Russia-Ukraine war. Lessons for all

2023-11-08 09:16:52


What illusions should the world dispel, what role do education and religion play in present-day realities, and what is the extent of the ecocide unfolding in Ukraine? Scientists, educators, cultural figures, diplomats, representatives of Ukrainian NGOs, a delegation of representatives from the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Peace Council (UPC), along with representatives from U.N. organizations took part in the discussion of these questions during a roundtable conference at the National Pedagogical Dragomanov University, which was organized by the Universal Peace Federation of Ukraine and UPC.


In his speech, which initiated the discussion of topical issues, Mykhailo Zgurovsky, Head of the Ukrainian Peace Council and Rector of the Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, pointed out that today it is important to understand why international security guarantors failed, and also highlighted five lessons that the new geopolitical situation in the world has taught us. (Read Mykhailo Zgurovsky's full speech here...)


Europe's turn may come next


The first lesson is that a powerful attempt was made on the paradigm of a new just world, which was established by the Yalta Declaration in 1945.


The second lesson is that the U.N., represented by the Security Council, is unable to continue resolving the problems, which undermine the international order, and is incapable of fulfilling its most important task – to guarantee the maintenance of international peace. "The inability to make important decisions is also inherent in the European Union and the OSCE," added Mykhailo Zgurovsky.


The third lesson is that russia's nuclear blackmail is becoming louder today. According to the UPC Head, this is a clear signal to the whole world that russia is not only waging war against Ukraine, but it has started a civilizational war against the democratic world.


The fourth lesson is that the collective West's sanctions against russia have proven ineffective. Russia has managed to increase its military budget, and studies indicate that russia will be capable of maintaining military operations at the same level for the next four to five years.


The fifth lesson is that the collective West provides metered, limited military and political aid to Ukraine, hoping that having satisfied itself with the capture of a part of Ukraine or even the complete destruction of the Ukrainian state and nation, moscow will leave the democratic world in peace.


In this context, Mykhailo Zgurovsky mentioned an article by General Valery Zaluzhny, Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine's Armed Forces, in the Economist weekly, which reads to the effect that the war becomes positional and prolonged. "In consideration of russia's many-fold superiority in resources, Ukraine will irreversibly lose the war of attrition within two to three years," added the UPC Head. "Next may come the turn of European countries, with even greater human losses and destruction."


Consensus and vicious circle


In addition to the above lessons, Mykhailo Zgurovsky outlined next possible actions of the international community aimed at preserving and safeguarding peace on earth.


Firstly, the proposal of President Zelenskiy and some other world leaders to reform the U.N. by stripping the aggressor of its veto right is the only possible way to restore this organization to its real status as a guarantor of global peace.


Secondly, according to the UPC head, the European Union and the OSCE should also get rid of consensus as a prerequisite for all decisions in favor of voting by the majority of countries.


"Of course, russia in the U.N., and Hungary and Slovakia in the EU have to vote for such reforms, which they will obviously obstruct," said Mykhailo Zgurovsky. "A vicious circle is emerging. Then the world will be faced with the need for radical changes in the global security architecture: countries that do not agree with evil must withdraw from the ‘old’ organizations that are unable to stop the war, such as the UN, and establish new ones.”


How to end the war in Ukraine? Is it possible to do so on the battlefield, or can the problem be resolved diplomatically in the new geopolitical circumstances? Is there an ideological basis for such a settlement? If so, what is it? According to the UPC head, the same questions arise concerning wars and armed conflicts in the Middle East, Yemen, Ethiopia – in total, in 20 parts of the world. "It is becoming clear that the prolongation of these hot spots is leading to their globalization," Mykhailo Zgurovsky stressed.


"Humanity is facing a fresh challenge – the search for a new, effective security architecture. This challenge is in the forefront of the Universal Peace Federation, the Ukrainian Peace Council, and many other peacemaking organizations."


In his address, Jacques Marion, Chairman of the Universal Peace Federation for Europe, commented on the institutional failure of the U.N. to achieve its peacekeeping objectives. According to him, the fundamental problem is the domination of a national egoism over the goal of the entire organization, and this problem is equally relevant to the EU.


