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Russia Inflicts “Maximum Pain” as War Drags On, 11 Million Ukrainians Displaced

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We speak with Lyiv-based professor Volodymyr Dubovyk about the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, where Russian attacks have displaced more than 11 million people, including two-thirds of Ukraine’s children. Russian forces “want to inflict the maximum pain on Ukraine,” says Dubovyk. President Biden described Russia’s actions in Ukraine as “genocide” on Tuesday, prompting State Department spokesperson Ned Price to say on Wednesday that international lawyers would have to determine whether Russia’s actions in Ukraine constitute genocide. Dubovyk says proving genocide is best left to experts, not politicians, but he rebukes French President Emmanuel Macron’s claim that Russia and Ukraine are incapable of such crimes because they are “brotherly nations.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

We look now at how the Russian war on Ukraine has displaced more than 11 million people, including two-thirds of Ukraine’s children. We often hear four-and-a-half million refugees have fled Ukraine now over the border into Poland, Moldova and other countries, but more than double that have been internally displaced. That’s where that 11 million comes from.

For more, we go to Lviv, Ukraine, where we’re joined by Volodymyr Dubovyk, professor of international relations at Mechnikov National University in Odessa, Ukraine.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! I can’t believe you just finished a lecture, that there are even lectures going on in Ukraine right now. But thanks so much for switching over to us right now, Professor Dubovyk. If you can talk about this IDP crisis, this internally displaced people crisis in Ukraine?

VOLODYMYR DUBOVYK: Yes, Amy. Thank you for having me on your program. I’ve been watching your program for years now, so it’s a big privilege for me.

Yes, it’s a huge problem for us. And we’re doing lectures, indeed, online courses. Who knows where my students are? Some in Odessa, some are elsewhere. And professors are also scattered around Europe now. But we’re doing our lectures. We’re trying to be as defiant as we can.

Actually, Ukraine is showing miracles of resilience these days. If everyone expected it to be unraveling or falling apart — maybe in Moscow they thought that Ukraine would just fall apart within two or three days of invasion — something contrary happened to it. I mean, Ukraine is opposite of what you might call a failed nation. Everyone is doing their job. You know, the government is showing up for work. The military is doing some miracles, and others. And we are trying to do that, too, being IDPs, yes.

Western Ukraine is full of people from eastern, southern and central Ukraine. And I think it’s even an undercount. It may be even more than you just mentioned. I think it’s about one-third of the population of the country which has just been urgently uprooted. And we are talking about not some small trickling out of population to the west, but a very quick movement of people.

So it’s unprecedented. It creates all sorts of problems, because people left their housing, people left their earnings, many businesses are not working anymore, plants and factories are razed down to the ground. Some people have some savings to get them through some months of this war. Some don’t. And they’re already having difficulties with renting housing for themselves and their children. So, that’s a huge problem. I am myself university professor. I’m still getting my salary on time, but we don’t know what’s going to happen in the coming months. It all depends on how hard this war will go on and how long will it be going on and what areas will be taken by Russian military.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Volodymyr, you tweeted recently that, quote, “the total destruction is not just a means to an end, but actually one of the core objectives of [this] invasion.”

VOLODYMYR DUBOVYK: Right.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, could you explain what you mean by that?

VOLODYMYR DUBOVYK: Yes.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And if that is the case, what you anticipate happening in the coming weeks and possibly months?

VOLODYMYR DUBOVYK: Well, I think that Russians are actually wanting Ukraine to be weak next door to them and not having any ambitions. If you’re really weak, if you’re poor, and if you’re dirt poor, you don’t have any ambitions. You don’t want to, you know, maintain the fight or keep the fight against the Russians.

They are going to level down our economy, and that’s what they’re doing. They’re bombing the infrastructure. They’re sending missiles to every corner of Ukraine — railroads, oil refineries and a lot of infrastructure projects. So, in addition to actually fighting the combat, and in addition to actually shelling civilians, which is a big deal, they want to inflict the maximum pain on Ukraine. That’s what we’re seeing, because actually there’s very little combat, direct combat-to-combat operations, troops-to-troops operations, in recent weeks. It’s mostly shelling of civilian installations and certain buildings and so on. So, weaker Ukraine, a poorer Ukraine is a convenient neighbor to Russia. When Russia is stronger, Ukraine is weaker, no one wants with Ukraine. Ukrainians cannot stand up from their knees. We are basically doomed to follow in Russia’s track and be in their sphere of control, if we’re weak, if we have nothing behind us.

But right now we have the spirit, the fighting spirit of Ukrainians. And also we’re having a lot of support coming from outside of Ukraine from various countries, mostly Western allies, but not just Western allies, because if you look across the board in various countries of the world, they’re supplying us with certain assistance, be it weapons or humanitarian assistance, which is extremely important these days. And most of that assistance is directed at the refugees, as you mentioned. But IDPs here within Ukraine, those are people who are actually also — many of them are in dire straits. They are in a critical need of receiving some assistance, as well.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And can you speak specifically about the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Russians in parts of Ukraine, and specifically in Mariupol?

