Russia, Ukraine conflict impacts students with international family ties

Evelina Gaivoronskaia | The Chronicle

While students go about their everyday lives, Ukrainian and Russian students are juggling issues stemming from the war in their home countries.

On the morning of February 24, Russian troops entered Ukraine from the country’s eastern border after decade-long tensions between the countries escalated. The current conflict stems from Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s worries about Ukraine’s decreasing loyalty to Russia, following the dismantlement of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), a federal union of multiple republics headed by Russia, in 1991. After this disintegration, Russia and Ukraine became independent countries. 

In 2013, however, Ukraine’s President Victor Yanukovych rejected six bills that aimed at promoting closer ties between Ukraine and the European Union (EU). This decision caused a national outrage among Ukrainian citizens.

Despite these events, Putin resolved that most Ukrainians wanted ties with Russia. This belief fueled the invasion and annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014. Following this, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the neighboring Luhansk People’s Republic broke off from Ukraine. The conflict continued until the cease-fire agreements, known as the Minsk Agreements, were brokered by Germany and France in September of 2014. The plan would require Ukraine to give the two regions partial autonomy and in exchange, Ukraine was able to gain control of its border through a ceasefire. The agreements, however, did not completely halt fighting, as both parties were reported for violating its rules, and an estimated 14,000 people lost their lives in the conflict.

In 2022, Putin again voiced opinion about the Russian and Ukrainian people uniting. Part of his initiative in ensuring a union was a  push for a guarantee that Ukraine would never join the North Atlantic Trade Organization (NATO), and that NATO would pull its troops from the Russian border. Ukraine is not part of NATO, but in 2008, the country officially applied for a NATO Membership Action Plan, a mechanism that would provide  assistance and advice for countries wanting to join NATO. Two years later, Ukraine withdrew from membership consideration due to the election of Russia-supporting president, Yanukovych, who was later voted out in 2014. That same year, NATO membership once again became a priority for Ukraine, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. 

Although Putin formally denied having any plans of an invasion, on February 24, 2022, Russian troops crossed Ukrainian borders as they launched their attacks in the northern, eastern and southern regions of the country. During an address on Russian state television, Putin claimed his reason for aiming to take control of Ukraine was “to protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide”, but the Association of Genocide Scholars has found no evidence of genocide occurring in Ukraine. The genocide claims have been brought to United Nations’ highest court by Ukraine, and Russia has boycotted the hearing, leaving its reserved seats empty. 

Sophomore Andrei Khudiakov follows the story of his home country through news outlets. Khudiakov’s mother is Ukrainian and his father is Russian, and he said that the news of the war has affected both him and his parents.. 

“I was hoping it wouldn’t happen, but [Russia] put so many troops on the border, I knew it probably would,” Khudiakov said. “I was so shocked.”

The invasion was as much of a shock to students of Russian heritage as it was for students of Ukrainian heritage. Sophomore Zhasur Dzhurakulov lived in Russia for the first 15 years of his life, causing him to never expect his home country to attack another nation. 

“I was angry,” Dzhurakulov said. “I didn’t think the Russian troops would cross the border. I thought they were just trying to scare everyone.”

As Russia has continued its military attack on Ukraine, over two million refugees have fled their homes in order to escape the nearing violence. Major cities in Ukraine like Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol have become battlegrounds as the Ukrainian people continue to resist Russian troops. Cities have lost power, water and heat due to heavy destruction. Khudiakov has relatives who are currently residing in Ukraine and said that his family’s first priority is getting them out of the war zone and to safety.  

“I am going about my daily life here and I’m just thinking about how much suffering everyone there is going through,” Khudiakov said. “It’s really sad that people have to go through that. Especially coming off a pandemic, where everyone was so united, and now everyone is fighting each other again. That’s very disheartening.”

Although Dzhurakulov has no relatives in Ukraine, the news of Russian attacks on civilians still has left an impact on him. His connection to the situation allows him to clearly picture himself in the place of the Ukrainian civilians. 

“I would never want to be hiding in subways for weeks, understanding that at any moment a bomb might hit me,” Dzhurakulov said. “I wouldn’t want to live a life where I would die due to the government. “

In order to discourage the continuation of Russia’s invasion, countries around the world have implemented sanctions against Russia. The majority of the sanctions came from the EU, the United States (US) and Canada. These sanctions consist of freezing assets in Russian banks, travel bans to and from Russia and bans on the import of Russian technology and oil. 

Although the sanctions were officially aimed at the Russian government and elites, they have affected all Russian citizens. After Russia was cut off from the global bank payments system, the ruble (the official Russian unit of currency) dropped to a value of less than one US cent. The fall of the ruble caused inflation of prices all over Russia and a surge of bank runs as Russians rushed to convert their currency into secure assets. Dzhurakulov said that many of his Russian peers have felt the effect of their declining economy on their daily lives. 

“I am currently talking with some of my friends online and many of them are saying that they feel very limited in their daily lives,” Dzhurakulov said. “They cannot go to the store and buy anything under a hundred rubles. It’s really sad, especially because they are not involved in the invasion at all.”

Besides the sanctions from different nations, many businesses, such as Toyota, Apple, Starbucks and H&M, are pausing sales or even leaving the Russian market permanently. Russian officials claim that they will be able to produce similar products with their own companies and resources. Dzhurakulov said he finds it funny that “all these years [companies] did not try to do anything similar to [the planned innovations], but when it came to an extreme event, they decided to try it now.”

Beyond the brands that provide physical products, many media companies are also reevaluating their operations in Russia. Facebook, Instagram, Spotify and Google are reducing the visibility of Russian content, while Netflix has suspended their streaming services in the country. Due to this, Russian content creators will see a decrease in their platform’s outreach, placing the country in a bubble of national media. 

The decrease in Russian media will not only reduce entertainment for those in the country, but for people around the world. A large portion of the content Dzhurakulov consumes is Russian-based, so the absence of it will leave a noticeable mark on his day-to-day life. For Dzhurakulov, it is evident that the sanctions “[won’t] just affect Russia, [they will] affect the whole world.”

The unpredictable actions of Russian leadership have left bystanders like Khudiakov and Dzhurakulov to anxiously follow daily news as they hope for the conflict’s resolution. 

“I’m hoping everything goes back to at least a little bit of peace,” Khudiakov said.