Ukraine needs compassion, not jokes and performative activism


Shavonne Chin

Photos by Palácio do Planalto and Gage Skidmore.

Ashley Pelletier, Arts & Life Editor

Since Feb. 24, the world has been thrown into international conflict, the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades.Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is scary. It is reminiscent of Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, and many do not want to think about the implications of that. Nobody wants to contemplate the possibility of World War III considering the advances of weapons and nuclear technology.

However, from a social, political and economic standpoint, we’re reacting all wrong. As a country, we are thinking more of ourselves than those who are actually facing the brutality of war.

Particularly from mass media, many are shocked by warfare in Europe. People talk about how they never imagined this happening in a “civilized” country. These statements not only disregard warfare in the Balkan states during the 1990s, but are also blatantly racist in the face of ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.

According to an article from Reuters, around one million Syrian refugees have been accepted into the European Union in the past 11 years. In the last three weeks, double the number of refugees have made it out of Ukraine, according to NPR.

While the people of Ukraine deserve the support and attention they are receiving right now, saying we haven’t seen a crisis like this in years shows the people of Syria, Yemen and other war-stricken countries that our society does not value them.

Many, also, have turned to “dark humor” or ignorance to lessen anxiety. During the first week of the invasion, there were numerous social media posts in poor taste from Americans joking about being drafted to fight against the Russian military.

The U.S. Selective Service System has been used for conscription of U.S. soldiers since 1917. At the age of 18, all men living in the U.S. must register with the SSS. However, there has not been an active draft in this country since 1973 during the Vietnam War.

The draft was wildly unpopular, regardless of political affiliation, leading to the abolition of it in 1973. It targeted primarily lower-class men while others of higher status could evade conscription. Now, it would take an act of Congress to bring the draft back, and a “yea” vote would not bode well for most politicians.

Not only is saying you’re going to be drafted flat-out wrong, it is also extremely offensive. We sit on American soil that has not seen war in over 100 years. We are fortunate to not know what it is like to fall asleep one night and be unsure if our families will be there in the morning.

Some people use humor as a defense mechanism rather than accepting the full weight of a situation. But Americans and others who are not feeling the full impact of this war do not have that right, particularly when it comes to posting it on social media for clicks.

The political situation surrounding Russia and Ukraine are at an intensity that we have not seen since the Cold War, making it difficult for governments to get involved without Russian President Vladimir Putin seeing it as an act of war. As of March 5, Putin said that the sanctions against Russia are “akin to a declaration of war.”

However, these sanctions by the U.S., U.K. and the European Union punish Russian citizens who have no say in their country’s involvement in an unjust war.

Ordinary Russian citizens have to face several struggles of their own in this conflict. Inflation of the Russian ruble is rampant, making it equivalent to about 1 U.S. cent. Many are struggling to stock up on technology and other imports before they are shut off completely.

European countries have seemingly been open to refugees from Ukraine. While over two million people have made it out of Ukraine, prejudice has seeped into the asylum-seeking process. White Ukrainians have received preferential treatment in their escape, leaving foreign nationals and people of color scrambling for alternatives.

There has also been a lot of performative activism, particularly from businesses, regarding the situation.

For example, restaurants and bars are changing the names of drinks like Moscow mules and White Russians to show their support for Ukraine. But how does that actually help anybody? It’s an easy way to say you care about a situation without putting any actual effort into it.

Many liquor stores are also pulling Russian-owned alcohol off their shelves, even though they’ve already paid for their shipments. There’s no point in hiding it from customers. It makes sense not to order more after the fact, but immediately pulling liquor off the shelves is just hurting American-run businesses.

The best way to directly help people in Ukraine is by donating your money. There are a number of groups in the country, including the International Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and the International Rescue Committee

One of the best things you can do is stay up to date on information coming out of Ukraine. I follow the Kyiv Independent and Terrell Jermaine Starr, an American journalist who has been reporting from Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s invasion. Misinformation often runs rampant, especially as we get most of our information from social media. It is important who and where you get your information from.

As Americans, we must remember our privileges. As you go about your day, recognize how lucky you are to be safe.