Photo credit: UNSPLASH/YOHAN MARION

Understanding and responding to the Russia-Ukraine war from a distance

Ukrainian and Russian youths share why the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis matters to Singaporeans and what we can learn from it.

Tricia Kuan

A tiny coffee addict with a really weird frog obsession.

Published: 4 March 2022, 9:34 AM

Like most, witnessing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unfold on the news instilled a sense of dread and uncertainty in me. 

What was initially brushed off as empty threats by many quickly escalated into a full-scale invasion, which has resulted in the loss of countless innocent lives. 

It was surreal to think that I was bearing witness to an actual war panning out, something that I thought I’d only be reading about in history books.

In a world where we’re bombarded with headline after headline, it’s easy to become desensitised to bad news such as school shootings or a war. Especially when it occurs in a completely different country. 

We may send generous donations or share about the war on our social media pages, but life generally goes on as per usual for us in Singapore. 

 

Many come to rely on social media posts to understand more about the situation and share it with their followers. PHOTO CREDIT: SCREENSHOT FROM THIR.ST AND FINANCIAL TIMES INSTAGRAM

 

It’s true we might feel the pinch in areas such as a rise in petrol and electricity prices, but do we genuinely comprehend what it means to wake up knowing each new day may be your last? And if we did, would we be able to continue as we are? 

Through a mutual friend, I connected with Olga and Polina, a Ukrainian and Russian citizen respectively, to learn about how this crisis has turned their lives upside down.

Olga, 18, and Polina, 20, have been studying in the United Kingdom for years. They stayed in the same house while they were in boarding school. Their nationalities, the ability to speak the same language and the fact that Olga was dating Polina’s best friend at the time, started a friendship of three years so far.

Polina (left) and Olga (right) before a Christmas dinner back when they were in boarding school. PHOTO CREDIT: OLGA

 

Fortunately, Olga and Polina’s friendship has not been affected as they both condemn Russia for the invasion of Ukraine. However, the conflict has caused strain on Olga’s friendships with other Russians, some of whom send derogatory messages whenever she posts about Ukraine. 

“It makes me really angry that a lot of people are ignorant about what’s happening… when I see my friends homeless, going to war, and my dad coming from a safe place to fight because he thinks donating money is not enough,” said Olga. 

Being away from home, Olga echoes the sentiment of feeling powerless. When the bombings hit, she and her sisters spent two days trying to contact their family, who live in the capital of Ukraine. When they eventually crossed the border, her brother-in-law was forced to stay behind to defend the country, which has caused her to feel much stress and worry, Olga shared.

“When you’re abroad and you see this happening to your home country, you feel really helpless … You kind of rethink your whole life …  when this happens and your main worry is if your friends and family are alive,” she said.

 

Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, has been under intense fire from Russia. Recently, bombs took out a TV tower and blocked nationwide transmissions. PHOTO CREDIT: UNSPLASH/HRISTO SAHATCHIEV

 

As both of Polina’s parents grew up in Ukraine and moved to Russia before the Soviet Union fell apart, it is painful for them to see “the country they call home bombing the country they grew up in”. 

Their family has also been significantly affected financially, forcing them to find alternative means to fund Polina’s living expenses and university fees.

However, she added the situation back home is much worse. 

“Almost no one I know in Russia supports this war. There are people protesting on the streets knowing this will implicate them … Guys that have attended the army due to the conscription are terrified of being called into a war they do not want to fight in,” she explained. 

In her efforts to support Ukraine, Polina attended protests in London and donated to various centres and fundraisers to supply the army and refugees with medicine, supplies and more.

Despite this, Polina shared that she continues to experience discrimination for her nationality. She added that what frustrates her is when these comments are made by those of other nationalities who have no prior knowledge of the Russia-Ukraine conflicts which had been going on long before this.

 

A protest for Russia to stop its invasion of Ukraine which took place in Germany. PHOTO CREDIT: UNSPLASH/WILHELM GUNKEL

 

Polina added that contrary to popular belief, this war did not come out of nowhere. For years, the citizens of Russia have been protesting and asking for help internationally but to no avail, she shares.

“So many Russian citizens have family or roots in Ukraine and we do not want our brothers to be killed, and yet the actions of a madman are influencing a whole nation,” she said.

Most of all, both Olga and Polina shared that they hope for the war to end as quickly as possible.

“My biggest hope is for a change within Russia itself following what is predicted to be one of the biggest protests so far,” Polina said.

I admit that I’m guilty of feeling fatigued and overwhelmed after seeing constant news about the war in the past few days. But having these conversations with Olga and Polina served as a reality check which put things into perspective.

What we see as a distant conflict is a devastating war for Russian and Ukrainian citizens alike.

 

People mourn as both Ukrainians and Russians continue to suffer unspeakable losses. PHOTO CREDIT: UNSPLASH/DOVILE RAMOSKAITE

 

Olga and Polina implored Singaporean youth to understand the gravity of the situation, even if we are not directly affected by it. 

They agreed that more can be done instead of posting on social media. Rather, those who have the capacity should consider actively donating money, clothes, equipment and medicine to better tip the scales in Ukraine’s favour. 

Being in Singapore, there is a limit to how much help we can provide. That said, it is still heartwarming to see many youth in my circles trying to raise awareness and do their part to show their support for Ukraine. 

In a time where our world is so interconnected, it’s all the more important for us to be in the know about these situations because they can and will affect us. From inflated prices to the concern of our security, in our connected world, a global crisis like this means we’re all in it together.

It’s not going to be a walk in the park. Fake news and misinformation can spread like wildfire at the click of a button. Take incidents where supposed footage of the fighting in Ukraine turned out to be video game footage. Neglect to fact check the sites you’re donating to, and you might end up donating to scammers or unverified sources.

Being well-informed and digitally literate will help us to fully understand what’s happening. This way, we can do our part by sharing reliable information instead of drawing and sharing uninformed opinions and unverified claims which might do more harm than good.

The world is banding together to help Ukraine in its time of need. It is my hope that with our joint support, this brutal war will come to a swift end and there will finally be peace for both Ukrainians and Russians.

Refer to the list below for some Humanitarian Aid resources and organisations you can donate to:

Singapore Red Cross: https://www.giving.sg/singapore-red-cross-society/ukraine-crisis

UNICEF: https://www.unicefusa.org/?form=FUNKBHMZQDQ

UNHCR: https://donate.unhcr.org/int/en/ukraine-emergency 

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