On February 24, the world watched in horror as the posturing and threats from Russia turned into reality and an invasion started of Ukraine. The countries, which are two distinct and independent countries, have long been in opposition to one another, with Russian president Vladimir Putin saying that the Ukraine belongs to them.
The Ukraine disagrees – and has made overtures in recent years towards joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a westernized alliance of 28 countries in Europe and 2 in North America. Putin has used these overtures to support his assertion that Ukraine is mistreating Russian nationals who live in the country, and launched a military invasion on the apparent premise that he’s protecting vulnerable Russian people.
The truth, of course, is far more complex – and frightening. Here’s what we know about the invasion so far and what people can expect in the weeks to come. With fear and uncertainty climbing to levels unseen since the start of the pandemic and the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, the world is wondering: what’s happening?
UPDATING: Celebs Use Their Platforms for Good and Putin Hints at Diplomacy to Come
Since the beginning of Hollywood, celebrities have used their platforms for a variety of causes: some good, some weird. As Russia continues to press its military invasion of Ukraine, celebrities are again speaking out – this time using their fame and social media platforms to encourage humanitarian concerns. Here are some of the high-profile celebrities talking about Ukraine this week:
- Sean Penn: Actor and director Penn is currently on the ground in Ukraine filming a documentary on the Russian invasion. Penn has long been an outspoken voice on humanitarian and political issues, and he’s using his resources to tell the story of what’s really happening on the ground, even attending a media briefing at the presidential office in Kyiv. The presidential office has issued a statement welcoming him, adding, “Sean Penn is among those who support Ukraine in Ukraine today. Our country is grateful to him for such a show of courage and honesty.”
- Maksim Chmerkovskiy: Dancing With the Stars‘ Maks is in his home country of Ukraine and recently shared his fear on social media as he took cover in a bomb shelter, writing that he will, “never be the same.”
- Regina Spektor: Grammy-nominated singer Spektor shared a post on Instagram with a picture of a smiling child, explaining that it was a family picture of a celebration in the former USSR of May 9, the day WWII ended for them. Spektor goes on to explain that innocents are suffering for political greed, adding, “… it’s terrifying… this part of being a grownup sucks. Being this aware of how endless these circles seem to be. My grandparents with their eyes full of hunger and war and wisdom are all gone now, and I can’t ask them the important questions anymore…”
- George Takei: Star Trek legend Takei took to social media to encourage Americans to rally behind their president and in another post shared, “Horrified at the brazen, illegal, and bloody ambitions of the despot in Moscow. Praying for the many brave souls in Ukraine.”
- Blake and Ryan: Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds are well-known for their humanitarian focus. They are matching every dollar donated up to $1 million to the USA for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which provides aid and protection to refugees.
- Elton John: The music superstar posted on social media, “For over 20 years, the Elton John AIDS Foundation has supported some of the most vulnerable people in Ukraine with access to HIV services and care, as part of our commitment to communities across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. We are heartbroken and appalled to see this conflict unfold and our hearts are with the people of Ukraine who do not deserve to live through this nightmare.” John added that his organization stands for ending the violence and suffering.
- Bethenny: Reality star and entrepreneur Bethenny Frankel has raised $3 million and counting for the relocation and support of refugees from Ukraine. Goya Europe has donated around 100k pounds of food, and Frankel’s charity BStrong is working with them to distribute it where it’s most needed.
- Messages of support: Miley Cyrus, Angelina Jolie, Mark Ruffalo and more are adding their voices to support of the Ukrainian people.
- José Andrés: The celebrity chef and known humanitarian is now on the ground in Poland feeding Ukrainian refugees as they cross the border. Andrés shared that the people don’t stop coming – they’ve served tens of thousands of meals so far.
- Steven Segal: Rumors circulated over the weekend that the actor was on the ground participating in the invasion on the side of Russian forces. However, it would appear to be unsubstantiated rumor. Part of why the world was so quick to believe this rumor is owed to the fact that Segal is a known Kremlin-sympathizer and a pal of both Putin and Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenka. So while it may be easily believable that he would sympathize with the Russian perspective, at least for now it seems as though Segal is staying out of it.
All over the internet, celebrities are speaking out. Those with Ukrainian roots are sharing the horrors they’re hearing from friends and family back home, and other celebrities are pleading with the world to condemn Russia’s actions and stand with Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Russia marches on. Putin spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who scolded Russia for having a Cold War era mentality. Although China has spoken in support of Russia’s security concerns with Ukraine, President Xi encouraged his ally to seek a diplomatic solution. The Straits Times shares, “According to the Chinese media readout, Mr Putin outlined the reasons for Russia launching the ‘special military operation’, and told Mr Xi that Nato and the United States had ‘long ignored Russia’s legitimate security concerns, repeatedly reneged on their commitments and kept pushing military deployments to the east, challenging Russia’s strategic red line’.
