Feb. 24 marked the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine, where Russia continues to ravage the north, south, and eastern countryside, terrorizing the citizens of Ukraine. To date, current reports estimate 8,401 killed and 14,023 wounded, with new information coming in every day.

Since the war began, there have been an inspiring number of rallies and a tragic amount of funerals and vigils in Ukraine and the United States. On Feb. 28 at Stanford University, a vigil was held to honor the fallen service members and victims of the war in Ukraine.

The “Taize Prayer” vigil took place around 7 p.m. at Stanford Memorial Church, organized by the Ukrainian Student Association at Stanford and the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America’s San Jose branch. A dark, somber, yet beautiful setting was observed in silence, but the night itself was full of music and harmonic tones and hymns coming from those who participated in the prayers. On a stormy night with low visibility under rainy conditions, the church was welcoming, layered with extravagant art, and candles lit throughout. Surely, if you did not visit the church often, the night’s setting only intensified the scale of what was being mourned, a deadly war that is unjust and has claimed a regrettable number of victims. 

The history of the Taize dates back to 1940, when it was founded by Brother Roger Louis Schutz-Marsauche — a Monk who belonged to an ecumenical monastic order of Roman Catholics and Protestants. Brother Rogers was 90 years of age when he was stabbed and killed in 2005 at a prayer service.   

The vigil lasted for the span of about an hour. It was hard not to think of how far away the war was with respect to the church. The church’s enormous size, towering stained glass, and high ceilings emphasize the war’s immenseness. Ukrainian families and military forces have experienced tremendous loss in the death of some amazingly talented, dedicated, and passionate people. 

Medics, emergency service volunteers, journalists, filmmakers, artists, authors, and many more important members of Ukrainian society have fallen victim to this war. Estonian Defense Minister Kusti Salm, in a Washington briefing, stated, “In this area, the Russians have employed around 40,000 to 50,000 inmates or prisoners. They are going up against regular soldiers, people with families, people with regular training, valuable people for the Ukrainian military.”

Currently, the actual numbers are unknown, but some reports say more than 8,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed and 14,000 wounded. Additional reports on military personnel say 9,000, while others report losses of 100,000. There is no concrete information about how many funerals there have been.                           

Vigil attendees were scattered throughout the church, sitting across long benches, giving each person a chance to grieve and contemplate individually or with friends and family. After the vigil, there was emotion, tears, and embraces from church participants. A few stepped forward to lend their voice, “It’s very heartbreaking to lose people you grew up with; we ask ourselves why they had to die. I think of the holidays, my childhood, and it’s hard to talk about, said UNWLA member Alla Torska. Another member, Iryna Anpilogova, stated, “I just left my friends behind in Spain, and I can’t see them now. I was speaking with a friend back home and crying. We spoke about how Mauriapol doesn’t exist anymore. It’s hard to find the words, and to simply say that I’m sad doesn’t fully comprehend how I feel.” 

Another vigil was held on Mar. 24 at the Capitol Mall in Sacramento at 6 p.m. This vigil, being more demonstrational, had aspects of a rally and was organized by the Sunflower Society of Sacramento, a group dedicated to bringing awareness to the ever-developing situation in Ukraine. 

The vigil began as the sun set, with a large showing from local Ukrainian residents and some who traveled to attend the event. Although this was a vigil, it was just as much about the expression of outrage toward the genocide and mass murder of Ukrainian people, stolen from their lives by Russian aggression, with the majority of supporters recognizing these actions as Russian terrorism. 

The prevailing facts are that Russia is waging an unjust war using illegal, inhumane, and barbaric tactics. With numerous Human Rights violations, Putin has been officially recognized as a war criminal. Simultaneously, the civilian death toll continues to rise in Ukraine. This month, April, Russia is due to take up the leading chair for the U.N. Security Council as they did in Feb. 2022. Each of the 15 members takes up the presidency in rotation. “Unfortunately, Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council, and no feasible international legal pathway exists to change that reality,” said White House press secretary Karen Jean-Pierre. 

