Ekaterina Serminova was sitting in a conference room when her phone rang with a text from her father. The text read: “the war has begun”.
Even before mainstream Western media broke the news, Serminova, an international student from Russia, gasped and turned to her peers to tell them that Russian President Vladimir Putin had launched an invasion of Ukraine. .
“I felt really anxious and scared, and I didn’t know what to do or how to feel about it,” said Serminova, a broadcast journalism and creative advertising student at the University of Miami.
In the early morning of February 24, Russian troops launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russian air, ground and sea forces entered the country; the most aggressive military act in the region since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
In the weeks leading up to the Russian invasion, the world watched with anxiety as Russia built its military presence on the border between Belarus and Ukraine, east of the capital, Kiev. Russian forces are also building up in Crimea, southern Ukraine, and on the Russian-Ukrainian border east of Kiev.
Tensions reached a boiling point on the morning of February 24 when Putin launched what he called “a special military operation” to enter Ukraine.
Russian tanks and troops entered Ukraine from the northern, eastern and southern borders, rolling towards Kiev. The Russian Navy landed in Odessa, a port city in southern Ukraine. Shortly after Russia launched a ground invasion, Russian air forces targeted cities and military infrastructure across the country.
The full-scale invasion of Russia displaced hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and left hundreds dead.
Despite the tensions that had built up before February 24, experts and the international community had not anticipated an invasion of this magnitude.
“It was a complete shock to many people working in the field,” said Dina Moulikova, a professor of international studies at UM who specializes in Russian affairs. “There was disbelief that it would actually come to fruition.”
Since Putin’s invasion, there has been an outpouring of support for Ukraine from international actors, public figures and even Russian civilians. Protesters around the world took to the streets in solidarity with Ukraine, from Moscow to Berlin.
In an email to the UM community on March 2, President Julio Frenk clearly condemned Putin’s actions and his support for Ukrainians in Eastern Europe and here on campus.
“The Russian government does not speak on behalf of all people in the country,” Frenk said. “We have many members of the Russian community who share our concern for those affected and our fervent desire for peace.”
Serminova, whose family still resides in Russia, said her family is among the majority of Russians who disapprove of Putin’s actions. Serminova said she hopes her peers will recognize that the Kremlin’s actions are not those of the Russian people.
“They don’t support him or his politics,” Serminova said. “They didn’t choose this government, they didn’t choose this leader, they don’t support his views.”
The way Western media and state media in Russia cover the issue tell two starkly different stories.
Mulikova said Putin justified his actions by saying the invasion was launched to protect the interests of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, unify identity between Russians and Ukrainians, prevent Ukraine from developing nuclear weapons and defeat the Ukrainian elites who serve as puppets to the West. , specifically in the United States.
“What I’m telling you is not my opinion,” Moulikova said. “This is how Russia, the Kremlin in general and Putin in particular have framed their rhetoric and how they have justified what is happening right now.”
Regardless of how Putin justifies the Russian invasion of Ukraine, what he hopes to gain from his actions baffles Mulikova.
“I’m not sure I’m being honest with you,” Moulikova said. “Maybe to some extent demonstrate to the West that Russia’s interests matter, that Russia is prepared to defend its interests… More on a domestic level, proving the legitimacy of Putin’s presidency and leadership. “
Although Putin continues to push his narrative in Russia, many Russians and the international community have spoken out in condemnation of his invasion of Ukraine.
“In all honesty, I don’t believe there’s a reason – any reason – that would somehow validate Putin’s decision as rational,” said freshman Olga Pilichowska. at the UM of Poland. “Even the most precious gain does not excuse the suffering of innocent people.”
On February 19, Poland lifted all restrictions on Ukrainian refugees entering their country. From On March 3, at least 505,000 Ukrainian refugees entered Poland seek shelter.
“It’s true, Poles are naturally quite cold, but this situation has sparked an act of nationwide unity and solidarity,” Pilichowska said.
At least another 449,000 Ukrainians fled to Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia and other European countries. Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 are prohibited from leaving the country in order to keep them available for military conscription.
Charleigh Peters, a junior student at UM studying abroad in Prague this semester, said the streets there were lined with Ukrainian flags and filled with pro-Ukraine protests. On February 27, tens of thousands of Czechs gathered in the streets of Prague to protest against the Russian invasion.
“There was overwhelming support for the Ukrainian people in Prague,” Peters said.
As neighboring countries open their borders to refugees, the international community has condemned Putin’s invasion. On March 1, around 100 diplomats walked out during the Russian Foreign Minister’s speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council to protest against the Russian invasion.
Three days later, in his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden condemned Putin’s actions and announced tough sanctions against Russian companies.
As international actors pressure Russia to end its attack on Ukraine, UM administration and students stand in solidarity with Ukraine.
“My heart aches for all Ukrainians who have been affected by this needless and wanton act of cruelty and inhumanity,” Pilichowska said.