VOLODYMYR DUBOVYK: Yeah. Well, I don’t know. This still hasn’t been investigated properly. There was this information that it was probably chemical weapons, but maybe it was white phosphorus, which is also a deadly weapon to use against the — in a city, which is a big city, actually. And Mariupol is a — is pain for Ukraine. It’s just a tragedy. It’s been a pretty prosperous city, actually quite well progressed and developing really fast in terms of culture and arts and so on. There’s been half a million people. Population right now is something like 120,000 people there left, basically in the shelters. I have two very good colleagues, professors from Mariupol University, including the director, the president of Mariupol University, who barely made it alive, with their families escaping in other parts of Ukraine.

So, maybe it was white phosphorus, not chemical weapons. But we’ve been getting ready for everything, not to mention the nuclear danger when they took over actually two nuclear power stations here in Ukraine. Chernobyl is now back in the Ukrainian arms, but another one, Zaporizhzhia, is controlled by Russian occupation forces. And they’re actually standing close to another one, a south Ukrainian nuclear power station. So it’s a problem. If you remember about Chernobyl from 1986, it wasn’t a problem just for Soviet Union, it was a problem for entire Europe. If something happens to those nuclear power stations because of shelling and firing — and they were actually — in Zaporizhzhia, they were actually shelling the building of the atomic — you know, where the reactor is, the Russian troops. I mean, that would be a big problem not just for us here but for everyone for hundreds and thousands of kilometers away.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, for Russian soldiers, too, who just left Chernobyl.

VOLODYMYR DUBOVYK: Exactly, exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: They apparently were digging trenches in the Red Forest —

VOLODYMYR DUBOVYK: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: — which means they are going to get sick. And they found food packages in this forbidden place. Now —

VOLODYMYR DUBOVYK: You are right, Amy. That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, we know about white phosphorus because the U.S. used it in Fallujah in Iraq, among other places. We’re very familiar with the horror of the burning of people below when it’s dropped. But I wanted to ask you about President Biden describing for the first time Russia’s actions in Ukraine as genocide. This is what he said.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Seventy percent of the increase in prices in March came from Putin’s price hike in gasoline. We need to address this challenge with an urgency that it demands. … Your family budget, your ability to fill up your tank, none of it should hinge on whether a dictator declares war and commits genocide a half a world away.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Tuesday. On Wednesday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said international lawyers will have to determine whether Russia’s attack on Ukraine constitutes genocide.

NED PRICE: The president also, as you heard, emphasized that it will be the task of international lawyers to determine whether what we are seeing meets that legal threshold of genocide. The president was basing his comments on the horrific atrocities that we’ve all seen in Mariupol, in Bucha, in Kharkiv, and you could — you could go on.

AMY GOODMAN: And in an interview with France 2 television Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron responded, saying he would be cautious in using the word “genocide,” given that Ukraine and Russia are, quote, “brother nations.” This is what he said.

PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: [translated] Genocide has this sense. It is — the Ukrainian people and the Russian people, they are brother nations. It is madness, what is happening right now. It is unbelievably brutal. It’s the return of the war in Europe. But I look at the facts at the same time. I want to try my best to continue to be able to stop this war and rebuild peace. So, I’m not sure the escalation of words is helping the cause right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Dubovyk, could you weigh in on this issue of genocide?

VOLODYMYR DUBOVYK: Right. Well, it’s a tricky issue, of course. We should tread lightly here. It’s a highest call, you know, the genocide, to call something a genocide. I would quote an expert, Eugene Finkel, a good friend of mine and a colleague, who just the other day wrote a number of places in media sources in U.S. that he — actually being an authority on genocide, he thinks that what’s happening is genocide.

In addition to actually killing Ukrainians, what is also happening, that they are actually stealing some population from Ukrainian occupied territories and bringing them to Russia. There’s apparently 140,000 kids stolen from Ukraine and brought to Russia, and they are now being adopted by Russians there, while they have their parents back in Ukraine. They’re just disunited families.

I mean, President Biden is actually getting ahead of his gang in many ways. That’s not new. He is passionate. I think he really takes it personally. I think he feels that he has certain responsibility, personal responsibility, because he wanted to try to prevent the aggression. He’s trying to help Ukrainians in any way he can. And when he first mentioned war crimes, the rest of his administration said, “Oh, maybe not. But then, since the president mentions war crimes, we are also saying it’s war crimes.” Same thing happening with genocide.

If Mr. Macron doesn’t see that, why, that’s fine. There’s no need to be unanimity in this particular issue for the entire Western community. The “brotherly nation” remark, though, is really upsetting us, because the way we see it, Russia is not our brotherly nation, and definitely not now, when they’re killing and raping and killing our children. So, it would be anything but not brotherly to brotherly relations. Big brother doesn’t do that. The big brother does not strangle to death his little brother. So that’s not how it should be. So I think Mr. Macron’s remark in that respect has been unfortunate.

