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Russia-Ukraine War’s Possible Impact on College Students

Tall buildings with a dark sky in the background
The skyline of Kyiv; photo by Timm Seuss/Creative Commons

On Feb. 24, Russia launched their invasion of Ukraine after a long period of increased militarization on the Ukrainian border. Russian forces arrived on the outskirts of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, on Friday, Feb. 25, but as of March 1 they have not yet advanced to the city center.

Since the war began on Thursday, over 500,000 refugees have fled Ukraine, primarily traveling to checkpoints in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania where they can enter the European Union (EU). The Biden administration also announced that the U.S. is ready to take refugees.

This is the first major war in Europe in decades, and while it is taking place far from U.S. soil, impacts of the Russia-Ukraine War have already been seen in America. Gas prices across the world have increased, and experts predict that prices could rise to above $4 per gallon soon in the U.S. because of disruptions to oil production and supply in that region. The Herald spoke with Dr. Jeffrey Martinson, Associate Professor of Political Science, to discuss how the Russia-Ukraine War may impact Americans, and particularly college students.

“I think the main effects will be fear and discomfort, not just emotionally but also financially,” Dr. Martinson said. “On the fear side we've seen the ugly reality of an expansionist regime’s goals revealed. The financial discomfort that I believe students will notice…is because the West's main response to the Russian invasion has been financial and diplomatic. Basically, Russia is being ‘canceled’ as a country at this moment. In so doing, we incur many costs of our own.”

Dr. Martinson explained that because Russia is a “top 20 economy,” the sanctions and other economic punishments nations around the world have imposed on Russia will mean “decreased economic growth and higher prices around the world,” particularly because Russia’s main exports are fossil fuels. Additionally, U.S. support of Ukraine will mean the country spends less on other priorities like student loan forgiveness or climate change.

However, while Dr. Martinson acknowledges the emotional and financial effects that those in the U.S. will feel due to the Russia-Ukraine War, he also said he believes that things may not be as dire as some predict.

“I've heard a lot of baseless hyperbole from students [of all ages] about the end being nigh,” he said. “The rhetorical question as to whether such an outcome is possible doesn't even merit a reply, if only because many things are possible. The more meaningful question is whether such an outcome is probable, to which the answer is absolutely not.”

Dr. Martinson pointed out that even during the Cold War, a period that some have begun comparing the Russia-Ukraine War to, most Americans continued to live life as normal.

“Over those five decades numerous invasions, including in Europe, and crises brought the U.S. and Russia—then the Soviet Union—to the brink of war,” he explained. “Yet, despite that, life went on—rock ‘n’ roll was invented, the civil rights movement occurred, men landed on the moon, bell bottoms were in style and Madonna made great songs and bad movies.”

The response from the U.S. government and many American citizens has been critical of Russia and supportive of Ukraine. When asked how concerned individuals may help Ukraine, Dr. Martinson joked, “You can join the new Ukraine International Legion.”

“But seriously,” he continued, “I think the first thing you can do is educate yourself on the situation and its history—with reliable resources! Contact your representatives at the federal, state and local levels. Ask them to make a statement, or better yet, enact a policy that helps. I think this last advice is especially poignant because it is this very right—to be heard in government—that Ukrainians are fighting and dying to protect.”

Dr. Martinson added that there are many humanitarian organizations that are collecting donations for relief right now. He suggests sticking to “the big names,” including the Red Cross, Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders.

Finally, Dr. Martinson reminded students that they should not “hate” Russians or Russia.

“One of the best outcomes one could hope for from this tragedy is that not only is Ukraine able to develop its democracy, but also Russia, by the removal of the Putin regime,” he said. “We don't need to agree with [Russians who support the war], but I don't think it hurts to understand their perspective—and it may even help.”

“For [some Russians], there is a whole inverse analog to our revulsion at what Russia is doing that involves the West as aggressor and Russian independence as the victim,” Dr. Martinson added. That being said, he noted that it would be a “false equivalency to equate the West's actions” with Russia’s in this situation.

“Finally, let's remember that Ukrainians and Russians lived together peacefully for decades,” Dr. Martinson concluded. “Ask yourself, how did they come to despise each other so much? What were the conditions, what did their leaders do, what did they themselves do, to generate such animosity? And, how is my society the same or different from theirs?”

By Olivia Slack, Co-Editor in Chief


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