Statement on the Conflict in Ukraine
Washington College challenges and inspires emerging citizen leaders to discover lives of purpose and passion. These familiar words from our beloved college’s mission statement have taken on new meaning for me these past two weeks, as I have watched the terrible events in Ukraine unfold.
Inspiring lives toward purpose and passion is among the highest aims of an education, and it is right, dignified and proper for the liberal arts to be that sort of catalyst in young people’s lives. Sadly, these past weeks have seen an entirely different and tragic spark for purpose and passion in eastern Europe, as Ukrainians young and old have taken flight to save their lives and taken up arms to save their country against a rapacious and volatile neighbor, Vladimir Putin. As a community, it is important to state clearly that we stand with Ukraine, as they continue to fight for their lives and their democracy in the face of continued military attacks.
Witnessing the unprovoked attacks on Ukraine, a sovereign nation, is a stark reminder of just how fraught and fragile the world in which we live truly is. And as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has rightly pointed out, unlike many wars and conflicts of the past, this one is well-documented in our social media feeds, putting the horrific impact of Russia’s actions on full display. It is truly heartbreaking to see near real-time images of the human cost of this act of aggression against the people of Ukraine. Orphaned children at border crossings, bombed hospitals, and people living indefinitely in concrete shelters are all very real consequences of this invasion. The long-term consequences have yet to be realized.
At present, an estimated three million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion began three weeks ago. Nearly 2,400 civilians are known to have been killed or injured. For those who remain in areas under attack, badly needed aid is slow to arrive and their communities are increasingly under rubble.
There is an impulse to look away from all of this, but I urge you to look on and bear witness to acknowledge the overwhelming despair of those who wish only to go about their normal days—working, caring for families, pursuing an education—but no longer have that luxury. Not looking away is critical because in the age of disinformation, knowledge is power. While it is jarring to see this unfolding at the street level, it is also eye-opening and important. Those who are bravely exposing these raw and immediate atrocities are begging us to look on and to witness both their bravery and the devastation this unprovoked war has wrought.
It may feel futile to say that we stand with Ukraine, while we sit 8,000 miles away, passively watching these horrors unfold from the comfort of our living rooms, our offices, or in coffee shops. It is not. Standing with Ukraine, acknowledging out loud their rights as a sovereign people, is standing up for democracy. These are people just like us, and in standing with Ukrainians, we are wise to also acknowledge that while our democracy may span more than two centuries, it is precious and did not come with a lifelong guarantee.
Our Washington College community has always been a champion of the ideals that the world desperately needs. Now more than ever, as we stand together in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, let us seek to be a beacon for citizen leaders who seek lives of purpose and passion and who live out the enduring values of critical thinking, effective communication and moral courage. Change can—and must—start with us, in our daily interactions with each other and with our community, and in lifting up our collective voices to call out injustice wherever and whenever we witness it.