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Opinion

Slava Ukraini: The Movement of People

The news alerts rolled in nearly as quickly as the missiles pouring in upon what had previously been peacefully slumbering Ukrainian cities. The long-awaited “Putin’s War” had arrived. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy rallied his people and, indeed, the entire world, behind his leadership — leaving Russia swiftly locked out of the financial world with punishing sanctions. However, while the war in Ukraine may seem clear-cut, the ramifications are anything but.

We are now living in an era in which one man, Vladimir Putin, has determined that he and he alone is responsible for the fate of nations he shares very little with. As the world has witnessed his indiscriminate bombing of civilians, including maternity hospitals and ambulances, Putin has taken a cudgel to the world order, but we shall not be shaken so easily.

Numerous media outlets have called the president of Russia “Mad Vlad.” This nickname captures the essence of Russia’s ruler. His mental state is questionable. His anger is palpable. His comments regarding nuclear weapons suggest that the specter of mutually assured destruction lurks once more.

To understand this conflict, the Florida Political Review has interviewed and received statements from several renowned experts for a series of four articles explaining Putin’s War and its connections to Florida. This article focuses on the movement of people.

Understanding Putin’s War is incomplete without acknowledging the resulting movement of people to and from Ukraine. Indeed, we are witnessing the fastest-growing movement of people around Europe since World War II, dwarfing even the Syrian refugee crisis.

The United Nations expected at least four million refugees from Ukraine, and that is a low estimate. Though many countries are taking in refugees, Poland has so far borne the brunt of the crisis. Poles are taking Ukrainians into their homes, continuing a long-standing relationship with their Ukrainian brethren. Food and shelter have been made readily available to weary refugees. 

Experienced diplomats such as Daniel Fried are pleased with this open-arms approach. Fried’s extremely accomplished past, including being the former U.S. ambassador to Poland, principal deputy special advisor to the secretary of state for New Independent States (read: former Soviet republics), assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and the first-ever State Department coordinator for sanctions policy has given him much insight into the issue at hand.

In an interview with the Florida Political Review, Fried, now the Weiser Family Distinguished Fellow at the Atlantic Council, said that all in all, “The Poles are doing an awfully good job so far.” 

Olen Shamshur is also observing the migration situation. He served as the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, Ukrainian ambassador to France, and deputy foreign minister of Ukraine, during which he was European Union department head. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Eurasia Centre of the Atlantic Council.

Shamshur is also reassured by the outpouring of EU goodwill but warns “it is premature to pass the final judgment.” 

One remaining uncertainty: how many Ukrainian refugees may come to the United States? Some Ukrainian refugees have already come to Florida to reunite with family. President Biden has announced we will accept 100,000 Ukrainian immigrants at the moment. The number may fluctuate, given further American openness to immigrants and the desire of many Ukrainians to stay close to their home country.

Ukrainians are spread out across Florida, with an especially large Ukrainian and Russian community in Sunny Isles in South Florida. They have protested the war and are apparently united in solidarity. After Putin called Russian expatriates who live in France and Miami “traitors,” this community will likely become even more close-knit.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is likely to have something to say about this. Though a state has no power over immigration, DeSantis speaks his mind whenever he feels like it, and it is unlikely this will be an exception. He also is no stranger to immigration policy — previously supporting a controversial immigration bill to punish businesses that deal with illegal immigrants in federal custody, including young children. It passed the Florida legislature despite pleas from everyone from the Catholic Church (which his spokesperson attacked) to immigration advocates. 

Hopes are not high. DeSantis has refused to light up a bridge in Jacksonville in the colors of the Ukrainian flag and has ramped up his attacks on Biden, who had nothing to do with initiating Putin’s War.

Going in literally the opposite direction, Ukrainians may not be the only ones defending their country. Over 16,000 brave volunteers from foreign countries have signed up to fight for democracy in a new foreign legion, including an Iraq War veteran from southwest Florida. President Zelenskyy has welcomed these volunteers. 

This echoes the Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War —  a crew of Americans who fought for the legitimate republican Spanish government against the fascist forces of Francisco Franco. Though their side lost, they became embedded in American lore.

Fighting for another country is currently legal under U.S. law since these courageous future fighters are not fighting for an enemy of the U.S. Maintaining American citizenship is a more intricate issue, but this has not deterred those who have already gone to fight.

In contrast, “Mad Vlad” ordered his obedient lapdog, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu, to round up Syrian mercenaries supposedly skilled in urban combat. They will probably be used as cannon fodder by the Russians, who have been devastated by periodic visitations of Ukrainian military hardware. There are also concerning reports of the Russians deporting Ukrainians into Russia, which is a war crime.

Next time in the Slava Ukraini series: we delve into what Congress can do to help Ukraine, how this impacts American defense contractors and what role China is playing in the conflict. Until then, Slava Ukraini!

Check out other recent articles from Florida Political Review here.

Featured image: A skyscraper proudly displays the Ukrainian flag. Image by Charles Horowitz.

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