Ukrainian education stands the test


One of the roundtable panels was devoted to education. According to Vasyl Kremen, President of the National Academy of Educational Sciences of Ukraine (NAES) and member of the UPC Presidium, the realities of the Russia-Ukraine war should be taken into account not only in the day-to-day life of Ukrainians, but also in the strategic dimensions of the development of society and the country, particularly in the formation of social consciousness and world-outlook orientation of Ukrainians, especially among children and youth. According to the NAES head, this task will be tackled primarily through educational activities.


Vasyl Kremen focused on the historical roots and geopolitical causes of the Russia-Ukraine war. According to him, they are based on the centuries-long russian chauvinism and hegemony, non-recognition of the right of other nations to self-determination, and of Ukrainians to exist. "In the russian federation, many people are less interested in a prosperous and happy life, the existence and observance of human rights, and democratic values, among others, than in the 'grandeur' of russia," stated Vasyl Kremen.


The NAES president thinks that the russian leadership exhibits a lack of understanding of the essence of the present-day civilizational progress, and is attempting to regress the societal development in the 21st century to those distant times when a country’s power was determined by occupied territory and population size. "At the same time, today country’s power has a different basis – human development, education, science, educational level of nations, ability to innovative development, and more," noted Vasyl Kremen. Among the reasons of the war, he also mentioned the traditional rejection of European values by russian society, including freedom, respect for human beings, and humanism.


Another emphasis of Vasyl Kremen's speech was that the Russia-Ukraine war is not only a severe test of the Ukrainian people, but also a litmus test for assessing the state of affairs in various spheres of public life, particularly education. In his opinion, Ukrainian education has stood this test with flying colors.


"Firstly, millions of patriots have been educated within the short span of history of independent Ukrainian state’s existence, and they rose in defense of their homeland from the early days of the war," said Vasyl Kremen. "Secondly, our soldiers are successfully mastering many versions of foreign weapons and equipment, demonstrating a high level of their own intelligence and, accordingly, the high level of our education. Thirdly, owing to our educators, the system is working despite the war, and our children have the opportunity to pursue their studies.”


Dieter Schmidt, Head of the Universal Peace Federation for Central Europe, supported the thesis that the consequences of the war extend well beyond Ukraine. He noted that this is a wake-up call, and a cause for Western societies to unite around democracies and reflect on their own shortcomings. Dr. Schmidt argued that the russian invasion is not merely a ‘physical attack’ over the borders of Ukraine; it constitutes an assault on the foundations of Christianity, and a denial of the basic values of human dignity. He asserted that the people of Ukraine are waging the war for a just and peaceful society.


Commenting on the role of education, Dr. Schmidt pointed out that it has the power to transform society, break stereotypes, eliminate barriers, and develop respect for each other. He added that it is through education that the new generation can be cultivated – the people who have knowledge and can heal the ‘wounds’ inflicted by the war.


Dr. Juraj Lajda, head of the Universal Peace Federation of the Czech Republic, gave a special presentation featuring the newsreel shots of Soviet tanks rolling through the streets of Prague. He was a student at the time, and he remembers "Soviet democracy" under the long-barreled guns of tanks for the rest of his life. According to Dr. Lajda, russia is acting even more cynically and cruelly than the former Soviet Union, and not only in Europe but across the world should people be aware of this, support and aid Ukraine.


Tomos marks the end of moscow patriarchate’s jurisdiction


Another panel of the roundtable focused on the areas of culture and religion. In this context, we also should learn some lessons. Oleksandr Sagan, Head of the Department of Religious Studies of the H.S. Skovoroda Institute of Philosophy under the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, told what they are.


"After proclaiming its independence in 1991, the state of Ukraine made a mistake in retaining one of the religious organizations as a political entity," said Oleksandr Sagan. "It was a spiritual tool of influence. The Soviet Union collapsed, but the moscow patriarchate did not. It remained a connecting link and a chance to restore the russian empire. Putin is attempting to exploit this chance today. The channels of direct influence on the population of Ukraine were both propagandist and educational, that is, the moscow church educated individuals in Ukraine who took up arms against their own country."


