On Hope for Ukraine

Dr Claire McLoone-Richards, Department of Violence Prevention, Trauma and Criminology, School of Psychology, reflects on one year of war in Ukraine.

There is a haunting yet beautiful nightingale’s song recorded in a Surrey garden during the summer of 1942, as Lancaster bombers flew overhead on their way to a bombing raid in Germany. When I listen to the naturalness and purpose of this little creature’s singing, alongside the ominous rumble in the sky above, it is hard not to wonder about the way life endures despite its encounters with adversity. Over the last year we have seen how the Ukrainian people have courageously adapted and strived for a life they knew before the terrible invasion by Russia, as they commune as citizens in their bakeries, cafes, bars, and hairdressers. The remarkable spirit of resilience and defiance by the Ukrainian people is something of a gift within themselves, and indeed to us in the democratised world, as we watch and listen in amazement. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, reminds us that they are fighting for the freedom of their nation but also, for our freedoms and democracy. He is pointed in his assertion that ‘If our partners respect all their promises and deadlines, victory inevitably awaits us'.

Ukrainian flag flying against a blue sky

Our university hosted events on Friday 24th February to mark the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine. An event at The Hive presented a panel of experts to share their thoughts on the trials of the past year, including Karyna, a student from Ukraine who spoke powerfully of what she has endured. We also saw poignant video messages from colleagues at our twinned Ukrainian universities (Kremenets Academy and Ternopil National Pedagogical University). The sight of academic staff and their students in combat gear, standing shoulder to shoulder in the frontlines of conflict is unsettling and unimaginable for any of us is the comfort and safety of our own university community. Our Worcester colleague Professor Nicoleta Cinpoes and Dr. Imke Lichterfeld from the University of Bonn, hosted an online event entitled ‘Shakespeare Shelter’ to commemorate Ukraine’s year of suffering and survival along with a host of other Shakespearean scholars, academic colleagues and students from across Europe. These events have not happened in isolation, there have been many similar events within our universities across the UK, within our communities, towns and cities. These gatherings are public demonstrations of solidarity and hope for Ukraine and its people.

Ukraine discussion panel
A panel of experts share their thoughts on the war in Ukraine, including University of Worcester student Karyna

I work as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Violence Prevention within the School of Psychology, where I lead the MA programme Understanding Domestic and Sexual Violence. My focus has mainly been within the domains of domestic and institutional violence and abuse, and how to ensure trauma informed responses for victims and survivors. My working life so far has not required me to reflect so much on the wider concern of war, with the exception of research and best practice for survivors of rape as a war crime. My concern is that the effects of war and the aftermath of war increases the reality of domestic abuse in the lives of many women and children in Ukraine, and in Russia too.

There can be little doubt that Vladimir Putin sees Ukraine as rightfully the property of the former Soviet Union, which he now seeks to reclaim, whatever the cost to the Russian people themselves. His objectives to reinforce his political power and status on the world stage, casting a shadow of terror on vulnerable bordering countries is difficult to comprehend. Ukraine is a country of rich resources which he covets as his own for the wealth and prosperity of the selected rich and the oligarchs. There have been calls of concern about the signs of ethnic cleansing and acts of genocide perpetrated against the Ukrainian people, which we would do well not to ignore in the wakes of Bosnia, Rwanda and the current atrocities against the Uyghur Muslim population in China.  The United Nations has recently approved a non-binding Resolution  UN Resolution for Ukraine  that calls on Russia to end its hostilities against Ukraine and to withdraw its troops. However, the Resolution is aspirational, with no real bite or mandate for meaningful impact. Polman (2003) offers a salient reminder from past experiences of war and conflict that when the UN fails, it is really our governments who have failed.  

Expert commentators on situations of local and global conflicts emphasise the importance of dialogue and communications with all sides involved in war. It is fair to say that China has called for such efforts in recent days, despite some wariness from Europe and the US. A 12-point position paper released by China has called for peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, emphasising the need to avoid the risk of nuclear escalation and attacks on innocent civilians. I appreciate the reservations here at China’s proposal these are the early and encouraging signs of possible dialogue, of possible peace talks which should not be dismissed. I recall similar doubts in terms of the Northern Ireland peace talks, when it was unthinkable that former members of the IRA would sit with members of the British government and members of the Unionist party and others, to negotiate a way forward to peace in the North of Ireland after decades of violence and conflict.

I reflect on how we try to raise awareness and understanding with our students on our MA programme that safely working directly with perpetrators of domestic abuse is important in terms of managing risk against their (ex)partners and their children. This analogy may be a step too far if we think of Putin, but my point here is to emphasise the importance of dialogue, of talks, despite how challenging and even superficial they may initially appear to be. Successful engagement of a rising and threatening power in many obvious ways, is a preferred political outcome towards the reduction of aggression and an eventual cessation of violence, rather than the violent alternatives. It takes courage, it takes perseverance and a willingness to challenge.

The Eurovision Song Contest 2023 logo. The Ukrainian flag sits within the V of Eurovision, styled to look like a heart. The wording sits above the Liverpool skyline.

To end on a lighter note, I started with the song of the Nightingale, so I end with a nod to the song for Ukraine as Liverpool is hosting Ukraine’s event as the winner of the Eurovision song contest in 2022. Even if you are not a fan of this spectacular and joyous event, I would encourage you to tune in as a gesture of affinity and solidarity to the Ukrainian nation. 

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