‘Ukrainian Update’ panel provides expert opinions on ongoing war

Dr. Stephen Gardner, Dr. Julie DeGraffenried, Dr. Sara Dolan, Dr. Peter Campbell and Dr. Serhiy Kudelia (left to right). Grace Everett | Photographer

By Camille Cox | Staff Writer

Baylor held a “Ukrainian Update” panel for the Baylor community to hear from scholars about the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine on Wednesday at the Foster Campus for Business and Innovation.

A brass ensemble from the Baylor School of Music began the program by playing the Ukrainian national anthem, followed by opening words from President Linda Livingstone and a prayer over Ukraine by Dr. Burt Burleson.

“We’ve been encouraging the Baylor family to join together in prayer for the people of Ukraine and to bring peace to that region,” Livingstone said.

The panel consisted of Dr. Peter Campbell, associate professor of political science and specialist of international security; Dr. Julie DeGraffenried, associate professor of history; Dr. Sara Dolan, professor of psychology and neuroscience; Dr. Stephen Gardner, Herman Brown professor of economics and co-director of the McBridge Center for International Business; and Dr. Serhiy Kudelia, associate professor of political science.

Each panelist offered a unique perspective, as they are all specialists in their fields of study.

The panel began with Kudelia — who is from Ukraine and is a specialist on political regimes, regime change and institutional design with a focus on Ukraine — explaining the deep infliction Ukrainians feel to their cities and homes being destroyed.

“For many Ukrainians, each of these cities means a lot,” Kudelia said. “It means part of their life that’s being destroyed right in front of their eyes. There is no humanitarian access to help people, to provide them with food, to provide them with water. There is no electricity. There is nothing that can help these people at this time.”

Kudelia said he visited his home country nearly six weeks ago with no worry of the potential invasion on his mind.

“We all believed that this was just part of some type of corruptive bargaining by Putin,” Kudelia said. “For many Ukrainians, it was just unimaginable that Russia would attack from multiple sides in such an open and brutal fashion.”

DeGraffenried, who is a specialist on modern Russia and the Soviet Union, explained history’s role in Russian president Vladimir Putin’s reasoning for invasion.

“Vladimir Putin is not a good historian,” DeGraffenried said. “To justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin has not simply reinterpreted the past; he is actively engaging in historical falsification.”

DeGraffenried said Putin has claimed to be defending parts of Ukraine against genocide, but she refuted this with factual data showing the falsification.

“Putin claims to be defending the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk against ‘genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime,’” DeGraffenreid said. “Genocide has a precise definition, codified at the international law after World War II in intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical or religious group. Ukraine is a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional state where Russians and Ukrainians live side by side.”

Campbell, who is a specialist on international security and international relations, said even with his expertise in the field, he was entirely taken aback when Russia launched its full-scale military attack on Ukraine’s borders.

“I was convinced that Putin would launch a limited attack using proxy forces in conjunction with Russian forces to overwhelm local Ukrainian resistance and secure another slice of Ukraine’s territory,” Campbell said. “Such an operation would have been low-cost for Russia in terms of men, material and international outrage. Instead, Putin launched a full-scale, multi-front invasion of Ukraine, seeking to capture all of its territory and change its regime.”

Campbell said he thinks the U.S. must act in Ukraine’s aid immediately to help the Ukrainian military continue to fight and protest against Russian invaders.

“Strategically, the U.S. must act more forcefully to reestablish deterrence,” Campbell said. “But it must also avoid acting unilaterally in NATO’s backyard.”

Dolan, who is a specialist on trauma and mental health, said while each individual in Ukraine will feel the traumatic effects of the war differently, they share the common factor of resilience.

“Folks in war zones are certainly experiencing traumas that are very different from a lot of the traumatic events that we here would experience, like a car accident or a robbery,” Dolan said. “Regardless, resilience is the norm. The people that we need to be thinking about include the war fighters, civilians, emergency responders, parents and children. And each of these groups has a different set of symptoms, a different set of prevalence, a different set of disorders of mental health that they may be experiencing.”

Dolan said it is important to remember the people affected by this war will have short-term effects and long-term effects of trauma down the road.

“Long term, we’re talking about post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD,” Dolan said. “We’re talking about depression, other kinds of anxiety orders and even substance abuse.”

Gardner led the panel through its discussion about the war, speaking on the economic effects of the war.

“You heard from President Biden a few days ago that the U.S. has cut off energy imports, mainly oil in our case, from Russia, but that’s a relatively small part; 10% of our imports of oil come from Russia, but it’s setting an example for the rest of Europe,” Gardner said. “Europe is far more dependent on Russian energy than the United States is — around 40% of natural gas and around 25% of the oil — and so the Europeans are now saying that they’re going to try to cut their energy imports from Russia by about two-thirds by the end of this year.”

Each panelist touched on the bravery and resilience of the Ukrainian people but also acknowledged that the conflict is far from over.

“Unfortunately, I have to say that the goals of the two sides are irreconcilable,” Kudelia said. “Russians would not see the territory that they acquired. Ukrainians would not give up on the people they lost in those cities and territories that Russian occupied; they also would not ever yield to the territorial demands that Russia is making.”