As a permanent member, Russia has veto power, and to pass a vote, it requires nine votes in favor, absent a permanent member voting against it. Russia has vetoed past measures to address their aggression from the council with abstentions from China, India, the United Arab Emirates, and Brazil. Ukraine’s presidential adviser, Mykhaylo Podolyak, stated that this was “another rape of international law … an entity that wages an aggressive war, violates the norms of humanitarian and criminal law, destroys the U.N. charter, neglects nuclear safety, can’t head the worlds key security body.” 

There were demonstrations with the evening light, and attendees of all ages, ranging from seniors to children, came out to support the vigil. Protesters held signs highlighting Russian terrorism and calling for the arrest of Putin, the war criminal. There was discussion, live art performances, music, and displays. The attendees chanted “Slava Ukraini,” while some educated others by sharing information and updates. Two organizers stepped forward to give captivating speeches and engaged with the audience, Daria Avtukh and her Mother Olena Avtukh. A few more speakers, including former California Assemblyman Ken Cooley, joined in with a message to remain united in supporting Ukraine’s efforts. 

Night fell just as speeches ended, along with observed moments of silence to mourn for those who passed as a result of this war. The signs from the demonstration and artwork were set up for display, illuminated by rows of candles. “This vigil, like any other vigil we’ve held, has a special place in my heart. None of them are alike, but they all mean strength and perseverance to me. The fact that we’re here and stand up and raise our voices after 13 months of this horrible war means that this tragedy touches our hearts deeply, and we won’t let it go unnoticed or forgotten. To me, this vigil meant another step closer to the victory of light over darkness,” said Daria Avtukh, Sunflower Society Organizer and Miss Ukraine California 2023.

As the evening ended around 8:30 p.m., organizers stayed behind with those who wished to share and observe the candlelit displays of remembrance. A vigil attendee, Duane McMullen, stated, “The vigils help me to feel like maybe there is something I can do by showing support and always reminds me of how strong the Ukrainian people are; they will never give up. I stand with them all the way.” 

The Sunflower Society organizes multiple events every month, with the next coming in April. These events are exceptional for Ukrainian and American relations, especially if you want to get involved and support the war effort right here from home in Northern California. UNITED24, Open Hearts UA, and Kyiv Society for the Protection of Animals are good places to start with donations.   

5,914,000 Ukrainians are internally displaced, and another 8 million reportedly live as refugees in other countries. Funerals are daily in Kyiv now, because fighting in Bakhmut, and Kherson has become increasingly dangerous, although recently liberated from Russian occupation. Mariupol, Sievierodonetsk, Lysychansk, and more are still under Russian occupation. Most, if not all, of Russia’s military actions, have violated the Geneva Conventions and will leave scars upon the country and psyches of Ukrainian citizens for generations to come. In response; the Ukrainian people have rallied together no matter where they are, standing with an unshakable resolve to keep their home and preserve their way of life.

 On Mar. 17, Vladimir Putin was recognized by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry and the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a war criminal. They issued arrest warrants for Russian President Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, his children’s rights commissioner and confidant, for the abduction of what’s estimated to be around 16,221 Ukrainian children. More than likely traumatized and abused, these children were forced into adoption by Russian families against their will. 

Additional charges include the crimes of murder, rape, and torture of Ukrainian civilians, confirmed by the discovery of mass graves holding hundreds of bodies buried by Russian soldiers in cities like Bucha, Mariupol, and Izyum. While some bodies were service members, the majority were civilians, including some children. 

The list of Russian atrocities also includes the execution of POWs, the most prominent being Oleksandr Matsiyevsky which was filmed in horrific detail on Dec. 30, gaining political and media attention globally. In the video, moments before he is shot, the soldier says, “Slava Ukraini,” which means “Glory to Ukraine.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed to find the murderers responsible and stated that he “wanted us all in unity to respond to his words. Glory to the hero. Glory to the heroes. Glory to Ukraine.” 

Russia and the Wagner group have resorted to utilizing convicted prisoners as front line infantry due to their losses, with promises of a pardon, clean records, and reintegration into Russian society. U.N. Human Rights Officials stated, “We are deeply disturbed by reports of visits by members of the so-called Wagner Group to correctional facilities in various regions of Russia, offering pardons for criminal sentences to prisoners who join the group and take part in the war in Ukraine, as well as a monthly payment to their relatives.” Numerous human rights violations have been associated with these criminal military fighting units.

