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Russia's War on Ukraine: 2 Years Since the Full-Scale Invasion

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Media, Film & Journalism Studies

Feature  •
In the World  •

Author: Juliana Ortiz, IIC Student

On February 28, 2024, in Maglione Hall, the University of Denver (DU) held a special event to remember the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Hosted by the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (CAHSS), the Department of Media, Film, and Journalism Studies (MFJS), the Josef Korbel School of International Studies (JKSIS), and the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security & Diplomacy, this event brought together a panel of faculty experts to discuss the war and different aspects of it. Students, faculty, staff, and community members were in attendance.

            The panel of faculty experts included Dr. Nadia Kaneva, Dr. Olena Fomenko, Dr. Debak Das, Dr. Rachel Epstein, and Dr. Suisheng Zhao. These experts addressed various topics, including the European Union (EU) and NATO, global nuclear security, China’s position on the conflict, Ukraine’s efforts to shape public opinion, and how Ukrainians experience the war. Moderated by Dr. Marie Berry, the panel spoke for about an hour, and then attendees had an opportunity to ask questions.

            Nadia Kaneva began by sharing the contents of a brief email she sent to Dr. Fomenko on February 24, 2022. Dr. Fomenko was in Kyiv when the invasion began. “I just wrote this one-line email. “Olena, words are meaningless. I hope you are safe, and I pray for an end to this.” […] I wanted to share this because even though the title of the event is “two years since the start of the full-scale invasion,” for Ukrainians, this war has been going on for ten years.” Dr. Kaneva then reviewed the timeline of the war, which began in 2014, and brought attendees up to date on what had happened.

            Olena Fomenko read a poem titled Sirens, written by a Ukrainian poet, writer, and activist who was killed by a Russian missile. “Air raid sirens we should know as all Ukrainians. We have them daily. We experience them differently…even here, while I’ve been in safety for the past five years, I still have this air raid alert on my phone.” After each siren alert, Olena said she contacted her family to find out if they were alive. She stated that those who live on the front line sometimes only have seconds to find shelter, and some families just have their children sleep in the bathrooms to be safe. The Ukrainian lexicon has changed, and terms like drones and ballistic missiles are now a part of everyday language. “Even usual questions, “How are you?” “Are you okay?” In reality, they mean, “Are you alive?” Ukrainians now use the plus sign as a symbol to indicate that they are okay and alive.

            Rachel Epstein discussed the EU and NATO and their perspectives. “What we think Putin was aiming to do was make Ukraine a supplicant country with a puppet regime, much like that of Belarus. And if you’re going to prevent Ukraine from being a Western-oriented country, you would not want it in the EU, and you also certainly wouldn’t want it in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).” Dr. Epstein also noted that the public should understand that Ukraine has been trying to establish its democratic sovereignty over a long period of time. Ukraine has recently begun accession negotiations to join the EU, which is very positive, but it is not an immediate process. The same goes for accession to NATO.


Dr. Nadia Kaneva and Dr. Suisheng Zhao sit in front of a Ukraine flag

Regarding global public opinion, Nadia Kaneva noted that the opinions reported are not always reflective of what people think because the information can be manipulated, shaped, and framed in different ways. However, there is still a very clear image of how the world feels in relation to the war in Ukraine. “It appears that the world has divided into at least two camps, but possibly three, and the Western camp is the one that goes along with a lot of the policies that Rachel was talking about. [It] tends to frame this conflict in terms of a fight for democracy and freedom.” This is not the popular frame for the war, and some countries actively support Russia and its actions, such as a second camp and a third camp opting to remain neutral. She went on to discuss the nuances between each group and how public opinion continues to shift based on different factors, such as political affiliations.

Debak Das discussed global nuclear security and what this war means for the rest of the world. He started by stating that Russia presently has a stockpile of almost 4,500 nuclear warheads. About 1,200 are long-range weapons, and the remaining warheads are submarine missiles, bombers, and non-strategic weapons. The Russian nuclear stockpile contains almost as many weapons as the United States. Dr. Das covered the revised Russian Nuclear Doctrine and noted that Russia has set hard limits on what can be provided to Ukraine, specifically stating that the United States should not provide long-range missiles. Though Putin has made threats, nuclear weapons still have not been used. “There is a nuclear taboo…there is a threshold that if states use nuclear weapons, that is a point of no return.”

Suisheng Zhao concluded the panel’s discussion by talking about China’s position on the conflict. “China is a very awkward and uncomfortable player.” Dr. Zhao stated that China never condemned Russia, but instead, they also adopted Russia’s belief that NATO’s expansion posed a direct threat. From China’s perspective, power distribution is incredibly important, but as time has passed, the country has had to rethink its position on the war. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a very clear violation of China’s foreign policy cornerstone of respecting sovereignty and a state’s territorial integrity.” China now wants to promote peace talks and offer to mediate, but as Dr. Zhao pointed out, “China is not a neutral mediator so far…they don’t want to see Russia be defeated because in that case, China would confront the United States alone.”

The floor was then opened to the audience to ask the panel questions. Attendees asked about the relationship between Biden and Zelensky, the nuclear taboo, the International Court of Justice, and the topic of genocide. Dr. Olena Fomenko gave closing remarks and ended by saying, “…we’ve been fighting Russia for the last 300 years. And most of the time we were alone…we still have no doubt in our victory because for us it’s a question of life and death and the existence of Ukraine.”

            If you were unable to attend the event, the full video is uploaded on YouTube. A special congratulations and thanks to Nadia Kaneva for creating and hosting such an important event for our community.