The Platform

Ukrainian soldiers in the suburbs of Kyiv. (Serhii Mykhalchuk/Shutterstock)

Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is likely to last longer than anyone predicted. The determination of the Ukrainians makes it difficult to foresee a quick end to the conflict. While this unnecessary war rages on, it also introduces us to some new developments surrounding inter-state conflict that are extremely uncommon. Unlike previous conflicts, the current Russia-Ukraine war has become a people’s war. While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is considered a conventional war, there are far more indirect participants than any recent conflicts.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted millions of people from around the world, Russians included, who otherwise would avoid rooting for one side over another, to actively engage in the conflict, albeit from a distance. This includes finding some level of pleasure in seeing Russian tanks, planes, and vehicles destroyed on social media. It should be stressed this also includes the deaths of countless Russian soldiers.

The moral indignation that many around the world have felt following Russia’s invasion has brought out a new kind of humanity. Everyone, in their own way, feels connected to this war and seeks ways of addressing the senseless violence. This war has demonstrated a very uncommon spirit. While nations may go to war, their citizens need not. A former student of mine, now a strategic analyst in Moscow, was outraged that President Vladimir Putin could unleash such barbaric attacks on a neighbour belonging to the same Slavic race.

The fundamental maxim “thou shalt not kill” which, as Hermann Karl Hesse put it, “created laws, attitudes and ethical doctrines, in the past,” would appear to be reframed in the context of the Russia-Ukraine war. Facing Russian barbarity, the moral world appears to demand that Ukrainians kill Russians and foil their evil designs every step of the way.

What is extraordinary about this war are the declarations by some Western officials suggesting they will support their citizens wanting to take up arms for Ukraine. One is not privy to the actual number of foreign fighters fighting on the Ukrainian side, but there has been a frenzy of people from across different nationalities seeking to partake in their self-defined “righteous mission.”

(Serhii Mykhalchuk/Shutterstock)

If anything, this war has forged a spirit of internationalism. In Japan, a nation with a modern pacifist tradition, several dozen men have offered to join the “international legion” to fight the Russian military after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for international volunteers. Keiichi Kurogi is one of those dozens of Japanese volunteers willing to fight for another country’s sovereignty. His logic behind this sacrifice: “When I saw images of elderly men and women in Ukraine holding guns and going to the front, I felt I should go in their place.”

Even for mothers and wives not picking up an AK-47, they are doing their bit in other ways as well. From bomb shelters and hiding places around Ukraine, a group of about 50 Ukrainians is fighting the information war against the Russians. Calling themselves the DATTALION, Ukraine’s Data Battalion, the team has taken up the task of exposing through content what is actually happening on the ground in Ukraine.

The war in Ukraine would appear to be the beginning of a new cancel culture against the unrighteous. It is the dawn of a new altruism that humanity has not seen ever before. This newness in the vocabulary of war is something extraordinary.

This war is significant in terms of blurring the previously watertight definitions of friend and foe. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has introduced us to the fact that those in whose name the war is waged may not be supporters of the initiative in the first place.

Ever since Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to invade Ukraine to carry out a “special operation,” thousands of Russians have not only protested against Putin’s war but have also actively courted arrest. Perhaps the most visible defiance against the regime was the move by the staff of TV Rain. A week into the war, the entire staff resigned live on-air. This move has been lauded by many as a voice of reason in an authoritarian state – when truth speaks to the power. The anti-war protests in Moscow and the despondency expressed by scores of Russians in their inability to come to terms with this fratricidal war (Slavs fighting each other) is a turning point in this war.

All these developments illustrated above point to the fact that there is a general new rethink surrounding the suffering inflicted by war on innocent lives. The universal sentiments favouring Ukraine and Ukrainians’ plight is a testimony to the fact that opposition to unjust wars and humanitarian crises knows no borders. It has cropped up a new narrative on warspeak, which suggests, state atrocities should always be questioned by everyone and everywhere – no matter how powerful the enemy is.

Steven Pinker, a Canadian-American cognitive psychologist, in his international bestseller, The Better Angels of Our Nature, argued that occurrences of everyday violence across the international system are in the decline. He further went on to argue that we as an animal species have evolved into creatures better capable of empathy, self-control, and reason. But more importantly, much more than ever, we are guided by questions of morality. This new evolving “moral sense” motivates us to “move away from violence and towards cooperation and altruism.”

While the war in Ukraine rages on, this contemplation of Pinker assumes all the more importance. Note, for instance, the worldwide volunteers in the information highway who have been working like detectives to pinpoint the Russian deaths in Ukraine – with the sole objective of letting the dead souls’ families back home know how they were killed. Or the Ukrainian Interior Ministry’s public declaration to families of captive Russian soldiers that Ukraine is treating war prisoners “Very humanely…No one is treating them badly. If necessary, we provide medical care.” While one may dismiss these as tools of psychological warfare and propaganda, one cannot shy away from the very fact that, we as a species, are much more remorseful than before when we find our fellow human beings in an ignoble situation no matter their colour, creed or culture.

The poignancy surrounding this war was once again demonstrated by Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, when he appealed to the International Committee of Red Cross to “facilitate the repatriation of thousands of bodies of Russian soldiers” killed during its invasion. As he put it, the parents in Russia [of these fallen soldiers] should have a chance “to bury them with dignity.”

As the bombs keep falling over houses, homesteads, and hideouts in Ukraine, it also introduces us to the fact that humanitarianism has no borders. We are all in it together.

Amalendu Misra is a professor of International Politics at Lancaster University and author of 'Afghanistan: The Labyrinth of Violence'.