Considering a war, gaining a perspective


Michael Dolan

The school year is coming to a rapid close. Seniors no longer walk the hallways, as sophomores and juniors await Summer with a mere two full weeks of school left. Such a buildup to the end of our sophomore year could lead to stress for some, as we approach our first real experience with high school finals. Yet, while passing an exam worth probably 20% of one’s final grade may seem extremely dire, it is important to reflect upon the world beyond the walls of New Trier. 

While we worry about how a test score may affect our paths, countless teenagers on the other side of the world may have lost the hope of any kind of future at all, especially those in Ukraine. 

When we returned from Winter Break, embarking upon the Second Semester, 2022 seemed to hold great possibilities, especially with the Pandemic coming to a close (as the mask mandate in Illinois was lifted). Yet, as we prepared for our final stretch as sophomores at New Trier, President Vladimir Putin of Russia planned his own endgame. 

In late January, Putin tested the strength of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its loyalty to member nations, by making a set of demands regarding the fate of Ukraine in the organization. Putin ordered NATO to never offer membership to Ukraine, and to reduce its presence in Eastern Europe significantly. While making such “requests,” the Russian military had accumulated about 100,000 troops along the border of Ukraine. 

The world, including NATO, witnessed as one of the largest military powers in the world had appeared to prepare for invasion, ultimately leading to war. How did this happen?

In order to fully grasp such a question, I visited the New Trier Russian Club in order to understand their perspective. The club includes members with family roots in both Ukraine and Russia.

In late January, our discussion focused on the tension between Ukraine and Russia beginning with the establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1922. The Soviet Union grew increasingly totalitarian under the rule of Joseph Stalin from the late 1920s to 1953.

Pursuing a policy of mass agricultural production, Stalin eliminated private property throughout the Soviet Union, forcing countless families to lose their farms (the main source of their livelihoods). Such a transition led to the harsh treatment of Ukrainian citizens, as many farmers resisted such a policy of collectivization, leading to their arrest. Those that were not censored, ultimately starved at the hands of Soviet made famines (as food and livestock were confiscated).

The Soviet Union fell in 1991, under the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev. Since then, Russia has continued to intervene with the independent Ukrainian government, especially in elections which occurred during the Orange Revolution (when a pro-Russian candidate won the election). 

The Orange Revolution was the beginning of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine in the 21st century, which occurred through the 2010’s, with the Russian invasion of the Ukrainian state of Crimea. Such events plague the country today, especially with Vladimir Putin’s constant pressure upon the border, along with his use of propaganda throughout Russia.

Prior to any invasion of Ukraine, Putin was constantly propelling the Russian people towards war, creating stories of Ukrainian threats upon the nation. Russian Club touched upon such propaganda efforts and explained how citizens of Ukraine witnessed as Russian school buses were bombed (scapegoating Ukrainians for such an event). Russia also strategically uses social media to spread their false narrative.

Being a cultural group, Russian club has only wanted peace, and had hoped Putin would never take a step towards invasion. They claim that both countries will lose in such a war. 

This war between Russia and Ukraine may never truly end, as conflict has been ravaging Eastern Europe for generations. 

As we reflect upon the end of the school year, we, as sophomores, gain some perspective when we look at a war that is wreaking havoc.