OPINION: A Ukrainian-American weighs in on Russian aggression

Photo courtesy of Victoria Davidenko | Victoria Davidenko once went to Kyiv with the Peace Corps. She now considers returning as a militia volunteer.

Watching her homeland besieged from abroad, Victoria Davidenko offers her perspective on the growing crisis.

Like so many on Monday, Feb. 24 I watched with horror and anxiety as the armed forces of Russia marched into the sovereign territory of Ukraine. Under orders from Russian President Vladimir Putin, the largest European conflict since WWII had begun. 

 A first-generation Ukrainian-American, Victoria Davidenko has spent much of her life in Ukraine, including spending a year in Kyiv as a peace corps volunteer in 2019. She was kind enough to offer a Ukrainian perspective to The Ledger as the crisis in Europe grows.

What have been your thoughts and feelings as a Ukrainian watching this tragedy unfold?

“It’s been incredibly painful and heartbreaking watching it from a distance because on one hand, obviously, I wouldn’t want to be there. I am very fortunate and privileged to be having the Ukrainian-American perspective and being here in the safety of America. However, it’s a very different story when you have family there. I know hundreds if not thousands of people in Ukraine and I worry about every single one of them, and it’s really painful not to be able to help anyone directly from here, beyond checking in with them and donating money. My dad has been donating to the war effort since 2014, and that’s kind of been our life for the last 8 years.” 

So what you’re saying is, on one hand, yes it is heartbreaking but this has been an ongoing process throughout your whole adult life and even before that?

“Right, so I was around 13 or 14 when Maidan started happening and I still distinctly remember the fear I felt on Friday afternoon in ninth grade. I remember wondering if the internet and electricity would be shut off, and how would I contact my family? What will we do when Ukraine goes dark? That was a paralyzing fear.”  

Now, Maidan refers to the 2014 revolution in Ukraine which ousted the Russian puppet government under President Viktor Yanukovych, correct?

“Yes” 

Speaking of your family, what family do you have in Ukraine? Have you been in contact with them? Have they fled the country? 

“So, I have about 10 direct family members. Both of my maternal grandparents, a maternal uncle and aunt and a paternal great aunt, and various cousins. They are all staying put for now, they are in terrible geographic locations, they are in the Kyiv area. For them there’s nowhere to run and there’s nowhere to hide. Getting to the Polish border would take days. Trying to get out of Kyiv is hell and trying to get across the country is hell. It may honestly be safer for them to stay put.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called for foreign volunteers to come and join the fight. Are you or any of your family/friends considering answering that call?

“No, because my parents, for example, sought a better life here after the fall of the USSR and for them their entire life is here. My friends and family that are my age don’t have a strong enough patriotic pull to Ukraine, none of them have spent much time there. For me, that’s still up in the air, I can’t say yet for sure whether or not I’ll go. The window for me would be in 3 weeks after my finals, and who knows if there will be a Ukraine left in three weeks.”

What do you believe are Putin’s motivations for this attack?

“Putin has issues with Ukraine becoming more democratic. He’s very possessive, it’s an abusive relationship. He’s very unhappy with Ukraine’s aspirations of joining NATO. He doesn’t like that they want to join the European Union. I don’t know what his ultimate goals are, some people are claiming he wants to reinstate the USSR, but I don’t think Putin could inspire Communism in anyone.” 

 Do you believe that Putin intends to stop at Ukraine if successful?

“I think absolutely not. He (Putin) is already making threats against Finland and Sweden and other countries wanting to join NATO. Whoever thinks this will end with Ukraine just hasn’t read enough about it.”

Your country has been inspiring the world with their resilience and defiance. Do you believe they have a chance in repelling Putin’s aggression?

“So, prior to the invasion I had absolutely no hope, I had no hope until probably 1 to 2 days ago. I think the world including Ukrainians and Russians severely overestimated Russia’s ability to invade and I think that Ukraine itself was severely underestimated in its abilities to defend itself. Now that the sanctions have kicked in, now that there’s a lot of advanced weaponry being sent to Ukraine. I think they have a chance, but it is slim. I think the fact that Putin has threatened nuclear warfare shows how much this isn’t going in his favor. If it were going well for him I don’t think he’d be doing that.”

Do you think that’s just diplomatic bluster? Or do you think he’s serious? 

“I think he’s serious. I think he’s half-joking, but not.”

Kind of Trump-esque?

“Yes.” 

Do you believe America, NATO, and the international community are doing enough in response to this crisis? If not, what do you think should be done?

“I think that’s a hard question for myself to answer because I don’t know everything about what’s being sent to Ukraine. I’m touched by the fact that the world seems to be paying more attention. I am touched that Germany has reversed its choices on sending weaponry to Ukraine, as well as many other countries. I wish it came earlier, but better late than never. We’ll take anything we can get.”

On behalf of The Ledger and the University of Washington Tacoma, I want to thank Victoria Davidenko for offering her time and unique perspective on the growing crisis in Europe. 

All of us here at UWT should be concerned and invested in these events. It’s easy to think “Ukraine is so far away, how could this impact me?” Well, over a century ago, many people thought the same way when the Austro-Hungarian Empire invaded Serbia, it took only a few weeks for much of the world to realize just how wrong they were, by that time it was too late. World War 1 had begun.   

The truth is that we are all connected in a global community, and events like these have a tendency of snowballing into something much worse. So be vigilant, fellow students and faculty, pay attention, and take action when able. Many of us have a long time left on this earth, it’s time to think seriously about what kind of world we want that to be.

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