It was a Thursday which meant that I had a political theology lecture in the morning and a Middle East lecture in the evening. The date was the 24th of February and I hadn’t looked at the news because of my morning lecture. The plan for the day was to go to this lecture with a friend of mine and then head out to get food but she was conspicuously absent. I didn’t think much of it and went to the gym. By this point, I’d heard that Russia had declared some of the Eastern regions of Ukraine to be ‘Republics’ but it was there in the gym that I realised that they hadn’t decided to create a legal issue and then escalate the situation by using that as a casus belli but rather had launched a full-scale invasion the likes of which hadn’t been seen in Europe since World War II. It’s worth noting at this point that the friend I was planning to meet up with was Ukrainian. I ended up spending the rest of the day at hers trying to process what was happening to her country and refreshing Twitter for updates. In the roughly 200 days since February, we’ve seen a harrowing invasion that has attempted to crush Ukraine’s national identity and flatten its cities but we’ve also seen an inspiring resistance that – at the time of writing – seems to be on the cusp of beating one of the world’s former superpowers. Though it may seem distant to us, particularly as the news cycle has moved away from the conflict, there are lessons to be learned for us in Britain.
The first lesson may be an obvious one but it’s worth pointing out nonetheless. Don’t take safety for granted. Conflict is a natural part of life and a normal part of politics – so much so that we’ve done a relatively good job of being able to deal with conflicts without resorting to violence. This doesn’t mean we’ve triumphed over violence. It hopefully won’t be today or anywhere in the near future but at some point, you’re going to have to deal with conflict in your own life and as a country we will have to deal with conflict and there’s something to be said for being mentally ready for that conflict turning violent. There’s nothing to be gained from taking the safety we have for granted and assuming it will always be around. It’s an old Scout motto but it’s worth repeating – Be Prepared.
A more inspiring lesson from the war in Ukraine is this: our actions matter. According to Viktor Frankl, a meaningful life revolves around finding a challenge and a struggle that is tough for you and I think that it means finding a challenge to make the world a better place. This doesn’t just mean the heroics of the soldiers fighting for their country and loved ones but also the labours of organisations like the Kyiv Independent and the Shadows Project who have gone about preserving Ukrainian cultural heritage, championing the Ukrainian cause and keeping the world informed on the situation. We can see situations and think that they’re bad but if the war has shown anything, it’s that we do have the capacity to help other people and improve the world around us. Our actions matter.
A final lesson that I think is worth learning from the war in Ukraine is one that applies to life in a war-torn country as much as it does to a University student: work hard but don’t forget to enjoy life. There was an article in the Washington Post about how young Ukrainian adults were starting to head back to clubs. They may still have a curfew and they’re undoubtedly working hard to help the people around them and their country but once the dust had settled, they still found time to enjoy life. Furthermore, ‘fun’ doesn’t just mean clubbing. Ukrainians, like the rest of us, went through isolation because of COVID restrictions and now they have to deal with a war. Their response to that? They set up cuddle groups where strangers met together outdoors and just cuddled. Besides being heart-wrenchingly wholesome, there’s a lesson to be had about enjoying life when you get the chance. I passionately believe that the human spirit will continue to be indomitable but there’s no need to give our spirits a harder time by living an ascetic life. Work hard but don’t forget to enjoy life.
Enjoying a party and appreciating intimacy with your friends and loved ones are as important to a meaningful life as working on something that matters to you and watching it grow and succeed. If there’s anything you learn from the war in Ukraine it’s this: safety can be assumed but shouldn’t be taken for granted so be prepared; the world has it’s faults and you can fix them because our actions do matter; and as hard as you work, don’t forget to enjoy life.