Benjamin Hernandez, Contributing Photographer

On Feb. 24, 2022, at approximately 4 a.m., Russia initiated an invasion on Ukraine that has resulted in the deaths of over 7,000 Ukrainian civilians, although United Nations officials believe this toll is actually much higher.

One year later, on Thursday, Feb. 23, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and University professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld co-hosted an interactive town hall discussion on the year-long Russian conflict in Ukraine at the Yale School of Management Zhang Auditorium. The panel discussed the needs of Ukraine one year into the war and addressed the misinformation that has formed around the conflict.

The panel hosted guests including Konstantin Usov, the deputy mayor of Kyiv, Ukraine; Olena Lennon, the National Security professor and Ukraine expert at the University of New Haven; and Alex Kuzma ’77, director of the Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation. 

“The most common question that you may have on your mind even though you’re here is: Why does Ukraine make any difference to us — halfway around the world, why should we care?” Blumenthal said at the town hall. “The answer is: Vladimir Putin will keep going, he’ll be at the doorstep of Poland and other NATO countries and make no mistake, he will keep rolling.” 

Blumenthal emphasized that  “time is not on our side,” and said that the U.S. must now supply more armaments, drones and fighter jets along with pilot training to Ukraine to prevent the Russians from attaining air superiority, which will prevent Ukraine from counterattacking successfully.

He said that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has continually said that what Ukraine needs the most are the tools to fight.

“Ukrainians are fighting this fight for their own independence and freedom but also for ours,” Blumenthal said. “So we need to provide Ukraine with military support, humanitarian systems [and] sanctions on Russia.”

Lennon said that for her, the war started in 2014 when her hometown was first occupied by Russians.

She said that one thing she continues to see from then to now is the sense of humor that Ukrainians have, in seeing “the triumph of life over death,” as well as their resilience and willingness to help each other out. Although she finds the humanity and solidarity of Ukrainians inspiring, she said she is cautious of being too optimistic.

“As high as morale is, as optimistic as we all are, one of the most decisive factors in the next few weeks is going to be who’s going to resupply frontlines faster,” Lennon said at the talk.

Kuzma said that in Ukraine, the Russians are not attacking military targets, but instead targeting hospitals, schools and universities — making the Russian invasion  “not a war … [but] clear genocide.” He specified that over 71 universities and 114 hospitals have been completely destroyed while over 1,000 hospitals have been severely damaged.

He compared the gravity of the Russian invasion of Ukraine to that of the attacks carried out on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by the Islamist extremist group al-Qaeda on Sept. 11, 2001.

“For all of us to really comprehend the dimensions and the depths of this human tragedy, we need to think how we felt on the day of 9/11, ” he said. “In Ukraine, every day for a year now has been 9/11 — there are days when there are 40 missile strikes, and on one of the worst days [there were] 96 missile strikes.”

Sonnenfeld emphasized economic pressure on Russia as a vital aspect of supporting Ukraine. 

Alongside Steven Tian ’20, head of research at the Chief Executive Leadership Institute, Sonnenfeld’s research team at SOM has been maintaining a database of companies leaving Russia, as well as researching Russian oil and gas operations. 

“Colleges and universities have a critical role as pillars of truth and integrity in society,” Sonnenfeld said. “Universities connect to the next generation and help … people who may not have the historic context to know how fragile democracy is … and explain why [Ukraine] is so important right now.” 

Sonnenfeld also alleged that the International Monetary Fund has been “deluded.” In particular, he claimed that the IMF and the World Bank have “given a weird exemption to Russia” to still be able to participate in their analyses, despite the country’s failure to submit the required national income statistics, which it has sealed since the second quarter of 2022.

Usov said that Ukraine is thankful for its cross-Atlantic ally and to its European allies for the support they have given the country throughout the war.

He also said that the country is not asking American soldiers to fight for Ukraine but for weaponry, as well as a consolidated diplomatic architectural structure behind the war to aid Ukraine in its efforts to “contain [Russians’] wrong opinion.”

“It’s our fight, we have to resolve it once and for all. … It’s not going to be passed down to the next generation and to our children,” Usov said. “But we are happy to receive some hardware.”

Kuzma said that as important as it is to challenge the “outrageous falsifications” of the IMF and the World Bank, we also must challenge those who are downplaying the war crimes being committed by Russia, such as Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson.

Kuzma referenced Thomas Jefferson’s idea that an informed citizenry is one of the key pillars of democracy, questioning whether a disinformed society allows lies and falsehoods to spread.

“Yale has a beautiful motto: lux et veritas,” Kuzma said. “It’s light and truth, not disinformation and deceit — Yale has an obligation as a powerful institution with a huge endowment to challenge the nonsense that is circulating around mainstream media and in the halls of Congress.”

Attendee Nerea Cal told the News she was excited to learn about Sonnenfeld’s research into the corporations that have continued their operations in Russia, thereby sponsoring the war. 

Prior to the invasion, Cal visited Ukraine for her research and spoke to Ukrainian government officials and military personnel about the cyberwarfare Russia launched in 2014 in the east of Ukraine. 

“​​They are very proud, very resilient people, very intent on what Russia [is] doing,” Cal said.  “I just hope that [the United States] and our allies remain strong in our resistance and support to [Ukraine].”

Dasha Valska ’26, a Ukrainian student at Yale, reiterated Ukraine’s urgent need for international support. 

As a board member of Ukraine House at Yale, Valska leads Ukraine advocacy efforts on campus, but she was glad to see the support from non-Ukrainians at the town hall. 

“We will continue fighting for our freedom and independence, but we are in dire need of international support that determines how long this brutal war is going to last,” Valska said. “I am grateful to panel speakers who made sure to convey this message.”

Usov and history professor Timothy Snyder convened for a panel on one year of Ukraine’s defense sponsored by the Ukraine House at Yale and the Jackson School of Global Affairs on Friday, Feb. 24 at 12 p.m. before Blumenthal presented a speech at a 3 p.m. vigil on Cross Campus the same day.

According to the United Nations refugee agency, as of today, more than eight million refugees from Ukraine have fled to other parts of Europe.

Correction 2/28: A previous version of this article misattributed one of Kuzma’s quotes to Usov. 

Correction 3/5: Usov is the deputy mayor, not the mayor, of Kyiv. The article has been updated accordingly.

BENJAMIN HERNANDEZ
Benjamin Hernandez covers Woodbridge Hall, the President's Office. He previously reported on international affairs at Yale. Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, he is a sophomore in Trumbull College majoring in Global Affairs.
YURII STASIUK
Yurii Stasiuk is a Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News. He previously covered City Hall as a beat reporter. Originally from Kalush, Ukraine, he is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College majoring in History and Political Science.