‘Russia is willing to conduct high-level negotiations with Ukraine,’ he told Mr Xi on the call.”
While China was quick to speak in support of Russia before the invasion, now they’re put in the precarious position of balancing international trade interests with support of the looming threat to their West. Xi signaled that he would be willing to facilitate diplomatic solutions between Russia and Ukraine, giving Putin a Plan B if the economic sanctions being levied against Russia due to their military aggression becomes too restrictive.
On Sunday February 27, Ukraine indicated that they would be willing to meet with Russia diplomatically on the Belarus border, leading many to hope that the end of hostilities was near.
What We Know so Far
Late Wednesday – or early Thursday, depending on where you are in the world – the military invasion of Ukraine by Russia officially started. Here’s what we know about how recent events developed, before we circle around to the history:
- November 2021: Russia begins amassing troops along the border with Ukraine.
- December 2021: In response to the build-up of troops along the border and rising tensions, US President Joe Bidens issues a stern warning for Putin, promising swift economic sanctions if they take military action against Ukraine. In Mid-December, Russia responds with a list of demands for NATO and its allies, including that they withdraw military activity from Eastern Europe and Ukraine.
- January 2022: Biden reaches out to Ukranian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy to reassure him that the United States will take decisive action if the Ukraine is invaded. Throughout the month of January, the US and NATO met and made several diplomatic attempts to diffuse tensions. Western countries begin pulling diplomats and nationals out of Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv. January ends with China taking the side of Russia, calling their security concerns “legitimate.”
- February 2022: Through the end of January and beginning of February, Putin signals publicly that he’s still willing to find a diplomatic solution, but formal attempts end fruitlessly. Putin continues to deny any plans to invade Ukraine, even as forces along the border begin building to the necessary numbers to launch a full-scale invasion. Throughout the month, the US entreats Putin to deescalate and promises to continue to sanction any attempts to invade Ukraine – Putin continues to deny any intent to invade.
Over the past few days, it became clear that Putin was not removing troops despite making public promises to do so. US president Biden warned that he believed Putin would invade imminently, and the world held its breath as the days passed.
The worst came true on February 23 as Russia began an invasion of the Ukraine in earnest, bombing cities and bases and killing 40 people in the first 12 or so hours alone. The bombardment has continued, and President Zelenskyy has declared martial law and entreated citizens to fight back, a harrowing order that sent ripples of worry around the world. Tanks and troops have moved in behind the aerial attacks, sending citizens desperately fleeing.
ABC 11 reports, “Ukraine’s president said Russian forces were trying to seize the Chernobyl nuclear plant, site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, and Ukrainian forces were battling other troops just miles from Kyiv for control of a strategic airport. Large explosions were heard in the capital there and in other cities, and people massed in train stations and took to roads, as the government said the former Soviet republic was seeing a long-anticipated invasion from the east, north and south.”
Even as this story was being written, Russian forces succeeded in capturing Chernobyl – proving how quickly things change on the ground.
How Did it Come to This?
For those not paying attention, this seems like a sudden and unfathomable random move on Russia’s part. But it has been building for decades, and has its roots in centuries-old history. There is loose truth to what Putin says about Russia and Ukraine being one – at least, historically. Over a thousand years ago, the first Slavic state arose – Kyivian Rus – in what is now Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv. Both Russia and the Ukraine arose from this original state.
Over the intervening centuries, neighboring empires and nations carved up and reordered Ukraine many times, as Russia grew more centralized. In the 1700’s, the Russian Empire officially annexed Ukraine, banning the use of their language and putting pressure on citizens to convert to the Russian Orthodox faith.
In the early 1900’s as the Soviet Union rose to power, Ukraine fought tooth and nail to stay separate. A civil war weakened the country, and it was ultimately absorbed into the USSR in 1922. Ukraine suffered immensely under the draconian policies of USSR leader Joseph Stalin, with millions of Ukrainians succumbing to a famine orchestrated by the state.
In order to reestablish the farming pipeline devastated by the famine deaths, Stalin imported huge groups of Russian and Soviet citizens into the Ukraine, urging them to repopulate the area. These new Ukrainians rarely even spoken the language and had no ties to the country they were now living in – leading to a great displacement of culture among the native Ukrainian people.
During this time, the country became divided between the Western Ukraine which had greater ties to Western Europe, and Eastern Ukraine which was more closely aligned with the USSR and Russian society.
This sense of displacement endured in the early ’90’s with the fall of Soviet Russia. With the collapse of the USSR, Ukraine was once again a sovereign and independent state, but reuniting the fractured country was a challenge. National Geographic explains, “Crimea was occupied and annexed by Russia in 2014, followed shortly after by a separatist uprising in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas that resulted in the declaration of the Russian-backed People’s Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk.”
