Opinion open letter

An open letter on the Russo-Ukrainian war

​​Dear MIT community,

On Feb. 24, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine is my home. My parents and all my relatives are in Ukraine. Many of my friends have become refugees; many others took up arms and are defending the country. In this letter, I want to explain why this war is unjust, why you should care, and what you can do to help Ukraine.

This is a war of Russian imperialism. Russian president Vladimir Putin started this war to install a puppet regime in Kyiv and bring my country into Russia’s imperial fold. But Ukrainians do not want this. Ukrainians strive to be a part of the free world — the world of democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights. Equally as important, Ukrainians do not want to be a part of the “Russian world.” Russia has subjugated Ukraine (as well as Belarus, Georgia, and parts of Central Asia) for many centuries. For centuries, Russia tried to erase Ukrainian language and culture and killed our poets and scientists. It went as far as to create an artificial famine — Holodomor of 1932–33 — to exterminate Ukrainians and break them into submission. Putin is part of that disdainful tradition.

That is why Ukrainians fight — and fight so fiercely. Ukrainians fight for their freedom, for the right to be Ukrainian, for the right to determine their own future. These aspirations are universal. They are just. If you believe in these rights, if you believe that big countries subjugating smaller ones by force is wrong, you should care about Ukraine.

Furthermore, the Russian military — unable to achieve its aims in a fair fight — is committing war crimes. Russia is shelling residential areas, destroying civilian infrastructure, and shooting at the evacuation routes that their own leadership agreed to. Kharkiv, a city of 1.5 million people just 20 miles from the Russo-Ukrainian border, has been reduced to rubble. Russian forces bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol. Russian forces are using armaments and tactics forbidden by international law. Russian forces shelled the largest nuclear power plant (NPP) in Europe — Zaporizhzhia NPP. They control Chornobyl NPP and cut it off from the proper maintenance. These actions risk creating a nuclear catastrophe larger than the one in 1986. For the sake of human compassion and for the sake of the environment, you should care about Ukraine.

Okay, you care, but what can you do? The way to end this war is to pressure Putin into good-faith negotiations. This pressure comes from Ukrainian military strength and Russian economic weakness. And YOU can help us ramp up the pressure by:

  1. Reaching out to your elected officials. This is the most important thing you can do for Ukraine, and I implore you to do it. If you are a U.S. citizen, please call your representatives, senators, and the White House. Tell them that you support humanitarian, financial, and military aid for Ukraine. Right now, the highest priority for Ukraine is air-defense systems and anti-tank equipment. Tell your officials that doing business with Russia — and thereby sponsoring the war — is unacceptable. I beg of you, Europeans in particular: say no to Russian gas and oil!

  2. Donate to the Ukrainian cause. The Ukrainian Cultural Center of New England has published a list of U.S.-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations you can support at https://uccn.org/charities/.

If Ukraine stops fighting, there will be no Ukraine. If Russia stops fighting, there will be no war. Ukraine cannot surrender. Please help us survive. Please help us win.

Yevhenii Usenko
PhD Student, MIT Sloan School of Management