Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Speaking Out and Writing About Russia's War Against Ukraine

Already in January 2022, I started being approached by journalists asking me whether I thought that an invasion of Ukraine was imminent, and my interview with a Bengali journalist was published on January 25, 2022 (in Bengali) in the Daily Amader Shomoy (Bengali for 'Our Times'). The article appears below. And, yes, I did, and I provided reasons why. A colleague at UMass Amherst, who has several Bengali PhD students, had one kindly translate the article back to English so that I could check whether my original answers to questions posed by the journalist were appropriately captured (for the most part, they were).

I had a "feeling" similar to that of two years ago, that the world was going to soon change for us and it has. In 2020, it was the COVID-19 pandemic, and, now, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a sovereign nation, which had not provoked the aggressors.

My first language is Ukrainian and my parents were WWII refugees from Ukraine, having settled in Canada, where I was born, before relocating to the United State.  I have been to Ukraine, for a conference in Yalta, and also to an academic business meeting in Kyiv since I have had a long association with the Kyiv School of Economics and now am deeply honored to have been elected Co-Chair of its Board of Directors. There is still a family home in Ukraine, where my cousin has resided for part of the year, but is not there now. Ukraine is in my DNA.

On February 24, 2022, when the massive Russian invasion of Ukraine began (remember, they also took over Crimea in 2014 and have been assaulting the Donbas area in eastern Ukraine for several years now), I was teaching my Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare class, at which the top UN official from Armenia, Dr. Denise Sumpf, was speaking that day. She had been to a virtual UN Security Council Meeting only hours before. 

A few days after, I was contacted by a journalist, Jim Kinney, who writes for The Springfield Republican and masslive.com. He interviewed both my husband and me and our local priest, Father Krip, for an article that was published on February 28, 2022. He asked whether he could use the photo below for the article, and I gave my permission. The wearing of Ukrainian colors, as in the flag of yellow and blue, I continue to do for many interviews with the media since and with the Ukrainian flag in the background. I used "cultural genocide" to describe what I was seeing early on, recognizing that it was only a matter of time before "genocide" would be the actuality and the reality, as it is now, with Russia's military killing innocent civilians, including children, women, and the elderly.

One has to understand that academics are very busy, as it is, with responsibilities of teaching, research, and service. I consider public outreach and responding to media requests, given one's expertise, as also being essential for a professor. Since the war against Ukraine began, I have responded to inquiries from The New York Times, the Associated Press, Vox, Business Insider, and Forbes, among other media outlets,  and have been interviewed for multiple podcasts and radio shows in the US and even Canada. I was even interviewed by a Vietnamese journalist for an article that was published in Vietnamese.

The interviews have covered a diversity of topics, including the impact of the war on food insecurity and food prices, since Ukraine is the breadbasket of the world.  This is the least that I can do to keep people informed about the immense impacts globally of the Russian war on Ukraine, a country with a beautiful language, lovely culture, many natural resources, including its very rich soil for agriculture, and which has been independent since 1991.  I will continue to speak out and to write and to support my friends and colleagues in Ukraine as they battle for freedom valiantly and with incredible dexterity and intelligence, and respond now to the growing atrocities committed by the Russians on innocent civilians that have outraged the free world. I give special thanks to Ukrainians working to preserve their institutions, including higher education ones and cultural ones. By writing and speaking out, we are part of the resistance. Of course, financial support is also essential and lobbying legislators and decision-makers to provide the Ukrainian people and its leadership with what they need in the war to preserve democracy for Europe and beyond.

The Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, where I teach, has summarized some of the highlights of the interviews that I have had the honor to participate in with the article, "Isenberg Professor Shares Expertise on War on Ukraine," posted on the school's website. 

My latest OpEd on the war against Ukraine and the call for a Marshall Plan and humanitarian aid was published in the Chicago Sun Times on April 5, 2022.

In addition, we have organized a group of faculty at UMass Amherst in a Task Force on Displaced Scholars from Ukraine, and have written a memo to the administration. We heard back today. There will be more meetings and additional momentum on this very critical endeavor. 

Words matter as well as actions. Even the President of Ukraine Zelenskyy recognizes the power of words and social media to inform, energize, and elicit change. Speak out and write and amplify the voices of those in Ukraine; not doing so, will prolong and exacerbate the horrors and the suffering and the destruction. Now is not the time to be silent.