Updated: Mar 18
A UM-Dearborn student with Ukrainian roots sheds light on the ongoing conflict.
Richard Tharrett, Staff Writer - News
Church bells and air raid sirens rang out simultaneously in Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv in the early morning hours of Thursday, Feb. 24 after several explosions signaled the official beginning of a Russian invasion.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia declared the start of a “special military operation” during a statement a few hours earlier on Thursday.
“Anyone who tries to interfere with us, or even more so, to create threats for our country and our people, must know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences as you have never before experienced in your history,” Mr. Putin added during his declaration on Thursday.
The United Nations Security Council convened shortly after these attacks to an objectively ironic scene with Russian ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, presiding as chair despite his country seemingly declaring war on Ukraine thus breaking countless UN peace agreements.
Ukraine's ambassador to the UN, Sergiy Kyslytsya, did not mince words in condemning Russian aggression telling the Russian ambassador, “There is no purgatory for war criminals. They go straight to hell.”
As chaos looms in Kyiv, many Americans are wondering:
What happens next?
Why does Putin want Ukraine?
Will the Ukrainians fight?
Daniel Heller is an Industrial Engineering student at the University of Michigan-Dearborn with deep ties to Ukraine.
Though he grew up in Germany and moved to the U.S. three years ago, Heller’s mother is Ukrainian and his extended family, including his 98-year-old great grandmother, is still in Ukraine.
“They also don’t plan on moving. They plan on actually fighting even though they have a visa for America and also for Germany. They all say they would rather stay and fight in order to protect their country rather than move out,” Heller said during an interview with the Michigan Journal Wednesday afternoon.
Heller’s comments about his family’s unwavering dedication to their country mirror Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's address to the nation on Tuesday in which he said, “we don’t owe anything to anyone, and we will not give away anything to anyone.”
Heller sees this latest assault on Ukraine simply as a continuation of Putin’s totalitarian efforts to reclaim Ukraine and reestablish Soviet-era geographic control of Eastern Europe.
“I believe that he's trying re-established to some extent the USSR, at least graphically, and the great power that they had beforehand,” Heller said. “The more Ukraine will prosper the more I believe Russia will try to take it over. From a Russian perspective, if the country next to you has a different economic model and different values but the people are from the same stem — from the same group — but they prosper more than you do, that's horrendous for you — literally.”
Throughout history, Ukraine has been suppressed by Russia in attempts to subdue the Ukrainian people under a unified Slavic empire which would become The Soviet Union in 1922.
Between 1932 and 1933, millions of Ukrainians were killed in the Holodomor, a man-made famine engineered by the Soviet government of Joseph Stalin to eliminate the beginnings of the Ukrainian independence movement.
“What seems like half my family tree got killed during the Holodomor. My great grandfather was sent to the gulag for having a tattoo of the Ukrainian flag on his chest,” Heller explained. “The reason I see for the war to be happening right now is to diminish Ukrainian culture. So, I don't think that a diplomatic solution will be an answer.”
Contrary to what Putin might have the world think, Heller argues that a vast majority of Ukrainians do not identify as Russian.
“The culture of Ukrainians, to some extent, has been built upon being against Russia throughout history…. real Ukrainians are most definitely against Russia. It’s very simple.”
After Putin’s push into Kyiv on Thursday, the world is now left wondering why Putin is willing to risk a world war to gain a territory in which Russia is largely despised. Many argue his decision is not entirely rational or even widely supported in Russia.
“I believe that even in Russia the individual people do not agree with this decision because it's futile — there's not much to gain. The problem in Russia is that there's no opposition which means that if you are saying something against the current regime, then you're not gonna say it for long,” Heller said.
Though it may seem like there’s not much for Russia to gain economically or geopolitically from this attack, Putin appears willing to risk the potential of bloody war in the pursuit of his idealistic reintegration of a long-ago expired Soviet state and the reinvigoration of a Russian sphere of influence in Europe.
“Personally, I feel horrible that I can't really do much from my nice couch in America,” Heller told us. “Right now, the only thing we can do is simply make money and try to support our families and the people in order for them to protect the nation and the culture that comes with Ukraine.”
Listen to the full 15-minute interview with Daniel Heller below:
Sources: Associated Press, The New York Times