Russia has consistently targeted heavily populated urban centers in what has amounted to thousands of missile strikes in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Kherson, Odesa, Zaporizhzhia, Ravine, Zhytomyr, Vinnytsia, Poltava, and Lviv. These strikes included a theater mainly occupied by children seeking safety in Mariupol; people’s homes, office buildings, malls, hospitals, and schools. None of these are hardened military targets. In addition, Russia has deployed munitions such as the infamous hypersonic Kinzhal missile, which cannot be intercepted by conventional means, along with thousands of ballistic missiles like the Kh-55, Kh-101, Kalibur, S-300, and Iskander. Some of these repurposed missiles lack accuracy and effectiveness on hardened military targets and have been used solely to attack civilian population centers.

The foundation of Ukrainian society has been rocked to its core, yet, in the face of an attempted Russian invasion, Ukrainian defense forces repelled the primary attacks into the capital Kyiv and beyond. The war has since shifted to Russia regularly terrorizing the civilian populace with constant aerial assaults from drones and ballistic missiles. 

Russian military operations on the ground have been largely ineffective in gaining control of the country, exhausting their troops and equipment. For example, ongoing operations and U.N. sanctions have severely hindered Russia from getting enough components to build military hardware like missiles, light armored vehicles, tanks, helicopters, and jets. So far, the International Institute for Strategic Studies has reported that Russia has lost upward of 2,300 infantry fighting vehicles and 1,700 tanks, about two-thirds gone from the Russian inventory, which include the T-72B3, T-72B3M, and T-80BV. The IISS suspects that actual figures appear to be 40% higher than what is currently being reported by the Russian state.

The same can be said for Russian aircraft with losses of 15% or greater, which includes the Su-30SM, Su-34, and Su-35. In addition, Russian troop levels have been reported to be between 150,000 and 200,000 killed, wounded, or lost to some other circumstance. Russia is suspected of not accurately reporting these numbers. Problems with replacing experienced personnel with proper training has exacerbated the situation. To compensate for staggering losses at the hands of Ukrainian defenses and to offset the effects of U.N. sanctions, Russia has resorted to rampant looting of anything useful in the locations occupied by their forces. When they retreat, they leave behind a trail of waste ranging from industrial supplies to broken and sabotaged gear. 

So it’s no surprise that Russia has sought help from longtime partner nations with questionable, if not defunct, relationships with Western allies — countries such as China, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Myanmar, India, and Belarus. More countries are being actively recruited; South Africa and Mali, for example, are being considered. With Russia using its power over oil markets in the face of sanctions, countries have responded by either staying neutral to get the benefits of Russian oil or reinvesting in their own oil production. As a result, these actions have set back efforts to move away from oil dependence and combat climate change.

On the other hand, Ukrainian forces have had continuous support from western allies and have requested more to combat increasing Russian aggression. Ukraine’s military has excelled at repelling Russian forces from the majority of occupied regions and retaking them. Ukrainian forces were projected to lose much more territory, if not the entire country, showing the world true dedication and sacrifice to protect one’s home. 

Currently, the U.S. has sent 8,000 Javelins, 1,600 Stingers, 160 howitzers, 38 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, one million artillery rounds, 100,000 of 125 mm tank rounds, and 100,000 rounds for small arms. The list also includes helicopters and UAVs. In addition, there is a significant need for tanks which the White House has agreed to send along with Bradley Infantry fighting vehicles. 

“Working with European partners and Ukraine, the United States also launched the Ukraine Defense Contact Group — a coalition of 50 partner nations that has enhanced our coordination of security assistance deliveries to help the people of Ukraine as they continue to defend themselves against Russia’s unjust and unprovoked assault. Together, members of this group already committed $50 billion in security assistance, including nearly 700 tanks and thousands of other armored vehicles, more than 1000 artillery systems, more than two million rounds of artillery ammunition, more than 50 advanced multiple rocket launch systems, and anti-ship and air defense systems.” according to the White House Press Briefing: One Year of Supporting Ukraine.

