some critical thinking skills to figure out what you think about something,” Hudson said. “[My friends in Russia] have asked me for my perspective [about the recent conflict between Ukraine and Russia], and I have asked them for their perspective because they do not know a lot of what is going on.”

Social media platforms, such as TikTok or YouTube, are another way to get information directly from someone directly living in either Ukraine or Russia. Whether it is misinformation or a reliable complete story, it gives another perspective as to what is happening in another country just by looking at a phone.

@natashasrussia

Another day in Saint-Petersburg Russia 🇷🇺

♬ Human – Rag’n’Bone Man

“There is definitely a lot of ideology flowing around [Russia] now that was never there before,” Hudson said. “That is why you are getting the banning of Instagram in Russia or getting the banning of TikTok’s in Russia, those are the things they are trying to hide.”

Putin’s power is largely dependent upon the older heads of government’s ability to control the country through false narratives and censorship. Younger generations tend to have less of a sense of loyalty towards the Putin regime with the rise in popularity of social media where access to information is mostly unrestricted. This has caused an ideological rift between the older pro-Soviet generation and younger generations.

“I think Ukrainian news is doing a phenomenal job at updating us, same with the United States, the broadcast is 24/7,” Yasinski said. “If you go on YouTube and type ‘Kyiv’, there are going to be a lot of broadcasts with multiple cities that have been affected by Russian militia.”

Not only have citizens in Ukraine and Russia been directly impacted by the many factors coming from the attack on Ukraine but citizens of the United States who have recently traveled to either country have been impacted as well.

“My mom went on a trip to Russia a few weeks before everything hit the fan, she was stuck there for a while. She traveled from place to place within [Russia], spent days trying to find an airport that she could get out from because they had closed most of the airports,” Hudson said. “She actually got a flight that flew out, and two days later the rest of everything was shut down, and it was already slim. My mom [had been] stuck there for multiple weeks.”

While the emotional impacts of the conflict continue to remain prevalent with news of ongoing attacks and missile strikes, travel impacts on both Russia and Ukraine limit the ability for United States citizens to visit their country and their loved ones.

People gather in support of Ukraine to protest against the Russian invasion. (Photo courtesy to Katya Yasinska)

“Emotionally it is definitely a little bit disappointing, upsetting. It will impact my ability to live a normal peaceful life in [Russia] for any period of time going forward with having a house there and having friends there,” Hudson said. “So it is going to impact my ability to travel there going forward.”

United States President Joe Biden issued an executive order in response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 21. The executive order states that the United States will decrease their amount of trade, and financial transactions, as the United States has taken the position to oppose Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. With these economic choices, United States gas prices have risen.

“I think the sanctions were a good step, and it was definitely useful,” Yasinski said. “Obviously their economy is going down, but now it is not helping.”

Increased discussions surrounding rises in gas prices have become a large part of the war in Ukraine, oftentimes dominating headlines just as much as casualties in the war.

“I feel like when everyone mentions these gas prices, everyone knows it sucks, it sucks paying for so much gas,” Yasinski said. “But at the same time there are little kids dying, and women, men and elderly, while you are safe saying ‘well yeah our gas prices are bad,’ well you have to think about how many people are dying, not even in Ukraine, in Russia too.”

Hudson then shared his knowledge of the Russian economy due to the sanctions placed by countries around the world.

“The Russian economy is tanked. Absolutely tanked,” Hudson said. “I have never seen the Ruble as high as it is now. And I think it is like 100 [105.497] Rubles to $1 USD, all my life it has been like 60 Rubles to $1 USD, and on a high year it is 70 Rubles to $1 USD.”

With the Russian economy suffering and the attack on Ukraine escalating, Hudson states that Putin still will stay in power regardless of the negative impacts of the war on Russia.

“Do I think that there is a future Russia without Putin? Not while he wants to be in power. The older heads are keeping him in power because they are still alive and they are on his side,” Hudson said. “A lot of the younger Russians are kind of building their own mentality. The best term I can describe it is ‘woke,’ they were not raised under these Soviet traditions, so I think moving forward there is going to be more backlash in that way.”

While prospects seem to be worsening for the people of Russia, Hudson expresses that the people are strong and there is no doubt that the Russian people can survive Putin’s push for more power.

Citizens of Ukraine defend their country as Russia invades their territory. (Jane Shiff)

“The conflict is stemming from political tension, there is a sense of power within Putin and often he tends to overstep other people’s boundaries within that, within that power that he thinks he has,” Hudson said.

Yasinski speculates Putin is having more difficulties with the invasion of Ukraine than initially anticipated. The Ukrainian military has managed to deter Russian forces from taking over the country in the timeline given by Putin.

“As of right now I think that Ukraine is giving a very good fight and I think Russia, especially Putin, is just really frustrated by the fact that he said ‘Ukraine is going to be ours in a week,’” Yasinski said. “It has been three weeks and he barely has half of the country that he can barely even take.”

With Ukraine’s help from other countries, citizens all over the world wonder what the future will look like moving forward regarding other world problems from the past.

Yasinski states that the attack on Ukraine is completely repeating history. He mentions World War I and World War II as some of the similar events in the past.

“Obviously a lot of casualties [in WWI and WWII], kind of the same conflict, invading on and off, it is a very scary place to be in,” Yasinski said “[Ukraine] is not a part of NATO, so WWIII is not going to happen unless Russia invades another NATO country.”

Putin’s overall motivation for this attack could be that he still cannot get over Ukraine’s independence from 1991 according to Yasinski. Russia took Crimea back in 2014 and has since moved on to Donetsk, Mariupol, Kherson, Kharkiv, and Kyiv, the capital.

“With Ukraine being up in the air, with NATO and the EU, [Putin] wants to make sure that he does not lose, to my understanding, Ukraine to NATO. Because historically, Ukraine and Russia were one,” senior Vladimir Hudson said when explaining Putin’s motivations for the war. “The Russians do not want this. Russian people do not want this. It is the few heads at the top of the chain that want it. I think there is a lot of disdain towards Russian people, Russian culture, but it is not the Russian people.”

In sight of the attack itself, the citizens of Ukraine appreciate any way that other countries can help.

“Just keep Ukraine in your prayers, whether you are religious or not, just know that a lot of casualties have been made on both sides,” Yasinski said. “Ukraine is a really really strong powerful country, even though it is smaller like I said before, we are not in NATO, but we have amazing countries that are supporting us financially, with sanctions, military supplies, ammo, food, medkits, everything that should have been given years ago.”

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