ITHACA, N.Y.—Ithaca College history department and the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (FLEFF) hosted a panel March 3 to discuss the ongoing violence in Ukraine and answer questions community members had about how to help.
The panel, held on-campus as well as on Zoom, opened with global history professor and specialist in Ukraine Zenon Wasyliv giving some background information and junior Daria Karpenko, a Ukrainian native, sharing her perspective as someone with family currently in Ukraine.
Karpenko explained her devastation and confusion on what she can do aside from calling her family to check in. “I feel guilty because I wake up here and I’m safe. I can’t do much, I can just call my parent and friends,” she said.
One of the main topics brought up throughout the discussion was the role social media plays in global events. Social media platforms allow for stories to be shared internationally in an instant: On any given day, we see devastating stories and shocking images, something Karpenko believes is numbing. “It’s been really really hard going on social media and seeing these stories. Every day we scroll and we lose our feelings to it. I can’t stop reading the news. I can’t put my phone away and know that my family and friends are safe — I just want to keep checking.”
Karpenko also recounted seeing many opinions shared on social media, including pro-Russia military posts on social media downplaying the attacks on Ukraine despite her family’s accounts of lives taken and streets and buildings destroyed.
The first question in Thursday’s question-and-answer forum was about racism in regard to Ukrainian border patrol blocking African students, workers and other migrants from fleeing to their own countries.
“Racism is different, even the meaning of it,” Karpenko said, explaining that Ukraine is a very white country and has been historically. “People are still getting used to the fact that there are other people from other countries in Ukraine right now. Unfortunately, people are racist, because they just don’t know the history because it’s not a big part of Ukrainian history.”
Wasyliv agreed, citing Zhan Beleniuk, an Olympic gold medal wrestler and Ukraine’s first Black member of Parliament who has been outspoken about his experience with racism in his home country as well as fighting for Ukraine.
The next question came regarding how the disaster will end, to which Wasyliv recognized the civic engagement of Ukrainian civilians on the ground defending their country as well as individuals like Karpenko who take a stand to do what they can from afar. “People are placing their bodies in front of Russian tanks. Breweries have switched to making Molotov cocktails. I don’t want to make light of it, but there’s this huge uprising. Even if there’s a military success, civilian participation is huge.”
“We’re really grateful for everyone who is helping us,” Karpenko said. “When it first started, we were scared and we still are, but we got used to it. What we saw and didn’t expect was how united everyone is.”
Another question was about social media in regards to war and how people get involved — specifically, how the use of shocking images is informative but not necessarily productive. Karpenko responded saying that some shocking images can help to educate and spread awareness for issues that might feel far away.
The final question was about the role of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “We struggled a lot with presidents who steal and don’t give anything to civilians,” Karpenko said. After a few corrupt presidents, Zelensky, who had been a stand-up comic, did a skit about becoming president, which he then did. “People were very judgmental and didn’t know what would happen, but he’s young. COVID hit […] and everyone expected him to leave, but he stayed and is in Kyiv, and that was a major power move for everyone to start doing something.”
La Jerne Cornish, the Ithaca College interim president, condemned the Russian invasion in a statement written to the college’s student-run newspaper The Ithacan.
“I know that I join many members of our Ithaca College community in being both appalled by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and deeply saddened by this unnecessary violence and destruction,” she wrote. “I also know that I join many members of this community in keeping the Ukrainian people in my thoughts as they confront realities that most of us can only imagine. I pray for a humane resolution to this conflict.”
Earlier this week, the Department of Literature posted a statement condemning the “unprovoked and illegal war waged by the Russian government.”