‘A Sad Night for Democracy’: What Michiganders Need to Know About Russia’s Attack on Ukraine

By Isaac Constans

February 24, 2022

“If we don’t answer this challenge, everybody like Putin, who has ideas about what shouldn’t be part of their country, is going to take that as carte blanche to do what they would like,” said one Michigan professor.

Need to Know

  • Russia, at the direction of President Vladimir Putin, has launched a full-on attack on Ukraine.
  • President Biden and other world leaders have coordinated to bring aggressive sanctions against Russia for its attack on democracy and independence.
  • Michigan has one of the largest Ukrainian communities in the United States, which has informed residents how they can help. 

Children hiding in subway stations turned bomb shelters, apartment buildings shelled to oblivion, and families mourning loved ones—these are among the devastating images thousands of Ukrainian Americans who call Michigan home woke up to this morning. 

Early Thursday morning in Ukraine, the Russian military launched a full-scale invasion at the direction of Vladimir Putin, sending troops north and south across the border and targeting Ukrainian airports and military facilities with missiles.

The US and countries around the world have issued severe sanctions targeted at the Russian economy, as Russia continues to occupy parts of the independent country of Ukraine. Though conflict has been confined to the two countries for now, the ramifications will stretch around the world—crashing European markets, interrupting trade, and potentially gouging gas prices locally. 

“This is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, urging Ukrainian civilians to pick up arms and defend their home.

President Joe Biden pledged earlier this week to not send US troops to Ukraine, arguing that it could lead to a deadly escalation of the conflict, but brought forth major punishments against the Russian economy and its oligarchs. He and other leaders are coordinating further sanctions in response to the invasion, which represents the greatest European conflict since World War II.

Michigan, which has a major Ukrainian population that numbers among the largest in the nation, has seen community groups join forces in prayer and assistance. Prominent figures have called for strong sanctions to isolate the Russian economy and some have requested military intervention in response to the unprovoked attack on Ukrainian democracy. 

“This is the first war I’ve ever supported in terms of wanting the U.S. to intervene anywhere. I’m not a 100% pacifist, but in my lifetime, this is the first justifiable war,” Eugene Bondarenko, a lecturer of Ukrainian and Russian languages and cultures at the University of Michigan, said in a statement.

Politically, Michigan leaders have hopped on board with sanctions, which are expected to constrain Russia over the course of the conflict. 

In 2020, Russia was the second-biggest producer of oil in the world. How US leaders navigate targeting Russia’s economy without having the consequences fall on their own people will be a challenge they have to navigate.

“I unequivocally condemn Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine – an appalling and illegal assault on a sovereign nation and democracy itself,” Sen. Gary Peters said in a statement. “This is a dark and dangerous moment. The U.S. and our European allies must send Putin an unmistakable message by swiftly enacting crippling sanctions to hold Russia accountable.”

Former President Donald Trump, meanwhile, took the opportunity in an interview earlier this week to hail Putin’s actions as “savvy,” saying he knows the Russian dictator “very, very well.” 

He offered little encouragement to the Ukrainian people.

“This is genius. Putin declares a big portion of Ukraine … as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful,” Trump said, in apparent admiration of the Russian leader’s military tactics.

Trump, who is still in many ways the heartbeat of the Republican party, later insinuated that the United States should use similar force at the southern border.

Michigan has a vibrant community of about 40,000 Ukrainian-American people, according to Census data. Groups have gathered together to support the embattered country at town halls and churches.

“Ukrainian-Americans watch in horror as their ancestral homeland is being invaded by the Kremlin’s forces,” said Mykola Murskyj, Chair of the Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan, in a statement. “There’s only one aggressor in this — Russia. We’re incredibly disturbed, saddened, and angered by the senseless violence. Innocent people are losing their homes and their lives.”

Michigan officials have rallied together in support of the Ukrainian community. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tweeted she is currently monitoring the situation and will support the community at home. Rep. Andy Levin is hosting town halls with information and updates about the situation.

The Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan has identified ways that Michiganders can help. 

First, they say, is reaching out to elected representatives. Advocates ask that people leave a short, respectful message indicating that they believe Ukrainian peace and democracy is vital to US interests. 

Next is myth-busting and addressing Russian-backed misinformation. Putin, for example, has attempted to justify the attack by accusing Ukraine of being run by “neo-Nazis.” Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president, is Jewish and democratically won with 73% of the country’s vote. The so-called Nazis are pro-democracy officials and activists from the 2014 Ukranian revolution, when the country disavowed Russian influence in favor of Western involvement.

“If we don’t answer this challenge, everybody like Putin, who has ideas about what shouldn’t be part of their country, is going to take that as carte blanche to do what they would like,” Bondarenko said. “If there was ever a time to step in for a victim, this is that. We did it in 1939 and, unfortunately, it’s time to do it again.”


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