March 28, 2023Print | PDF
The war in Ukraine is the bloodiest war in Europe since World War II, and rages on more than a year after Russia began its invasion. Reflecting on that recent milestone, Wilfrid Laurier University’s Timothy Donais says the theme of the past year has been “Ukrainian resilience.”
“I don't think anybody expected when the Russians moved tens of thousands of troops across the border that the Ukrainians would be able to resist in the way they have and actually push back,” says Donais, an associate professor in Laurier’s Department of Global Studies, director of the Master’s in International Policy program and co-director of the PhD program in Global Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs.
“Many in the international community have been surprised by Ukraine’s resistance, and certainly Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has become a sort of heroic figure over the course of the past year. Ukrainians are the ones who have the most to lose in this conflict. They’re fighting for their country so there is no Plan B for the Ukrainians and it shows, I think, in terms of their will and determination to fight and to try to push back against the Russians,” says Donais.
The West has also pushed back against Russia through economic sanctions which have not affected Moscow as much as some have anticipated, says Pierre Siklos, professor in Laurier’s Lazaridis School of Business and Economics.
“I think the expectation that sanctions would hurt right away was a bit optimistic. It does take time for sanctions to work and they're not going to work perfectly. They never have. But the evidence is that they do work. The Russians have found ways around them in some instances and they've shielded most of their citizens from the sanctions’ impacts, at least so far,” says Siklos.
“They are supported reasonably well, so the sanctions may not have hurt as much as we would have hoped, but it's only been a year. These things do take time.”
After marking a full year of war, it’s natural for Ukrainians who have fled the war to come to Canada and other countries to reflect on being away from home, says Laurier Social Work Associate Professor Bree Akesson.
“The decision to leave I think is so critical: eight million people have fled Ukraine, mostly women and children. And then you have 6.5 million who are still displaced within the country. There is often a realization for war-affected families and those who have been forced to leave their homes, communities, country that they may not ever be able to return or that the return will take much longer than anticipated,” says Akesson, associate director of Laurier’s Centre for Research on Security Practices and Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Global Adversity and Wellbeing.
Akesson, who researches domicide — the impact of home loss and destruction — adds: “There is also the added element of never being able to truly go home again; one’s home may be destroyed, or no one from one’s family or the community is there anymore because they have all fled or many have been killed. It’s all very complicated, and just shows how absolutely horrible and inhumane war is for everyone involved.”
There is no way of estimating a duration for the Ukraine-Russia war, says Ann Fitz-Gerald, a professor in Laurier’s Department of Political Science and the director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs.
“These things can go on for quite a long time. It has to do with capability in Russia’s side. Canada has committed a couple of tanks and some other capabilities for the Ukraine forces, and that military capability is being exhausted fairly quickly by Ukrainian defence forces. There needs to be allies that support the scaling up of that military support,” says Fitz-Gerald.
“Although Russia’s capability is becoming diminished rather quickly, it will still have supplies and armaments coming from likeminded actors and friends. The Russian government won’t stop until the capability is used up and, even then, as it is unlikely that Ukraine will cross into Russian territory and be viewed as an ‘invader,’ Russia can continue its digital insurgency efforts in order to influence internal groups thereby seeking to strengthen its negotiating position. A lot of these tactics concern digital intimidation, manipulation, censure and silencing. It’s a real issue which also involves foreign interference in universities and research networks.”
She adds that the leaders in power at the beginning of a conflict won’t necessarily be who’s there in the future. A resolution to both the military and digital wars will require a “constant push for a democratic solution,” says Fitz-Gerald. “Political solutions lead to better lasting peace than military solutions do.”
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