Ukrainian-Born Professor Provides Perspectiveon War in Ukraine

The War in Ukraine has had a global reach – and it has also impacted those who are a part of our Monmouth community. From faculty to students, to members of the Ukrainian diaspora, or those who draw their lineage from the country, offer unique stories and perspectives right here at Monmouth.

One such voice in particular comes from a member of our faculty, Specialist Professor, Dr. Polina Amburg from the School of Nursing and Health Studies.

Professor Amburg hails from the Ukrainian city of Odessa, a city on the Black Sea not far from the existing war frontlines. In response to our questions, Professor Amburg provided insights on number of topics including impact of the war on life in Ukraine and Ukraininan people, on the events in Bucha, potential end to the war, and more. Daily media coverage of war in Ukraine shows complete devastation of civilian life in many areas around the country. According to BBC citing data from the United Nations, as of April 7, 10 million people fled their homes in Ukraine triggering the largest refugee crisis since the World War II. However, many more have decided to stay while others were ordered to stay. As the war broke out on Feb. 24, martial law took place and all men between the ages of 18-60 were forbidden from leaving the country.

“I have friends and family in Odessa. I keep close contact with many of them. Most families decided to stay in Odessa because they did not want to leave their husbands or adult sons behind,” said Amburg.
Life in Odessa prior to the war was characterized by laughter and humor. Since the 1973, Odessa has been a host city for Humorina, an annual festival of humor typically held around April 1, known as the April Fools’ Day. The parade showcases musicians, clowns and people dressed in fun, humorous, and colorful clothes. Today, the colorful parade of Odessa seems like a distant memory but the people are trying to keep the humor alive.

“When I talk to people in Odessa, they try to make jokes and stay positive. Odessa is called a capital of humor, and its residents are trying to live up to this expectation. Despite their attempts to laugh through tears, you can sense how difficult it is for them to live every day not knowing if they are going to be attacked, woken up multiple times during the night to the sounds of sirens and look for safe places to hide.”

Professor Amburg also shared the perspective of a family friend in the City of Mariupol, which is also a Black Sea port that Russian forces have laid siege to since the start of the war, resulting in a significant and ongoing humanitarian crisis. She has recently been able to make a contact with her friend who is living in a battered apartment complex with no gas, water or electricity. But for a while there was no news, a frightening reality that many Ukrainians who live abroad face while trying to get in touch with family and friends who are still in Ukraine.

“We have a friend of the family in Mariupol. This city was badly attacked. Most of its infrastructure was destroyed, and people were left with no electricity, water, and food supplies,” Amburg said.
There are many unknowns about whearabouts of many citizens of Mariupol. While, according to the United Nations around 3400 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since the start of the war, as of April 11, PBS News Hour reported data shared by the mayor of the Mariupol who stated that the death toll, just in Mariupol, is 10 000 civilians but the number could be double that. After the recent reports of mass executions of civilians in Bucha, many are worried about the fate of the civilians in many other places.

“What happened in Bucha goes beyond comprehension and does not fit into reality. It is scarier than nightmares. There are some reports from the Ukrainian government indicating that some areas of the country are currently in worse shape than Bucha. Like it can be any worse than that?”

Professor Amburg cited an Ukrainian Telegram channel, saying “Oleksiy Arestovich, Ukrainian Presidential Advisor…posted that Bucha is not the only place, Borodyanka is worse. And (there) will be more discoveries in those places that we did not reach yet, but they (Russian Army), already visited.”
The world hasn’t seen such atrocities in the 21st century on the European continent. Professor Amburg described them as, “Worse than any wild horror movie imaginable.”

As people around the world question how can anyone be capable of committing such crimes, Professor Amburg does too.

“No human being is capable of killing and torturing women, men, children, and the elderly. This is worse than the work of serial killers. Nobody even thought such hatred was possible…not today, in the civilized world.”

One of the most difficult thing for people is to feel helpless while watching such horrifying images on the news. Many people around the world have been moved to help in any way they can and that’s true especially for Ukrainian diaspora.

“The Ukrainian diaspora in the United States came together and organized many events and fundraisers to help the people in Ukraine.”

Ukrainian diaspora in the United States has been joined by Americans and even people from the former USSR.

“Many people from the countries of the former USSR along with Americans collected clothes, baby and hygiene products, non-perishable food, medications, medical supplies, and money to help with people in Ukraine. Everyone wants to help,” stated Amburg.

This statement highlights the global effort to aid Ukraine during this time of crisis, one of very few brighter aspects of this conflict. As of March 18, according to the New York Times, Congress approved $13.6 billion in emergency spending to aid Ukraine in fight against Russia. According to Euro News. European Union has spent slightly over $1 billion on military aid to Ukraine, but many European countries are sheltering refugees, especially Poland, and providing food, clothing, health care, and schooling for children. We also asked Professor Amburg to share her thoughts on how the war might end, as well as her opinion on the President Zelenskyy’s widely reported statement about Ukraine becoming a “big Israel’’ with a persistent security presence throughout the country.

In regards to how the conflict may end, Professor Amburg said, “Ukrainians are hoping for peace. Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy stated in his most recent speech that they are looking to regain control of their territories that were a part of Ukraine (prior to invasion). They are not looking to invade any countries. The Ukrainians just want to stop people from dying in this unnecessary war.”

As we are considering how the world has changed in the past couple of months since the start of the war in Ukraine, it is inevitable to think about safety and security. The vulnerability of Ukraine evident since the 2014 Russian occupation of Crimea, is pushing Ukrainian leadership and President Zelenskyy to focus on security concerns even after the war ends. The Europe and the world as a whole are revisiting questions of security in the light of the war in Ukraine.

“I think this war taught everyone in the world that we can never feel safe anymore. It is unimaginable for one country to attack the other. If it happened to Ukraine, the same could happen to any country in the world. We have to reconsider our safety. We cannot take it for granted anymore,” concluded Amburg.