Voices on the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, One Year On

News subtitle

Faculty and students share their perspectives on the war and its devastating toll.

Tonia Zakorchemna and Zhenia Dubrova hold signs in protest of Russia
Tonia Zakorchemna ’23 and Zhenia Dubrova ’24, members of the Dartmouth Student Alliance for Ukraine, stand on the Green Monday morning in protest of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Katie Lenhart)

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, shocked the world, and the anguish from the death and destruction has been felt over the past year here in Hanover.

In the hours after the Russian attack, students, faculty, and community members rallied on the Green to support Ukraine and condemn Russian aggression. Protests in many forms, fundraising, scholarly and policy discussions, demonstrations, support for visiting Ukrainian scholars, and other actions continued throughout the year at Dartmouth.

Students from Ukraine also hold a daily vigil on the Green condemning the invasion and to remind passers-by of the war.

As the fighting rages into a second year, Dartmouth News invited faculty and students to share their professional and personal perspectives on what the war has wrought, and on how they think it might ultimately be resolved.

Zhenia Dubrova ’24

Dartmouth Student Alliance for Ukraine

I am originally from eastern Ukraine, the town of Makiivka, in the Donetsk region, which Russia has occupied since 2014. My family had to leave our home in 2014, and now, because of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, my parents and my younger sister became refugees once again. The last 365 days for me consisted of helping my parents evacuate from the war zone while juggling classes and jobs as well as work with the Dartmouth Student Alliance for Ukraine.

Living on campus during the war feels like existing in a simulation. Everyone around us is focusing on their academics, careers, and social life, but we can’t shut the door on the constant stream of information and news coming from Ukraine. Every day I wake up and wonder whether I am going to open my phone to the news of another terrorist attack on one of the Ukrainian cities, whether I am going to learn that another one of my classmates or friends was killed protecting our country.

The only outcome that I can accept or even bear to think about is the complete victory of Ukraine in this war. This includes fairly straightforward conditions that President Zelenskyy outlined many times before—Ukraine should regain all its lawful territories, including my hometown; Russia should recognize Ukraine’s sovereignty and borders and pay reparations; and all war criminals should be prosecuted. But then there is a more complex question of justice. What does justice look like for people who have lost their families and friends, their homes, everything and everyone they loved? I don’t know the answer to that.

Lada Kolomiyets

Visiting professor of Russian and comparative literature
Lada Kolomiyets
(Photo by Katie Lenhart)

Russia’s war against Ukraine has been going on since February 2014. In February 2022, started a new and active, genocidal phase of Putin’s war against the Ukrainian state and Ukrainians as a separate nation. For Ukrainians, this is an existential war for survival both as a state and as a nation with its separate language, culture, and territory. The brave and stoic behavior of Ukrainian citizens proves that 30 years of independence, which had been the dream of many previous generations of Ukrainians, did not pass in vain. Ukrainians managed to throw off the mental chains of colonial inferiority; they proved to be able to unite, sharing their personal tragedies and the grief of losses, in order to feel mutual support and stay united, to ridicule and defeat the rush of the genocidal ideology of Ruscism. As maintained in public media, Ukrainians intellectually won the war in the first 3 to 4 days of Russia’s invasion by the force of their intention.

A vigil and silent demonstration are planned for Friday, Feb. 24.

The Russian people live in an alternative reality. In their mass, Russians do not realize that they are committing a terrible crime of genocide against a neighboring people. Until this insight comes to them, the future of Russia seems very dark, infamous, and uncertain to me while Ukraine has already proved and won its independence from Russia. Although there may still be very bloody times ahead, there is only one way—to restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine and rebuild its economy.

Victoria Holt

The Norman E. McCulloch Jr. Director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding
Victoria Holt
(Photo by Robert Gill)

The devastation of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine is immense, with nearly 14 million people displaced and millions injured by Russian atrocities and bombings of population centers. The toll is human, with an impact far beyond Ukraine.

Russia miscalculated the resolve of Ukrainian resistance and the cost of an invasion in people, materiel, and international standing. A year ago, Russia barely bothered gaining support for its military invasion; today it has few if any real allies left. Putin’s aggression has instead unified opposition to his war, including stronger U.S. resolve and strengthening NATO with the addition of Sweden and Finland. More fundamentally, Russia’s actions challenge all nations that want to preserve their sovereignty and the principles that support a rules-based order.

The resolution in Ukraine is unclear. Ideally, Russia would end the conflict by withdrawing its forces. We will certainly see more votes at the UN in the immediate future condemning Russia’s violations of international law and calling for action. While Russia may block consequential action in the U.N. Security Council, sanctions will continue alongside calls for an end to his aggression.

