Ukraine is vital to European political stability in ways that most people don’t appreciate, and the United States would do well to continue its military and financial assistance in its fight for sovereignty and freedom from Russian leader Vladimir Putin, according to a panel of several experts speaking Sept. 25 at Arizona State University.
The discussion was part of an event sponsored by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the McCain Institute for International Leadership at ASU. The event, held at the Cronkite School, also featured a photo exhibit.
“For many Ukrainians, this is not a war that is raging out of control. This is a fight for our survival, and this is genocide happening in front of our eyes. That’s why we are engaged in this fight today,” Mariia Levchenko told assembled students and community members gathered for “Only One Way Forward: The Vitality of a Democratic Ukraine,” which was part of the CronkiteLive series at the Downtown Phoenix campus.
Levchenko, who is the senior protection officer at the Center for Civilians in Conflict and the peace-building advisor at the Romanian Peace Institute, said the assault on Ukrainian civilians is essentially the start of a third world war unless Putin can be stopped.
“This war really creates ripple effects that touch upon not only Ukraine, the European Union, but across the whole world. And if the support for Ukraine isn’t continuous, this will create consequences for the whole world,” she said.
In addition to Levchenko, panelists included Evelyn Farkas, executive director of the McCain Institute; Carol Guzy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer; and Svet Jacqueline, a documentary photographer and freelance photojournalist. Oksana Markarova, Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, taped a special message prior to the discussion.
The event also served as the official opening of the “Relentless Courage” photo exhibit at the Cronkite School. The exhibition was presented in conjunction with the book “Relentless Courage: Ukraine and the World at War” (Blue Star Press, 2022). The exhibition is being shown with support from the Ginsburg Family Foundation and features a collection of more than 60 images from the Russia-Ukraine war, haunting images of the human cost of war. The exhibit will run through Dec. 22 and is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m, Monday through Friday.
“The war in Ukraine has a tremendous impact on our foreign policy and global relationships, but at its core, it is a story about humanity, about people,” said Cronkite Dean Battinto L. Batts Jr., who handled moderating duties. “This panel discussion and photo exhibition will help us gain a deeper understanding of the people affected by this crisis and its effect on democracy.”
The panel’s case for the continuation of Western support for Ukraine came a week after President Joe Biden made the same appeal to world leaders at a United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Sept. 19, pleading for them to help put an end to Putin’s aggression.
Since 2021, the United States has given Ukraine about $44 billion in aid and security assistance to fight Russia, according to the U.S. Department of State. Biden recently announced the Department of Defense is sending Ukraine an additional $325 million to help meet its self-defense needs.
Farkas said the figure amounts to about 5% of the U.S. defense budget and that offering this type of assistance is less costly in money and American lives.
“It could become existential for us if we don’t support Ukraine today,” said Farkas, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia. “Russia, China, Iran and North Korea would like to see an America that doesn’t stand up for democracy, which is a challenge to our way of life and a challenge to our economic system. It’s a challenge to the rule of law that protects all of us, whether we’re journalists, businesspeople or academics.”
Guzy, whose photos are part of the exhibit, said the war in Ukraine is unlike anything she has ever documented.
“It’s not a traditional war between soldiers on a battlefield at all. It’s literally daily terrorism for the most vulnerable citizens,” said Guzy, who covered Kosovo in the 1990s. “To document the endless, random shelling of innocent victims is beyond horrifying. We’re supposed to be objective as journalists and accurately report the best we can visually or with words. Generations from now, we’ll look back and wonder how the world could have allowed this to go on for so long.”
Jacqueline said not only are Ukrainians getting wiped out by bombs and bullets, but Russia is replacing these cities, towns and territories with its own citizens.
“They are attempting to move populations of their own people into these spaces and quickly reclaim these areas,” said Jacqueline, whose images are also included in the “Relentless Courage” exhibit. “They are trying to erase the Ukrainian identity as quickly as possible.”
Despite the violence, Guzy has witnessed an indomitable spirit among the Ukranians.
“To their credit, living with joy and hope almost seems to be an act of defiance to the war, and it’s a pretty amazing thing to witness,” Guzy said.
Levchenko affirmed the will of Ukraine is irrepressible and enduring.
“Ukrainians never say, ‘after the war,’” Levchenko said. “We always say, ‘after victory’ because we are hopeful, and we believe that it’ll be our victory.”
This story was originally published on ASU News.