But in terms of genocide, yeah, let’s leave it to — let’s leave it to the international lawyers. You know, when Mr. Raphael Lemkin, who was born here in the city of Lviv — and, you know, he went through all this tragedy with his personal family situation here and suffered from Holocaust, and many of his family, as well. He really set the bar high [inaudible] in what it isn’t. And I think we should probably get those definitions away from politicians and indeed into the hands of capable and experienced experts in the field of international law, humanitarian law, international humanitarian law.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, the International — the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, visited Bucha and said that it was a crime scene that falls under the jurisdiction of the ICC.

VOLODYMYR DUBOVYK: Right, he did, and he was there, and also other people. I mean, Ukraine is trying to do what we can in terms of accommodating experts coming from other places to Bucha and other towns. And actually, unfortunately, as we know now already, it’s not just Bucha. It’s actually “Buchas.” It’s plural. It’s many little towns and villages that suffer the same situation under the Russian occupation.

We are trying to get as many as they can get to Ukraine as fast as they can, because, of course, obviously, you cannot drag it along. You know, you need to actually give the proper burials to these people at some point of time. There is actually a French group, a very big group from French Gendarmerie, who are also working here in Ukraine. We need to document it properly. We need to take out these arguments from Russian propaganda away, who are trying to say “nothing happened,” “it’s not us,” “these people are just the theater or maybe some actors who are acting out, and no one got killed there,” and so on. So, I think it’s very important for us to show to the world what happened here. And that is going to galvanize even more support for Ukraine. That’s why we see it as very important, but also giving that proper and due care to those people who suffered with this horrible death.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about the U.N. secretary-general’s speech yesterday, António Guterres. I want to play a clip of that speech, talking about the global impact of the war in Ukraine on food, energy and finance systems around the world.

SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: The war is supercharging a three-dimensional crisis — food, energy and finance — that is pummeling some of the world’s most vulnerable people, countries and economies. And all this comes at a time when developing countries are already struggling with a slate of challenges not of their making — the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and the lack of access to adequate resources to finance the recovery in the context of persistent and growing inequalities. We are now facing a perfect storm that threatens to devastate the economies of many developing countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Dubovyk, you’re a professor of international relations. How do you see this war ending?

VOLODYMYR DUBOVYK: Well, it’s going to end at some point, I hope not with Russian victory. I basically refuse to recognize such an eventuality or such a particular outcome of this war. We couldn’t lose. The stakes are too high. And the consolidation of our nation is absolutely amazing. It’s nothing short of miraculous. And what we are seeing here, people are gathering together, helping each other in times of need. We have to win this war, or not lose it badly, at least, because defining win or victory is kind of hard in a war like this, but not let them have an upper hand. That’s very important.

And actually, Secretary Guterres has been emotional in recent weeks, as well, when he’s seeing the destruction in Ukraine. And he’s speaking about the hardships and hunger and famines in various places. And one of the reasons it’s going to happen more this year is because the Russian Navy is blockading Ukrainian Black Sea ports, including Odessa. They even started this [inaudible] invasion [inaudible] ports. They put mines in the sea. There are 94 ships that are blocked, non-Ukrainian ships, from various countries, that are blockaded or blocked in Ukrainian Black Sea ports. They have wheat. They have sunflower oil and other things that are desperately needed in a number of places, like Egypt, Yemen and others. And they’re not going to get to those destinations, I’m afraid, because the blockade is still there. It’s a huge problem. I mean, it’s going to make more people starve because of malnutrition around the globe, really. And Russia just should wake up from doing these horrible things. It’s not just that they’re just doing it to Ukraine; they’re actually doing it to common sense and decency and to other peoples in the world.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Volodymyr, very quickly, before we conclude, people are fearful now that there’s a massive Russian offensive coming in Donbas, which may be the most brutal of the war that we’ve seen so far. Your response?

VOLODYMYR DUBOVYK: Right. That’s going to happen, I’m afraid. We will fight back. They’re going to have predominating — dominating numbers, prevailing numbers, bigger numbers, of course. But we’ve learned how to fight. And actually, in Donbas, we have some of our best forces, who have been fighting there since 2014. And now we are better equipped. There is weapons coming to us. People in the West should understand that by providing weapons, they’re not escalating the war; they’re actually helping Ukrainians to defend ourselves. It’s a fair fight. It’s a disjust war for us. And we need to be able to defend ourselves and inflict the higher toll on the aggressor state. And that’s how you deescalate. That’s how you make them actually think about peace and signing a peace deal — a ceasefire first and then a peace deal.

AMY GOODMAN: Volodymyr Dubovyk, we want to thank you for being with us.

VOLODYMYR DUBOVYK: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor of international relations in Odessa, Ukraine, joining us from Lviv in western Ukraine.

Democracy Now! has an immediate job opening. Check it out at democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Stay safe.

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