On Tuesday, March 8, West Chester University held an event titled, “The War in Ukraine: What You Should Know and What You Can Do,” in response to growing concern over the current Russian invasion of Ukraine. With many members of the community feeling unsure, confused and upset by the current conflict, the event featured a panel of WCU faculty and staff to bridge the gap and provide further clarity on the topic.
The discussion was led under the guidance of Dr. Seth Jacobson, Director of the Center for Civic Engagement and Social Impact. Jacobson was joined onstage by members of the Language, Political Science and History Departments, including Dr. Peter Loedel, Dr. Lisa Kirschenbaum, Dr. Alice Speh and Dr. Linda Stevenson. Also included was Kate Kozlova, Assistant Director of Graduate Recruitment and Admissions, who brought first-hand experience to the table, as she herself was born in Russia and currently has family living in Russia and Ukraine.
The event began with predetermined questions posed to the panelists, ranging from topics of historical contexts to the current refugee crisis.
The first question was directed towards Loedel, who holds an extensive background in international relations and was asked to provide a broad description of what is currently happening in Ukraine and what the impacts are. Loedel described the crisis as “brutal and mind-numbing,” and difficult to make sense of. Recalling his experiences with the Cold War, Loedel noted the fact that it is important to consider the role of power politics in the decision to invade, observing the way that Russia has returned to military methods in order to reach political goals.
“We may be in for a long struggle and a long conflict that is going to unfortunately grind Ukraine — the country, the people — into ruin,” said Loedel.
Next, Kirschenbaum was questioned on how the history of Eastern Europe reflects the current circumstances. Specifically, she noted the historical turning point in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed and Ukraine became an independent state. Kirschenbaum spoke on the fact that, at the time, the collapse was perceived to have been a power-grab from the west. This sentiment facilitated Putin’s eventual rise to power in the 2000s, which reflected the desire to “recreate what he feels, in a sense, was taken from Russia in 1991,” by “trying to draw on that enthusiasm and strong national memory of Russian power.”
Next, questions were directed towards Stevenson regarding the role of women in this time of conflict, noting that oftentimes the media does not accurately reflect their experiences. Stevenson cited the fact that there have been a great number of women taking up arms to defend Ukraine, despite lack of public knowledge. Furthermore, women frequently face actions of sexual violence in wartime. Stevenson even referred to it as a “weapon of war,” describing how weaponized it has become against women.
Stevenson also mentioned the impact on racial and ethnic minorities. There are many students from India and African countries who have traveled to Ukraine to pursue higher education. However, in this crisis, they face the difficult situation of regrouping as they manage financial burdens, a struggle to find future educational opportunities, and trauma.
Discussion was then opened up to a Q&A with the audience. One question considered where we might find sources of hope despite this desperate situation. Kozlova, though not particularly optimistic on the current outlook, found a source of consolation in the fact that “people are still not afraid to speak up… I think we could find some hope, and again, resilience and incredible power, that Ukrainian soldiers and people all over Ukraine demonstrated in the past few days.”
Other questions included the cause behind the invasion of other Ukrainian cities and whether the panelists think the conflict could have been prevented had Western nations been more involved, to which the panelists provided their insight.
Moving on to the topic of humanitarian efforts, Dr. Karin Gedge opened up discussion to the audience on how individuals can have an impact. Responses included making efforts to stay accurately informed, donating to organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross and CARE’s Ukraine Crisis Fund, and voting and contacting our legislators.
The event concluded with a solemn, yet moving, performance by the WCU Symphony Orchestra. Performing a piece by an Armenian composer titled “Nocturne,” as well as a Ukrainian lullabye, the performance was followed by a moment of silence in respect towards the children, soldiers, refugees and citizens of Ukraine.
Reflecting on the influence of music in trying times, Dr. Joseph Caminiti commented, “These are sober times for us as a world, and I sometimes think it’s difficult to find expression in words, and that’s where music can fill the gap.”
Olivia Schlinkman is a first-year Psychology major with a minor in Studio Arts. OS969352@wcupa.edu