William Wohlforth

Professor of government and faculty director of the Dartmouth Institute for Global Security
William Wohlforth
(Photo courtesy of William Wohlforth) 

As I see it, 2022 was the year in which Russian elite’s centuries-old vision of its country as a great power crashed up against the reality of today’s Ukraine and the limits of Russia’s power in the 21st century. But that’s not how Putin and the Russian establishment see it. They still think they have the wherewithal to dictate Ukraine’s future against the resolve and capability of the Ukrainians backed by the collective West. They draw on three centuries of Russia claiming and often sustaining a role in the world far out of proportion to its actual means.

Until their assessments move closer to what I see as reality, I can’t see any prospect of a stable peace. The nature of the ultimate settlement is what Ukraine and Russia are fighting over. Because the outcome of battles cannot be predicted, neither can the nature of the war-ending bargain. Any stable peace requires security for each side. Because Ukraine is the side whose security—whose very existence—is truly under threat, the best path to securing such a peace is maximal assistance to Ukraine up to our estimated threshold for Russian escalation.

Tonia Zakorchemna ’23

Dartmouth Student Alliance for Ukraine
tonia Zakorchemna holding a shovel amidst rubble and destruction
Tonia Zakorchemna ’23 volunteered with her friends to clear rubble in Irpin, Ukraine, in August. Some 20 miles from Kyiv, Irpin was liberated from Russian occupation by Ukrainian forces in March last year, and mass graves of civilians were discovered. (Photo courtesy of Tonia Zakorchemna ’23) 

This year was a year of the war. Words themselves have been transformed. Mariupol, the city where my friends studied, is now the city where my classmate died in Azovstal defending Ukraine. Irpin, the suburb of my city Kyiv, where I went to pick strawberries with friends, became the site of a massacre committed by the Russian army.

It’s a year of realizing that peace and democracy aren’t a given. The people defending them—and the sovereignty of Ukraine, and the safety of our citizens—are real people, my friends, peers, classmates, teachers, and relatives. Before the full-scale invasion, most of them never held weapons—my friend Max, who makes films in civilian life, now looks at the screen of military drones from the trenches at the hardest eastern front lines. Really, it’s our nation’s best people who now defend us, risking and giving their lives.

I attended my 20-year-old friend’s funeral, who died as a hero defending Azovstal. Now I have this ritual before I go to bed. I think of my friends who are currently at the front lines and I try to imagine a light silk around them like an astronaut’s suit that will protect them from Russian bombs and artillery, and I hope for them to come back home as soon as possible, alive.

Being at Dartmouth, the biggest question we ask is, what can we do even a continent away, to help Ukraine? And our way of doing that is raising awareness, educating people, bringing attention to Ukraine, as we do with these protests. For our fellow students, we are here to show the human face of the war—to let them know it’s people from this community, people they go to classes with, are in clubs with, and share Collis lunches with, people no different from them, whose home was invaded.

We pray and we hope and we do all we can to make the war end. By that, I mean for Ukraine to win. There’s only one way for us to win. That is we take back all of the territories that are lawfully and sovereignly ours.

To win the war, Ukraine must win on the land—and that’s why we’re so urgently asking our allies for weapons. Ukrainian soldiers hold the front lines, literally holding the border with their presence, preventing Russia from committing their atrocious crimes. Thank you to the U.S. government and people for sending us HIMARS (the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System), Abrams tanks, Javelin anti-tank missiles. We need more.

We also ask, “What does justice look like?” I can’t imagine what Russia has to do to even come close to justice—reparations, being sued before international courts, and on and on, but it will never match the pain and the torture that they brought to us. So I don’t know what justice really looks like.

But they must never do it again. How do we ensure, and I think that’s part of what we do here at Dartmouth, we ask, how do we ensure that this never happens again in Ukraine or anywhere else in the world?

Yuliya Komska

Associate professor of German studies
Yuliya Komska
(Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

The questions I was asked for this story were two: “What do you make of what has happened in the past year in Ukraine?” and “How do you see this ultimately being resolved?” These are insensitive questions to pose to a person from Ukraine. 

First, not calling the war by its name plays into Russia’s narrative. Second, for us, the war isn’t a guessing game or a speculative exercise in international relations game theory. It’s not about keeping the big powers happy but about the continued senseless rupture of so many lives in a country that had hurt no one.

Nobody really knows what will happen, the experts included. This said, Ukraine has surprised many in the past year and has garnered infinitely more international support than when the war started in 2014. I hope the good surprises and the support keep coming.

On Friday, Feb. 24, the Dartmouth Student Alliance for Ukraine will hold an all-day vigil on lower Baker Lawn with an exhibition of text messages exchanged by Ukrainian students, their friends, and family members, on the first day of Russia’s invasion. That will be followed by a silent demonstration in the middle of the Green at 7 p.m. in support of Ukraine.

Bill Platt