New Western University course scrutinizes Russia's war against Ukraine

The London Free Press by Heather Rivers, posted December 30, 2022

Almost a year after Russia launched its unprovoked war against Ukraine, Western University is offering an opportunity for students to explore how and why it came to be.

The online course, called Russia’s War Against Ukraine, is being offered in January through the department of political science. It is open to all students.

“My goal is to help students understand the larger issues and also get a first-hand view of what’s going on,” said Marta Dyczok, an associate professor of history and political science who specializes in Ukraine and Eastern European politics.

She will instruct the class that will probe “the what, why and how of this brutal war in modern Europe.”

Dyczok’s parents were Ukrainian Second World War refugees. She is the author of six books including Ukraine Calling and spends her summers in Ukraine conducting research “on the role of mass media in democratization.”

A portion of the new course looks at how Russian president Vladimir Putin uses “information warfare” and propaganda as part of his strategy and how Ukrainian journalists are battling back despite extreme hardships.

Hromadske Radio is one of the few independent media outlets left in Ukraine and is run on listener donations, Dyczok said. She hosted a weekly English-language show on the station titled Ukraine Calling.

“I am in awe of all Ukrainians, but the journalists in particular are the ones out on the front line and reporting on things. These people are really extraordinary working around the clock,” she said.

“I call it the information front, and that’s one of the topics I will be talking about (in the course).”

A big part of what is taking place is how Russia has been “distorting everything,” Dyczok said.

“It’s also a battle for hearts and minds,” she said.

Russia, she said, has rewritten Ukrainian history as its own.

“What we are seeing now is a huge shift because Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy . . .  is such a huge communicator. In this age of social media he is able to get Ukraine’s message out to the world,” Dyczok said.

“So when Putin says this is not a war, Ukraine says:  ‘This is happening and it’s a war.’ It’s mind-boggling that people think it’s not.”

Those receptive to Putin’s message are responding to “larger world views,” Dyczok said.

“Blaming the U.S. for a war that you are causing is an interesting spin,” she said. “It’s ridiculous.

“This is not a war about NATO and the United States; this is a war about Russia trying to raise its imperial control over Ukraine.”

Dyczok describes Putin as “a combination of old-style KGB agent plus modern mafia boss.

“He’s trying to portray himself as this powerful leader that is going to reassert Russia’s place in the world,” she said. “That includes taking control of the Ukraine.”

Dyczok added: “The irony of this is what he has accomplished is exactly the opposite of what he set out to do.”

Nuclear weapons are the reason why Ukraine is not seeing the support it had hoped from the rest of the world, she said.

“NATO doesn’t want to get involved because they would be threatened (by Russian nuclear weapons) and their people might be killed,” Dyczok said.

Volodymyr Vorobets, president of the London Ukrainian Centre, said Ukrainians have a different culture and core values than Russians, going back thousands of years.

The war began, he said, because Russia didn’t want Ukraine to join the European Union and “be free again.”

Vorobets said he’s pleased to see more education about the war and its causes.

“I would be very happy if they had this course not only at Western University but in other educational institutions throughout Canada. The fact is Ukraine is not like Russia. People should know about Ukraine, its role, its people — and know who started this war and who is right, who’s wrong.”