Human corridor needed for people trying to flee Ukraine
This week, five experts gathered virtually on behalf of the nonpartisan think tank New America to discuss the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.
The moderator of the panel was Candace Rondeaux, a professor of practice at Arizona State University's School of Politics and Global Studies and senior fellow with ASU's Center on the Future of War.
Before introducing her guests, RondeauxRondeaux is also a professor of practice with ASU's Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies. made her feelings quite clear.
“I think I speak for the rest of the world today when I say I wish we were not having this discussion,” she said. “But here we are on the precipice of a new order, and also in the middle of one of the most devastating conflicts in recent history.”
For the next hour, Rondeaux and her guests discussed the war, the need for humanitarian relief, Russia’s disinformation campaign and what it’s like on the ground in Ukraine.
The panelists included Liza Baran, Ukraine country director for the Center for Civilians in Conflict; Beatrice Godefroy, Europe director for the Center for Civilians in Conflict; Ben Dalton, an Open Source Fellow in New America’s Future Frontlines program; and Aric Toler, director of research and training at Bellingcast, an investigative collective.
Baran, who earned her MBA from Kyiv State Economic University in Ukraine and now lives in the western part of the country, said, “It’s just beyond comprehension what is happening.”
She said that when she and her co-workers at the Center for Civilians in Conflict began developing scenarios late last year, as Russia massed troops at the border, “It was like, ‘Oh, no, it will never happen. It’s just crazy. It won’t happen.'”
Yet it has.
“It’s clearly become devastating,” Baran said. “It’s like a massive evil that was collecting its power for many, many years, and all of a sudden, it burst out.”
The panelists said Russia is fighting the war on two fronts.
Baran said Russia is using the “ISIS playbook" in its targeting of civilians, noting that ambulances and medical facilities have been destroyed. Rondeaux said those tactics, which include the “booby-trapping of toys that children will pick up,” are similar to those used by Russia in its conflict with Afghanistan.
“These are trends we have seen emerge and accelerate in the last few days,” Godefroy said. “This is unlawful practice and must stop.”
Dalton and Toler spoke about the disinformation war Russia is waging, particularly on the Telegram messaging platform. On Sunday, Telegram’s CEO said the platform would not block channels in Ukraine and Russia.
“The groups that we’re monitoring are all connected one way or the other and tied to private mercenary groups,” Dalton said. “They are explicitly saying they are engaging in info war. These are not small groups. Many of them have tens if not hundreds of thousands of followers.
“They’re a major part of how Russians are getting their news about this conflict. We are seeing false, deliberately misleading content that is being posted there. … So far, they’re trying to paint the Ukraine side as the ones doing all the evil.”
Baran said she was curious what was being said on Russian state television Tuesday, so she watched the news. She turned it off after just 15 minutes.
“The reality they are showing is that they are liberating us from fascism,” she said. “That’s their narrative, so it’s important for other organizations to provide proof as to what is the reality of what’s really going on in Ukraine.”
Dalton said the misleading content flows directly from President Vladimir Putin.
“I think he, in his mind, is very sincere when he says he wants to de-Nazify Ukraine, by which he means either arrest or liquidate these people he sees as having corrupted the country,” Dalton said.
“Unfortunately,” Rondeaux added, “the expression has echoes of a final solution toll (mass murder of Jews by Nazi Germany). That really is quite scary.”
Godefry said it's imperative for countries to help establish a “human corridor” to evacuate people where there is intense fighting. Over the last five days, almost 700,000 people have fled Ukraine.
“I think we should put all of our strength to advocate for this to be put in place,” she said. “It should be the highest priority.”
Rondeaux said there already have been reports of Africans trying to flee the war being turned back at the borders.
“They’re being turned away or being pushed to the back of the line as if they’re not human beings,” she said. “So, I just want to put it out there that there’s this sort of strange dichotomy we’re in again when it comes to European policies on refugees and asylum, and that needs to change immediately as well.”
Baran said she fears that no matter how much help is given, the mental health consequence for Ukrainians will be “devastating.”
“The psychologists on TV keep telling us, ‘You have to detach, you have to go back to your routine,’” she said. “But we can’t. Maybe when you’re sleeping is the only time when you’re not watching news and not seeing what is happening around you. I have a chat where they tell us when the (air raid sirens) go off in each city. It never stops. It never stops. Every five minutes there is another alarm, and people are called to go to the shelter.
“If somebody had told me in the 21st century this type of war could happen, I think nobody believed it could happen. Everyone who goes through this will have this trauma for the rest of their life.”
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Top photo: Russian soldiers carrying weapons and wearing military camouflage. Photo by iStock/Getty Images