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  • Writer's pictureMariah Nimmons

After One Year of War, Enduring Themes Emerge

Reflections On A Year In Conflict

A mural painted on the side of two apartment buildings in the embattled city of Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast, on Jan. 2, 2023. (Francis Farrell/The Kyiv Independent)

February 24, 2023 bears a somber milestone, marking one year since Russia invaded Ukraine. The volume of media coverage across the many publications we refer to in this curation effort is extensive. In today’s collection we’ve selected an array of thoughtful and informative perspectives about how a year of war has reshaped the world, on both deeply personal and broader geopolitical levels.

In any other week, this section of our update centers on a theme that has emerged from the week’s reading. Today, however, we share with you the persistent themes that have resonated most deeply for us throughout this curation project.

A man walks among graves of Ukrainian soldiers in the "Alley of Glory" of a cemetery in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 16. (Sergey Bobok/AFP)

It’s impossible to think of Ukraine without conjuring images of her indomitable spirit. Ukrainians have proven time and time again their resilience and power of will. It’s reflected in different ways. In the prolific mobilization of civilians aiding in the war effort throughout the country, enduring daily blackouts, shelling, and scarcity. And in the unimaginable determination of the estimated seven million who sought a more secure future beyond Ukraine’s borders. On the back of this theme, we see another arising steadily: a mounting mental health crisis wrought by the trauma of war and displacement, and a healthcare system that is already profoundly overtaxed.

We’ve learned of the intricate process of cultural divorce as Ukrainians seek to reaffirm a national identity that is wholly distinct from that of Russia, a process of careful disentanglement at the intersections of language, cuisine, and the arts. This process, at times, sews division between Ukrainians whose heritage and identity vary.

We’ve followed the redoubling of anti corruption efforts, recognized as both essential to maintaining Western support and crucial to the eventual rebuilding of Ukraine. We’ve watched the role of women in Ukrainian society undergo a steady transformation in wartime, contributing in all arenas, from defense and logistics to humanitarian aid and wartime education.

A woman walks near a residential building which houses the local branch of Russia's governing party, United Russia, with its emblem bear and a patriotic mural on the wall in the town of Chekhov, near Moscow (Yuri Kadobnov/AFP)

Across the border in Russia, we’ve witnessed the undulating waves of public sentiment on the war, ranging from apathy and resignation to spikes of resistance, retreating into the background but never fading entirely. This sentiment is naturally tempered by the harsh crackdown on dissent of any kind from the Kremlin narratives. We’ve seen how Russians have adapted to a cultural divorce of their own as Western brands and services divest - or are blocked by the government - and Russian firms step into their place. From those with the technological know how, we’ve seen a steady stream of circumvention, with today’s technology enabling discreet tethers to the West. The Western exodus arrived in tandem with a barrage of sanctions, to which the Russian economy has proven surprisingly resilient, thwarting a multitude of expert opinions that a complete societal collapse was inevitable.

Thousands of Russians protested against the Ukraine war in February last year, but street demonstrations have since dwindled amid a harsh crackdown on dissent (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters via Al Jazeera)

Not only business has left Russia, but also people; we’ve seen massive waves of emigration, by those who oppose the war and by those who wish to avoid conscription. Communities of expats have popped up in Russia’s neighboring countries and Israel saw a greater influx of Russians than it did Ukrainians. As these new enclaves are formed, we’ve seen friction arise with local populations and a tightening of regulations on Russian emigration.

We’ve learned of Russian media and censorship’s part in framing and justifying the war, contributing, no doubt, to some of the aforementioned apathy, but also that it’s not wholly responsible.

Across the sprawling country, the war is felt differently in Russia’s regions with many of the poorest and ethnically non-Russian minority regions shouldering a much greater burden in the war effort. In light of this, many experts both in and out of Russia question if the growing schism places such a strain on the Federation that its integrity is at real risk. This questioning bleeds into questions of Russian identity - of whether it’s been altered by the war, and of how the war’s outcome, in either nation’s favor, might reshape this identity entirely.

Also to be considered is the increasing discord among political elites, spilling into the public sphere more so than ever before in Putin’s historically insular administration.

Beyond the war’s confines we’ve come to know the many ripples which stretch across the world. We’ve witnessed a galvanizing of Western support that is unmatched in recent history, and with it, the West’s ongoing challenge of maintaining a united front. Over time, we’ve seen experts, leaders, and segments of the public alike grow increasingly wary, questioning how long this level of support can be sustained as it is balanced against domestic affairs. We’ve seen consistent calls for international institutions - NATO and the EU - to transform to meet the present day, and the growing anxiety of former Soviet states over Russia’s designs for their own sovereignty.

A wider lens reveals a global reshuffling. Multipolarity grows increasingly viable as new partnerships, though perhaps not friendships, are strengthened between Russia, China, and Iran. Nonalignment on the rise and the Global South boasts a growing influence. With these shifts come the relatively quiet, but consistent critique, that the outpouring of resources and global attention for this war is unmatched in other modern conflicts, with many questioning what role the identity of the victims plays in generating empathy and support.

These observations are by no means an exhaustive set, rather they encompass some of the themes we’ve seen most frequently and that we feel will be of greatest consequence as the war continues, and ultimately reaches a conclusion. After one year, this remains our most ardent hope - that this violent conflict may end and we may find a path forward that is more prosperous and cooperative for the good of all peoples.

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