Updated as of March 3, 2022 at 6:21 p.m. to include additional video.

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English professor Jennifer Eidum changed her entire class agenda on Thursday, Feb. 24 — a historic day for the world. Russia invaded Ukraine by land, air and sea, resulting in the biggest attack by one European country against another since World War II. Eidum’s language and dialect class would go from discussing language to discussing the war. 

“I dropped our class,” Eidum said. “I gave a lecture about … the history of Ukrainian and Russian language — how it led to language policies in the country, and then how those policies tell us something about Putin's war rhetoric.”

But changing the class agenda was more than teaching history to Eidum — since the beginning of her adult life, Eidum has personally connected to Ukraine. She first lived in the country as a Peace Corps volunteer for a few years, and later moved to Ukraine where she met her first husband. When Eidum saw the streets she used to walk through destroyed, it broke her heart. 

“I was horrified. I was devastated. I cried,” Eidum said. “I had to get out of bed … I turned on the TV and watched the news to watch missiles hitting Kyiv.”

Russia’s large-scale invasion on Ukraine captured the Chernobyl nuclear power plant within the first 24 hours of invading. The military action in civilian areas is in violation of the agreements between Ukraine and Russia, such as the Minsk agreements — a ceasefire signed in 2014.  

The U.S. and European allies imposed significant economic sanctions two days after Russia’s initial invasion, most notably cutting off access to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication messaging system. Removing certain Russian banks from the SWIFT network, which connects banks internationally and provides critical communication for foreign payments, effectively prevents Russia from making Western purchases.

Currently, Russia is still pushing toward Kyiv and Kharkiv, the capital and the second-largest city in Ukraine respectively, leading to the deaths of more than 350 civilians as of March 1, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Interior.

Understanding this at Elon

Former Elon University professor and political historian Mark Dalhouse was keeping up with the events from a political standpoint days before the war unraveled. Everyone should recognize this moment in history, even from Elon, Dalhouse said. 

“This will affect all of us, all of us have an interest in this,” Dalhouse said on the morning of the initial invasion. “This is potentially a fundamental reordering of the world's security apparatus.” 

Professor of economics Steven Wagner said that the sanctions that the West is employing will inflict as much economic pain on the country as possible, but also will result in long-term effects for the U.S.

President Joe Biden announced sanctions targeting Russian banks and high-tech sectors, and Ukraine applied for membership into the European Union as of Feb. 28, according to a report from Al Jazeera.

“If you try to restrict trade, everybody suffers. Russia should suffer a lot more than we will, but we’ll all feel part of the pain,” Wagner said. “We’ll see higher energy prices … Ukraine's a big producer of wheat, so that is likely to be very interrupted. So bread, things that use wheat, those prices will go up.”

As for understanding the economics of this from an Elon standpoint, Wagner said that the community here should understand that they are not insusceptible to these effects. Already, gas prices in Alamance County have risen to over $3.50, with Russia being one of the biggest gas and oil producers in the world.

“Russia will, in the foreseeable future, never be a reasonably decent player in the world. So I think this is a protracted conflict. It's unfortunate, frightening, and it's just, it's a terrible turn of events,” Wagner said. “The economics of it are, to me, not as important to us as citizens as the human elements are to us as people.”

Elon University President Connie Book made remarks on the war at a panel discussion on Feb. 28 that heard from Samuel Greene and Graeme Robertson, co-authors of “Putin v. The People: The Perilous Politics of a Divided Russia.” Moderated by Safia Swimelar, professor of political science, the panel discussed the attack on Ukraine through a series of questions and answers from students, faculty and staff. 

“In this time of confusion, frustration and fear … for many across the world who are struggling to understand how this could be happening today,” Book said. “A lot of people are watching these images asking themselves that very question.”

Checking in abroad

Dean of the Global Education Center Nick Gozik said Elon is monitoring the situation in Ukraine, and although the university does not have students in the country, they are still recognizing the global event.

“We do not currently have students studying in Ukraine, nor do we have any international students from there on campus,” Gozik said. “However, Elon has had other ties to the country and region, including amongst our faculty and staff, and we very much have the people of Ukraine in our thoughts.”

The GEC sent an email to current students abroad stating that the study abroad partner institutions have reported no immediate impact on programs at this time, and that they are closely monitoring the security crisis in Eastern Europe. The center recommended students to stay informed, reconsider personal travels, stay away from protests and recognize student resources, such as counseling services. 

A current student studying in Berlin, Germany, junior Carrie Underwood, said that she has witnessed a different life during the past couple of days — protests around Berlin, war discussions and concerned citizens. Though she isn’t directly seeing the war, the conversations happening in Germany have been a stark reminder that she is geographically nearby. 

“You can feel so far removed from the situation, but in reality, I am close to this,” Underwood said. 

Finding solutions

Eidum said one of the most meaningful moments in her life was witnessing the Orange Revolution when she lived in Ukraine, a series of protests and political events in Ukraine from 2004 to 2005. This was a result of the aftermath of run-off vote in Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election. Eidum said watching Ukrainians fight for their democracy and against electoral fraud, inspired her to become more involved in democracy in general — one thing she also wishes more of the Elon community will do. 

“Democracy can't be taken for granted. Democracy is something that you actually have to be involved in, and if the structures fail you, you need to do something about it,” Eidum said. “That was a lesson that I got in 2004, and I feel like Ukraine keeps giving us this lesson.”

Eidum said the Elon community can help find solutions for this through continuing education on global issues, but also take a moment to recognize democratic freedoms and rights. 

But for Eidum personally, she said she will continue to exercise her voice in the local community. 

“I can send a little bit of money to Ukraine, sure. But no matter, the number one thing I have is information, and I have students.” Eidum said. “Helping the Elon community to know more about what's going on is something that I can do that may pay off in some way someday.”