Putin’s invasion seems predicated upon the premise that there are more Russian citizens in the remainder of Ukraine that wish to return to Russian rule – and he is descending to save them from the westernized influence of the Ukrainian government and their NATO allies. Putin has sold this to the Russian people and Russian-sympathetic Ukrainians as a liberation of their nationals, a compassionate act. However, in the age of the internet – knowledge is power, and Russian citizens have arisen in Moscow in protest of the invasion. Clearly, not everyone believes that Ukraine is the aggressors and should be invaded – giving Putin something to worry about in his own backyard.
The world, of course, sees it a little differently.
Uncertainty, Fear – is WWIII Coming?
As the world watches the invasion with growing horror by the hour, people are beginning to speculate that this could be the start of World War III. There are a few concerns being bandied about the internet so we’ll break down a few of them:
- Economic concerns: The Russian stock market has already plummeted since the invasion began, and economies around the world tremble with uncertainty. The world faces the likelihood that certain imported goods will become scarce and gas prices will skyrocket. In a world already reeling and just now recovering from two years of the pandemic, it’s a bleak reminder that there is a long way to go before stability. If China continues to get involved, it could seriously disrupt global trade and commerce. In countries like the United States, effects may be felt if the invasion is drawn out or if Biden is forced to respond to both Russia and China – but for now, those impacts will be minimal and mostly felt along the same lines of those we have already experienced: uncertainty surrounding imported goods and higher gas prices. Food prices may also go up – continuing a worrying trend that started in 2020. In Europe, effects are expected to be more widespread as they are more reliant upon Russian oil and goods, specifically wheat.
- Humanitarian concerns: Since 40 people have already been confirmed dead and the fighting is moving city to city, the death count will rise, likely significantly. This is Russia’s biggest military move since invading Afghanistan in the 1970’s, which left a staggering death toll in its wake. NATO and allies are scrambling to draft sanctions and plan for possible military interventions – but they’re slow to mobilize as Ukrainian citizens actively flee bombs and gunfire.
- Nuclear concerns: Putin has warned NATO and allies against intervening, promising that any who do will face consequences unlike the world has seen. Whether this means tapping into their large nuclear arsenal, cyber-attacks or more – the threat has the world understandably shaken and worried. When it comes to nuclear attacks, what makes it unlikely is something known as, “mutually assured destruction.” Which is to say that any country Russia could turn their bombs against has bombs of their own – insuring both countries would likely suffer immensely upon the launch of a nuclear volley. Unfortunately that brings us to the next concern: cyber attacks. Over the past decade, experts have warned that the infrastructure in the United States is incredibly vulnerable to foreign attacks. This includes roadways, the internet itself, our defense systems and even the systems that control air traffic. Russia has already shown a disturbing aptitude for cyber warfare, launching small attacks over the years to test their ability to penetrate US security systems – although Russia, of course, categorically denies doing so. Theoretically, a coordinated attack on both security infrastructure and a nuclear volley could be within Russia’s capabilities – but that’s why we have allies. Countries around the world would react swiftly to such an act, leaving Putin right back where he started: mutually assured destruction. No countries come close to the nuclear arsenals kept by the United States and Russia, but allies being what they are – NATO has the high ground for now.
That leaves the question: will the world take military action? When Russia annexed Crimea, there was much posturing and banging of pots and pans – but ultimately, they were slapped politically on the hand and let loose again.
Many worry that this situation will be similar; the world will threaten, sanction, and promise retribution – and Ukraine will fall. This is a horrifying scenario that plays out with the death of thousands of Ukrainian citizens, but it could prevent the war from spreading beyond Eastern Europe – a tempting exchange for world powers. That assumes, however, that Putin would be content to stop expanding at the edge of Ukraine. While the Russian government has been laser-focused on Ukraine in recent decades and one could make the assumption that they’re content with reclaiming what they see as their land – Russia has a history of aggressive expansion, and assurances would have to be made that Russia wouldn’t do so again. But then if the world doesn’t respond decisively to an invasion of a sovereign country, what reason would Russia have to stop there?
It’s a frightening and heartbreaking scenario, as messages hit the internet from Ukrainian citizens dodging bombs and fleeing the invasion forces. Biden will address the world today about the invasion, and there is speculation that he may announce new sanctions – or possibly military action. So far, other countries have been focusing on economic sanctions and freezing Russia out of international business – a trend Biden will likely continue, for now.
While WWIII isn’t necessarily on the horizon, the uncertainty is palpable today as people watch and wait and hope. Meanwhile, innocent civilians are ground under the boots of the invading forces – a horror the world hoped never to witness again.