Ukraine applied for EU membership on Jun. 23 last year and applied for NATO membership shortly after but has been actively pursuing this goal since 1994. Since then, a number of countries have given billions in aid, and at least 28 have given military aid. NATO partners like the UK, Germany, Canada, and Poland lead the way next to EU institutions. Yet, the U.S. is by far the largest contributor to military aid and second only to the EU in financial aid. 

The greatest concern militarily to Ukraine is obtaining modern battle tanks and subsonic jet fighters. So far, the U.S. has agreed to send the M1 Abrams, the UK to send Challenger 2 tanks, and Germany agreed to send Leopard 2 tanks. Countries like Poland said they would send their reserve Leopard 2 tanks that they received from Germany. The F-16 Falcon, most famous for its roles in the film “Iron Eagle” is the jet fighter up for consideration. A multirole fighter from the 70s, with multigenerational designs and modern hardware updates used in several U.S. wars and still in service to this day, is currently in the discussion phase.         

Upon the anniversary, the Department of Defense committed to the long-term goal of a Ukrainian victory with the White House on Feb. 24, stating, “One year ago, Russia launched its brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The United States has rallied the world in response, working with our allies and partners to provide Ukraine with critical security, economic, and humanitarian assistance and leading unprecedented efforts to impose costs on Russia for its aggression. This week, President Biden visited Kyiv, Ukraine, and Warsaw, Poland, to send a clear and powerful message that the United States will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

The Nuclear Threat

Ukraine is the home of Chernobyl, where an infamous nuclear meltdown occurred in 1986; the long-decommissioned power plant sits as a reminder of the dangers involved in maintaining a nuclear reactor and what a reactor meltdown looks like. Workers abandoned the site due to occupation by Russian forces during the invasion, who retreated after just over a month, but not before looting and disturbing a large amount of irradiated dust, increasing the area’s hot spots. Additionally, the Ukrainian power grid has been a significant target for the Russian military, with missile strikes knocking out power for millions of Ukrainian residents as well as recent strikes in Zaporizhzhya, causing the plant to operate on backup power using diesel generators.

While some cities, like Marinka, in Donetsk, have been completely destroyed and are now devoid of life, others, like Zaporizhzhya, are central to the survival of the entire country and beyond. The city supports a major nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, and this area is particularly vulnerable to battles and shelling. Russian forces are currently holding the plant, and it continues to present a high threat level should the plant be damaged beyond repair from the shelling it commonly receives or loss of power for any extended duration. 

U.N. watchdogs and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are closely monitoring the power plants developing situation. Recently the head of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, set forth plans to turn the plant and the surrounding area into a demilitarized zone. Still, it is only Russia that has stated they’re making improvements to nuclear storage and protections for the power plant.

“It is obvious that military activity is increasing in this whole region, so the place can’t be protected,” Grossi stated. At one point, the plant produced 20% of the nation’s energy, and now, the plant is no longer producing anything for Ukraine. President Zelensky has stated that Russia is using the power plant to blackmail and hold Ukraine hostage to the nuclear threat. The possibility of a nuclear accident has risen drastically since September last year and continues to be an escalating point of conflict between Ukraine and Russia. 

Now we may be at a precipice for WWIII or nuclear annihilation, with the Doomsday Clock currently sitting at 90 seconds to midnight. This escalation is, in large part, a direct result of the war in Ukraine. A consistent march toward nuclear proliferation for countries like Iran, gains in building intercontinental ballistic missiles for North Korea, and a buildup of current arsenals in countries like India, Pakistan, China, Russia, and the United States. According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, we could be facing a “third nuclear age.” Noting that the treaty between Russia and the United States, “New START,” could be on borrowed time. 

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres stated, “The world has entered a time of nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War.” Biological weapons are also a very real threat on the battlefield. Anything of this nature put into use jeopardizes a fragile boundary in the conduct of war. After all, Putin directly supported President Bashar al-Assad of Syria in using chemical weapons on his own civilian populace. 

Other countries have ambitious goals; for example, China, a nuclear powerhouse, has its own plans for a possible invasion of countries like Taiwan by 2027. What happens in this war will set the stage for world powers throughout the foreseeable future, benchmarking this event for decades to come.

Images courtesy of Titawny Cook and Titawny cook

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