"Good evening, we are from Ukraine", 4.4.2022
Mariia Feshchenko, WU student and moderator
Borys Prykhodko, WU student
Representatives of “Unlimited Democracy“, a NGOwith the mission to promote democracy
Arnold Schuh, Director of the Competence Center for EM&CEE
President Putin’s war on the Ukraine has shocked the world. The Russian military invaded its neighbor without any reason and began the biggest war in Europe since WWII. This war has caused unimaginably humanitarian pain and massive destruction to the infrastructure and economy in the Ukraine. More than 2.5 million of Ukrainians have left their country so far. Lives, accommodations, jobs and incomes have been lost and students struggle to continue their education.
So let us listen to the view of Ukrainian students from the WU. How do they see the causes and effects of this war? How are they personally affected by it?
Mariia Feshchenko, student of the Bachelor’s BESC program at WU, acted as moderator of this panel discussion and opened the event with a brief overview of the occurrences in the war-ridden Ukraine. The phrase “Good evening, we are from Ukraine” originates from Vitaliy Kim the governor of the Ukrainian southern region of Mykolaiv. So he usually starts his typical morning video reports about the situation in the region that have become very popular in the Ukraine and garner half a million views.
“We are also from Ukraine and, at the moment, 341 Ukrainian students are studying at WU” – with these words Mariia opened her speech. She presented photos from destroyed Ukrainian cities and infrastructure and from people fleeing the fights. For Ukrainians the war is a reality that they live in: a wedding during a break, people taking shelter in a metro station in Kharkiv, a student working on his laptop in an underground shelter in Kyiv and a woman saving disabled dogs in Irpin that has been under heavy Russian shelling and air strikes.
Before the Russian invasion, Ukraine had lots of things to be proud of. They have worked hard on improving their democracy. They made progress in advancing transparency, promoting pluralism in the media scene and investigating the shady activities of powerful figures. Almost 80% of the 18-23 age group study in the higher education system, making the Ukraine to one of the most educated societies in the world.
While the Ukraine is mostly associated with “black earth” and as a major producer and exporter of crops, Mariia shed light on other industries where Ukrainian businesses excel. Ukraine is the home of the producer of the biggest cargo aircraft of the world, the Antonov An-225 Mriya (which was destroyed by Russian troops at the beginning of the war), fashion designers such as Ksenia Schnaider, Ruslan Baginskiy or Etnodim and a strong software and IT sector including the unicorns GitLab, a software development platform, and online writing assistant Grammarly.
For many people the Russian aggression and invasion into Ukraine began only a month ago. However, it all started in 2014, when the Russian army occupied Crimea and supported separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk to establish puppet states there. Since then Ukraine has been in a war with Russia. During all these years some 14.000 people have died.
Why is this all happening? President Putin denies the Ukraine independency and the status of a sovereign state. He wants to expand the so-called “Russian world” to its neighboring countries and former Soviet republics. He claims that all Russian speakers are Russian, belong to the Russian culture and need to be protected. He also makes a case of preventive self-defence. But Ukrainians don’t want to follow this ideology. They want to live freely in an independent and democratic country guided by European values. The Ukrainian people has proven this stance in elections and protests starting with the Orange revolution in 2004 and followed by the Maidan protests in 2014. Today the Ukrainians are fighting for their freedom and independence again.
Borys Prykhodko, student of the Quantitative Finance Master Program at WU, talked about the effects of this war on Ukraine’s economy and foreign trade. The overall economic losses due to the war are estimated at US-$ 600 billion including GDP decline, stop in investments, outflow of labor and additional defense and social support costs so far. Direct damage to infrastructure amounts to US-$ 63 billion. Regarding foreign trade, the war stopped nearly the exports that accounted for US-$ 68 billion in 2021. Due to rich soils and a favorable climate, Ukraine had become a top producer and exporter of crops. The Ukraine exports 10% of all wheat, 13% of all corn and 41% of sunflower oil in the world. Wheat and corn account for almost 30% of all calories or simply all food in the world. So the breakdown of the wheat and corn production and export threatens the food security in the main importing countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia (Egypt, Yemen, Israel, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey etc.) – overall 400 million people depend on grain supplies from the Ukraine. The lack of Ukrainian sunflower oil is already visible in grocery stores in Berlin and Vienna and Belgium’s famous frites maker have troubles finding alternative producers in short time.
The Western sanctions are hitting Russia hard too. While Russia’s Central Bank recently was successful in stabilizing the ruble exchange rate by introducing artificial restrictions in trading again, the mid- to long-term outlook for the Russian economy is gloomy. Western firms stopped exports to Russia and Russian banks were excluded from international payment systems. Since the invasion began, more than 500 Western firms have announced their withdrawal from Russia or suspension of their operations including such global heavyweights as BP, Shell, Heineken, IKEA and Volvo Trucks. While among Austrian firms OMV decided to divest its Russian assets, Raiffeisen Bank International is still considering its position in Russia.
Then Arina Yena and Veronika Arbatova, two representatives of “Unlimited Democracy – Verein zur Förderung der Demokratie”, a non-governmental organization founded to promote democracy, told the audience about their current initiatives and gave advice on how to support the Ukraine in this war. The Ukrainian diaspora in Vienna created a crisis team under the umbrella of Unlimited Democracy that operates in three directions: humanitarian aid for Ukraine, support for Ukrainian refugees in Austria and political and communicative activism including protests and public relations. They pointed out that “little things matter” such as providing accommodation, raising the voice to strengthen sanctions against Russia and countering fake news by Russian propaganda on social media. In their view, we are still underestimating the threat of Russia for Europe, especially for countries like the Baltics and Poland – “today we are all Ukrainians”.
The presentations left the audience in consternation. The personal accounts of the presenters and some guests were deeply moving. And the initiative and dedication of the proponents impressed all in the audience.
Website “Unlimited Democracy”: www.unlimiteddemocracy.com/stand-with-ukraine-1
Support and donations for Ukraine: https://helpforukraine.at/de