Russia threatens Ukraine’s capital; Baylor staff, students have personal connections

As Russia increases its military presence in Ukraine, citizens across the globe protest their actions. Photo courtesy of AP

By Camille Cox | Staff Writer

Russia has made its way to the outskirts of Ukraine’s capital after launching a full-scale military attack on Ukraine, invading the country from three sides both by airstrikes and by foot. According to the Associated Press, the health minister of Ukraine said that at least 57 Ukrainians have been killed and 169 more are wounded.

President Joe Biden addressed the nation shortly after the attack was confirmed, stating that Russia’s attack on Ukraine is “without provocation, without justification, without necessity.” Beginning Feb. 24, the United States will impose heavier sanctions on Russia and limitations on exports.

“This is going to impose severe costs on the Russian economy, both immediately and over time. We have purposely designed these sanctions to maximize the long-term impact on Russia and to minimize the impact on the United States and our allies,” Biden said in his address.

Biden insisted that the United States will continue to aid Ukraine with the help of European powers but will not send forces to engage with Russian troops.

“Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO allies and reassure those allies in the East. As I made crystal clear, the United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power,” Biden said.

Dr. Sergiy Kudelia, associate professor of political science, said he has been in constant communication with his family located in Ukraine, all of whom have felt the direct impact of the ongoing invasion.

“My relatives live in different parts of Ukraine; some live in southern Ukraine, some live in northern Ukraine, some live in central Ukraine,” Kudelia said. “So this morning, my half brother woke up to the bombings of the military airport next to the city he lives in. Other members of my family live in northern Ukraine, and they woke up to the news of the destruction of the television tower that happened overnight through Russian airstrikes. The television tower was destroyed in order to suppress the broadcasting of the local news and local media.”

Kudelia said he believes Russia will advance farther into Ukraine and will not be deterred by sanctions put on them, from both the United States and allies.

“This is a clear violation of all possible international legal norms regarding the viability of state borders, regarding the fact that countries cannot engage in aggression against others and regarding the fact that everyone has to respect territorial sovereignty of the state,” Kudelia said. “Despite this clear violation, we still see that many European states are reluctant to agree to much costlier sanctions against Russia. Europeans understand that these sanctions are going to have a negative effect on their own economies as well. They would have negative implications for their countries, and unfortunately, it looks like many European leaders aren’t willing to share the burden with the United States and others to share the burden of having these sanctions and pay the cost of these sanctions themselves, even in the face of such brutal and flagrant violations of all international norms.”

2008 Baylor alum Claire St. Amant joined the Peace Corps in Ukraine shortly after graduation, living there from 2008 to 2009.

“I really grew to love Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, and they’re a very resilient group of people and people I’m still in touch with today, so it’s been heartbreaking to see their country attacked — and they are very much under attack right now in an unstable situation and in a dangerous situation,” St. Amant said.

The Woodlands senior Faith VanVleet shares a similar connection to Ukraine after studying abroad in the country last summer. While there, she lived with a host family and has been in constant communication with her host sister as the invasion continues to unfold.

“The windows of their apartment were shaking, and they live really high up on the 11th floor,” VanVleet said. “She is so afraid and stayed home today, and there are Ukrainian planes flying overhead, and you can hear the Russian helicopters attacking the city right next to Kyiv.”

Both St. Amant and VanVleet said they built personal connections in Ukraine.

“Up until last week and even just earlier this week, they were living their normal lives,” St. Amant said. “They were going to work. They were coming home and cooking dinner. They believed they would get through this on their own terms in their homeland because Russia has always been a looming threat for Ukrainians.”

“Today has been really hard because I just go on as normal and I’m at work doing some organizing, but it’s so sad thinking about all that’s going on and worrying about her and her family,” VanVleet said.

The New York Times said that an airstrike near a hospital in Ukraine has left analysts thinking it could be from cluster munitions — a weapon largely banned by many countries.

“A photo of the suspected aftermath shows what analysts say are the remains of a Tochka short-range ballistic missile with a cluster munition warhead — essentially a shell filled with many smaller bomblets,” the New York Times reported.

Additionally, the New York Times said congressional intelligence said Russian troops appear ready to invade and take Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.

“My sense is that they may be going into Kyiv imminently,” Senator Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said to the New York Times.

“Our country [Ukraine] and our people experienced this last time during World War II when the Nazis were invading,” Kudelia said. “This was the last time when people were really threatened by the military force entering the cities. That was almost 80 years ago, and this is something that only my grandparents learned about and something to our great-grandparents and something that we heard from them as a long-ago story that would never happen again. For Americans, there was a Pearl Harbor moment, when out of nowhere you were suddenly attacked by the Japanese planes in Pearl Harbor; for Ukraine, even though we were hearing stories and reports about the imminence of invasion, very few people took them seriously, primarily because of the complete and sheer impossibility to imagine that.”

“When the Japanese attacked the United States, Japan was somewhere far away,” Kudelia said. “The Japanese had a small minority, a very small community in the United States. When Al-Qaeda attacked the United States on 9/11, these were Saudis from the Middle East. There was no cultural connection much with Americans because the Muslim community in America is very small. But when Russians attack Ukrainians, it is completely different. Almost all Ukrainians have family, cultural ties to Russia and friends in Russia and vice versa, so the sheer cultural proximity and the history of these ties make it particularly shocking and painful to experience this type of attack.”