Princeton Residents Come Together in Solidarity With Ukraine as War Continues
By Donald Gilpin
As the war in Ukraine continues, different segments of the Princeton community struggled to understand, to take in the scale of the tragedy, and to create a meaningful response, with actions that might have positive effects.
More than 200 people gathered at 5 p.m. on March 3, at first in Palmer Square’s Tiger Park on Nassau Street, then spilling across the street to the Nassau Presbyterian Church, for a Peace in Ukraine vigil sponsored by the Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA).
CFPA Executive Director the Rev. Robert Moore was overwhelmed by the size and diversity of the crowd, more than four times larger than he had expected. “People were spreading the word,” he said. “It kept growing and growing. There were people of all ages and backgrounds including a lot of Ukrainian Americans.”
Moore pondered the significance of coming together to show support for the Ukrainian people. “Part of the big challenge when you’re facing the violence and the deep, deep challenges that Ukraine is facing now is that you want to know that people around the world are standing in solidarity with you,” he said. “That counts for an awful lot.”
He continued, “We all need to be in solidarity at a time like this. That to me is a potent anti-war force, that solidarity.”
Participants chanted “No War in Ukraine,” “What do we want? Peace. When do we want it? Now,” and many held blue and yellow Ukrainian flags or waved posters attacking Russian President Vladimir Putin and supporting Ukraine.
Many local Ukrainian Americans spoke, sharing personal stories, family stories, and connections to their homeland.
“I think these gestures of international solidarity do matter,” said Moore. “That’s really what our action was about. Going forward we need to sustain that — these expressions of solidarity and condemnations of Russia’s behavior and the war crimes that are being committed.”
Princeton University scholars “are speaking to the moment,” wrote Jamie Saxon of the University Office of Communications, citing dozens of faculty members, alumni, staff and students who have been “sharing their expertise and perspectives in op-eds, on television and cable news programs, online and in print publications, on virtual panels, and across social media.”
At a March 4 Princeton University School for Public and International Affairs online panel discussion, three expert scholars discussed “Ukraine — Global Ramifications” with moderator Razia Iqbal, BBC Newshour host and visiting lecturer in the Humanities Council.
Sociology and Public Affairs Professor Filiz Garip described the challenges of the rapidly growing refugee crisis. She pointed out that already more than one million refugees have crossed the border into the neighboring countries of Poland, Moldova, and Hungary and that the United Nations has estimated a possible total of as many as 4 million migrants in the near future.
Garip emphasized lessons that can be learned from failures in the war in Syria. “Sympathy runs really high when these conflicts first start and we see the humanitarian need,” she said, ”but as the conflicts rage on and numbers continue we become numb to these realities and start saying, ‘I’ve done enough. I’ve reached my limits.’”
Garip also warned that if refugees are forced to stay in their first country of arrival, those countries will be overwhelmed. “The resettlement effort needs to start right now,” she said. “There is a systemic issue with how immigration is handled in the United States and the European Union. it’s very restrictive, not keeping pace with the need. The Biden administration is better at increasing the refugee ceiling compared with Trump, but still the numbers are not going to be nearly enough.”
Garip, whose family fled from communist Bulgaria to Turkey in 1978 when she was a little girl, wrote an op-ed article titled “How do you pack for an escape? A refugee’s story” in the Philadelphia Inquirer last week.
Panelist Brian Katulis, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and vice president for policy at the Middle East Institute, described the big-picture scenario surrounding the Ukraine invasion as three intertwined buckets of issues to watch: geostrategic, economic, and moral — three inter-related challenges that the world is facing.
“The international system has been rearranging itself for quite some time over the last decade or so, and the tectonic plates are shifting quite a lot here,” he said. “The war in Ukraine is a stress test for NATO, but it’s not just that. People are watching carefully how China positions itself and responds. In the Middle East you have many countries hedging between the United States and Russia, reluctant to take sides.”
Katulis warned that the situation would become increasingly difficult for the Ukrainians. He emphasized the danger of Putin’s “troll power, his use of disinformation to confuse and divide societies and to exploit divisions,” and he expressed concern about the endurance of support for Ukraine.
“We’ve rallied, but once the going gets tougher in terms of costs and burdens you may have more people say ‘this is not our fight’ and retreat to what I call our gated community mindset,” he added.
Michael Reynolds, associate professor of Near Eastern studies, who joined the panel on Zoom from Baku Azerbaijan, where he had just arrived from Moscow, described the mood in the Russian capital as “subdued.” He noted that the mood seemed to be changing as the war continued longer than Russian leaders had expected. “I don’t think the mass of the population is panicking, but there is a definite realization that this is much more serious than we thought, that this is a bona fide war and no one knows where it’s going to end.”
Reynolds emphasized Putin’s mistakes and the immorality of the Russian invasion, but he also noted that the expansion of NATO may have backed Putin into a corner. Reynolds warned against an “extraordinary explosion of Russophobia in the U.S.”
“Putin has made a huge mistake, an unjustified war,” said Reynolds. “It’s beyond being an immoral act. It’s a very mistaken political act because he has done precisely the things he wanted to stop. He’s brought together the United States and Europe in a way that’s never been seen since the end of World War II.”
Princeton Human Services has shared a list of three organizations — Caritas (caritas.org), the International Rescue Committee (rescue.org), and Save the Children (savethechildren.org) — that are accepting donations to support the people of Ukraine. Human Services urges local residents to consider giving money to help provide food, medical care, emergency support, and more.