More than four months into the Russia-Ukraine war, Lyudmyla Ardan’s emotions have dulled from horror, to helplessness, to the sad resignation that the fighting will likely last a long time.
Ardan, assistant professor of economics and native Ukrainian, has lived in the United States for more than 15 years, but her father and other relatives still live in the relatively untouched western Ukrainian city of Kolomyia. She also has a cousin who lives in the eastern city of Dnipro where conditions are considerably more dangerous.
“I fear that war in Ukraine will just become a reality of life and will be reduced to brief daily news coverage, pushed aside by other mundane events,” Ardan says. “I believe people may become numb to it.”
That the war will devolve into a long-term conflict is something that Andrea Lopez, associate professor of political science, believes is likely — one marked by continued military buildups on both sides, with ongoing guerilla warfare.
When war first erupted in February, Lopez anticipated Ukraine would quickly fall to Russian forces but questioned the communist country’s ability to hold such a large territory. However, military fumbles, intelligence lapses and heavy losses have exposed deep challenges within the Russian military.
While Russia has spent significant funds on its military and learned lessons from its wars in Chechnya (1994, 1999) and Georgia (2008), Lopez says it appears there was little attention paid to things like logistics or the development of a functioning corps of noncommissioned officers.
“The Russian military remains a very hierarchical organization, relying on decisions — even dealing with the smallest units — being made by generals and other high- level officers. This slows responses and prevents forces from responding rapidly to changing situations on the ground,” Lopez explains. “The Ukrainian forces, on
the other hand, focused heavily on the development of trained personnel who were authorized to act autonomously on the battlefield, changing tactics on their own. This has allowed them to create havoc for the Russian military, especially in the early part of the war.”
As Russia struggles to achieve its strategic objectives in Ukraine, its invasion triggered a groundswell of support from the West and historic moves by Finland and Sweden to join NATO, the exact thing Russia is fighting against.
“The unity of the West — of NATO and the EU — has been impressive, not least of all the fact that the European Union is working to ban Russian oil imports, which are important for the countries’ economies,” Lopez says. “While there are some divisions, the organizations have managed to maintain and deepen sanctions and separation from Russia.”
UNCERTAIN ROAD AHEAD
As for what is to come, Lopez says it is still difficult to predict. Russia could, having gained control of the land bridge between Crimea and the Donbas, declare its “special military operation” successful and return the country to the low-level conflict it’s seen since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea. A second option includes the above and could also encompass
a move to gain control of the seaport city of Odesa, which Lopez believes would be a challenge for Russian military given losses to its navy.
The third option is that Russia, if it can claim a decisive victory in the East, continues its attempt to take all of Ukraine.
What’s nearly certain, Lopez says, is that the Russia-Ukraine war is likely to be a long one.
“The key question, and one I have no answer for, is whether the Russian population — as body bags return and the economic sanctions really begin to bite — will eventually start to oppose the war,” she says. “During the Afghan war (1979– 89), there were numerous protests in the then-Soviet Union, and it became harder and harder to get conscripts to go fight. They were increasingly dodging the draft, protected by family and neighbors. As the contract forces take increasing casualties, the Russian government will have to rely on conscripts and that will likely harm public opinion.”
For now, Ardan watches the news and raises money to support the military and refugees in Ukraine.
“Russia is erasing entire cities from the map, deporting civilians to Russia, stealing and plundering, torturing civilians and committing other war crimes on a massive scale,” Ardan says. “My greatest fear is that atrocities like this will continue unless Putin is stopped.”