Principia College Convenes Panel on Invasion of Ukraine

As much of the world asks, “what can we do?” in response to the deadly Russian invasion of Ukraine, a panel of Principia College faculty and staff members quickly mobilized to do what they do best in such circumstances: teach. Students and Principia College community members packed Wanamaker Hall on campus at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, February 18, for an hour-and-a-half panel discussion titled “Invasion of Ukraine: What Does it Mean?”

President John Williams hosted the discussion panel.

College President John Williams hosted a panel of five professors and one Latvian staff member to provide a wide range of historical, economic, media, personal, spiritual, and political perspectives on the situation in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, and Russia. The Principia community tuned in to the discussion from 17 countries around the world with 1,153 virtual attendees joining the 125-person live audience.

“I wanted to inform myself,” says sophomore Angie Whitmore who took a break from her studies to attend the panel discussion. “The main thing I got out of this is the need to pray for the people in Ukraine and see the situation without judging.”

Campus Events & Special Projects Manager Heather Holmes managed the logistics and organized the broadcast of Monitor Night Live, an annual Principia College presentation with the editor and staff writers from the Pulitzer-prize-winning newspaper The Christian Science Monitor. After that event, “it was apparent that there was a need and thus the panel/program was constructed over the weekend,” Holmes says.

While there are no specific courses in Ukrainian politics and history at Principia, each member of the panel brought a unique lens to the rapidly developing invasion and its global ramifications. Here are a few highlights:

Dr. Peter van Lidth de Jeude (History) says, “Vladimir Putin’s understanding of history is deeply lacking.” Dr. van Lidth de Jeude questions nationalistic interpretations of modern nation-states. “Nationalism portrays itself as eternal, but it just isn’t. All nation-states are recent. But we should not let Putin [or any power] explain history in a way that is only beneficial to one.”

Prof. Dinah Ryan (English) spent years in the Czech Republic and sees many parallels between the former Czechoslovakia and Ukraine. There are echoes of Czech history in what is unfolding in Ukraine. Prof. Ryan remembers taking a group of students to a Czech village razed by the Nazis in World War II. The Germans killed every man, woman, and child in the village or sent them to concentration camps. The story was so devastating to one student that museum staff stopped to console her, saying this was hard but necessary knowledge. Ryan added, “Your heart is big enough to hold this pain, and you wouldn’t feel this grief if you didn’t know love.”

Toms Musts explains who the invasion of Ukraine looks in his home country of Latvia.

Toms Musts (Media Services Center) is a 2017 graduate of Principia College who works as a video producer for the College and was born and raised in Latvia, a former republic of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and current neighbor of the Russian Federation. “My town is right on the border with Russia. … Even though it feels like the conflict in Ukraine is sort of distant from Latvia (two countries away), I am calling my family, sharing thoughts with each other, and wondering what’s going to be the next expansion beyond Ukraine. …there is a sense of conflict and starting to prepare for the worst-case scenario.”

Dr. Julie Blase (Political Science) sees herself as a character educator, and she’s encouraging her students to “bring our best sense of empathy” not just to the Ukrainians, but in understanding the Russians’ next moves. And she urged the audience to remember the “oxygen mask principle” that the airlines teach us when we fly. “You can take care of yourself first so you can help someone else. You can be a student of current events without watching gruesome videos.”

Dr. Sarah Andrews (Political Science and Global Studies) is currently teaching a “Politics of China” course shared some of the prevailing views on the implications of the invasion of Ukraine on Russia-China relations—particularly with respect to China’s attitude towards Taiwan. “China is trying to walk a tightrope between Russia [as its main authoritarian ally] and Western democracies. ...Autocrats are feeling empowered,” Dr. Andrews says. “China will definitely be watching this, and Europe will be watching how the U.S. responds.”

Steven Savides (Mass Communication), a citizen of both South Africa and the United States, brought as many questions as answers to the discussion. As a former journalist in South Africa and for The Christian Science Monitor, Savides acknowledged the inner struggle between his personal feelings of support for Ukraine and the need to be alert to our own biases. “How far will Putin go to achieve his goals? … What does a blurring of the lines between civilian combatants and non-combatants mean? … What can be done for peace to stop this conflict?”

Two students from Uganda—George William Lutwama (a one-year enrichment student) and freshman Oscar Ssemujju—agreed that a statement from Mary Baker Eddy (the discover and founder of the world-wide Christian Science movement) which President Williams read at the end of the discussion resonated with them the most: “I am asked, “‘What are your politics?’ I have none, in reality, other than to help support a righteous government; to love God supremely, and my neighbor as myself” (The First Church of Christ Scientist and Miscellany, p. 276).

“We all need to love each other,” Ssemujju says. “If we all loved each other, then we wouldn’t be having this war.”

A video of this event is available on the Principia College YouTube channel.