Professor Sagan believes that the granting of the ‘tomos’, or decree of autocephaly (independence), completed the process of gaining political independence of the Ukrainian state.


However, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the moscow patriarchate, functioning as a subdivision of the moscow patriarchate, still poses a threat to Ukraine's national security, as the moscow patriarchate had signed cooperation agreements with all russian law-enforcement agencies, known as ‘siloviki’, in the 1990s.


As Oleksandr Sagan put it, current Ukrainian legislation does not permit purging the church of functions that are not characteristic of it, especially political ones. Even the existing rules, particularly paragraph 7 of Article 12 of the relevant Law of Ukraine "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations", are not yet enforced. This paragraph explicitly requires religious organizations to specify their jurisdictional affiliation. "Today we have a manipulation of believers’ consciousness: they do not know whether the church they attend is affiliated with the moscow patriarchate," he said. "They believe it is not, whereas canons and all other circumstances indicate that it is a subdivision of the moscow patriarchate.”


Several discussants stated that the Russia-Ukraine war has shown that religious organizations in Ukraine are reliable partners of the state. They have been actively involved in helping refugees, volunteering, and training military chaplains for units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces since the beginning of the large-scale invasion.


In his address, Afsar Rator, Head of UNIDO Projects, spoke about interfaith dialog as an instrument for achieving peace. He highlighted how religious leaders and institutions can be mediators in conflicts. In this context, he cited examples of Rwanda, Mozambique and other countries. Mr. Rator also gave examples of religious conflicts becoming platforms for wars. We would like to add from our side: it remains an open question whether interfaith dialogue will be instrumental in achieving peace in Ukraine.


Ecosystems know no borders


Over nearly two years of the war (not counting the eight years of russian aggression in Donbas and the annexation of Crimea), a large-scale ecocide has unfolded in Ukraine. Serious environmental challenges facing Ukraine and extending beyond its borders were addressed in a speech by Valerii Tsybukh, Deputy Head of the Ukrainian Peace Council for International Affairs, and Head of the International NGO Environmental Security Council. He stated that today it is not only a matter of environmental safety, but also of our common future with other countries. Indeed, ecosystems know no borders.


Valerii Tsybukh cited statistics from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine: the russian aggressor has caused damage to our country in the amount of 2.3 trillion hryvnias during the full-scale war. Aggressor's actions threaten to destroy 2.5 million hectares of the network of Europe's protected areas, including 20% of all such areas – not to mention the destruction of the Kakhovka reservoir dam, whose consequences are hard to predict.


Another challenge highlighted by Valerii Tsybukh is the total laying of explosive mines in certain territories. In fact, 30% of Ukraine's territory is contaminated with mines, which is about twice the size of Austria. Another disastrous consequence of the war is the damage to Ukraine's most fertile black soil, called chornozem.


Today it is impossible to calculate all the environmental damage caused by Russian aggression. However, one thing is for sure: it will take decades to recover, and we cannot do it without the help of international partners and the efforts of the public at large.


And this concerns all problems about the implementation of the Ukrainian Peace Formula, the rebuilding of Ukraine, and the establishment of freedom and democracy in the world. These topics were discussed by Tetiana Fedunova, Head of the Kyiv City School Principals' Association; Ksenia Abramovych, student and youth ambassador of peace; Olena Shtepa, representative of the National Commission of Ukraine for UNESCO; and Chantal Komagata, Secretary General of the Universal Peace Federation Switzerland. Ms. Komagata spoke with emotion about Ukrainian children currently staying in Switzerland, and the importance of intercultural communication that enriches everyone.


Summing up the results of the conference, Mykhailo Zgurovsky observed that the round table delivered very important messages, giving the scope of cooperation with colleagues from the UPF and other peacemaking organizations.




Photo by the author