On the 24th of February 2022, Russia instigated an unwarranted and callous war on Ukraine. No longer can people in Ukraine live in peace – a fundamental determinant of living a healthy life. They have been forced into war, and there are no winners in war.
The Public Health Association of New Zealand (PHANZ) is unreservedly opposed to the war on Ukraine and we are looking for pragmatic ways to be of service to Ukraine during their time of need. Through our research, we have gathered information from both Ukrainian and Russian sources on how we, the people of New Zealand, can be of help.
Here is a summary of what we found:
In Aotearoa New Zealand, some 17 thousand kilometres from Ukraine, many of us may have been unaware of the rising tension that had been building between Russia and Ukraine and the reasons behind this. On our remote island, we have no experience of being a bordered nation and the blurring of cultures that happen around the edges, nor what it must be like to live next to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. But it’s time to respect the situation and get up to speed. If you haven’t already, you can now find many articles, videos, and podcasts dedicated to explaining the history of Ukraine and the Soviet Union, and the reasons Putin invaded another nation. We need to respect the gravity of the situation and the first step in doing that is to understand the history, Ukraine’s precarious position between Europe and Russia, who are the players in this, and what are Putin’s motives.
Propaganda is defined as “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view”. Under Putin’s rule, the people of Russia have been subjected to 20 years of mind-bending propaganda. Disinformation is not new. Russians have been told lies and are still are being told lies about the war, or as Putin calls it “a special military operation.” The technology being used to spread disinformation is getting more convincing and harder to detect. People opposed to the war on Ukraine are being urged to spread the truth on social media. Perhaps this could drown out the fake news or find its way to the people in Russia that may be unsure what to believe. Though we have seen some Russians protesting against the war, and assume there must be more that share the same belief (but are understandably afraid to come out), there are others that think it is a good idea to keep NATO’s forces away from Russia. Then there are some that just don’t know what to think, which is completely understandable when disinformation is a regular part of your society. As one blogger put it “imagine if every person in the world told you that the snow is green. Sooner or later, you’d start believing it, feeling guilty for ever thinking otherwise. You’d block away any doubt because fear of embarrassment and shame would overweigh the need for accuracy”. So share, tweet, post, blog, TikTok or whatever. Social media can be a powerful tool when used well and Russians against the war are asking you to amplify the truth to drown out the disinformation.
Show your solidarity to the people of Ukraine and peacefully protest, whether that be in-person or online. As world leaders react to the war, we should be urging them to do all within their power to help Ukraine. In Aotearoa, parliament unanimously passed the following sanctions on Russia – but were they enough? And how effective are sanctions like this anyway?
Well, sanctions have worked before. In South Africa for example, anti-apartheid groups rallied for punitive economic sanctions, boycotting South African products and the like. Ultimately leading to enough societal pressure to end South Africa’s racially oppressive system. But will sanctions work in Russia to stop a war, and stop it soon? History tells us that it will take time and effective protests must involve at least 3.5% of the population, and in Russia’s case that equates to about 5.08 million people. That’s not impossible, but it is difficult to imagine 5 million people in Russia providing an organised resistance against the war, particularly when such strict penalties apply. On the other hand, the international sanctions placed on Russia may have some impact on wealthy Russian oligarchs, men who carry some political weight in Russia, friends of Putin and the like. It will be interesting to see how the sanctions play out – some suggest that Russia is hurting but is unlikely to be enough for the narcissist Putin to step back. He would never want to appear weak or defeated and current negotiations between the two nations are difficult at best.
If possible for you, donating money is another way that you can help Ukraine. The humanitarian aid needed on the ground in Ukraine, the immense displacement of Ukrainians, refugees now fleeing their loved country to find peace elsewhere, are just the start of what healing from this war will look like. A lot of people will be needing help and there are many agencies you can engage with to financially support these causes.
A nuclear disaster, the imminent threat of nuclear war, and the after-effects on our planet. I have a real mental disconnect when thinking about this. I don’t want to believe that it’s possible even when I know that it is. Nuclear winter describes the hypothetical phenomenon that a nuclear disaster will have on the climate in the short and longer term. It is hypothesised that there would be cascading impacts on the planet, such as widespread firestorms leading to severe and prolonged climatic cooling as well as devastating impacts on the ozone and biodiversity. Our climate targets will mean nothing if the planet is irreparably damaged by a severe nuclear disaster. So, now is the time to plan for such a scenario. It may seem over-dramatic, planning for such a disaster (though the current pandemic may say otherwise) but do we really want to be caught unprepared? Putin cannot be trusted to hold the planet’s best interests at heart - we should be planning for the worst and doing all we can to oppose a nuclear war.
Unfortunately, Putin’s war on Ukraine is not the only conflict happening in the world right now or in recent times. The Middle East has been afflicted with what seems like endless wars and humanitarian disasters. Understandably, comparisons are being made between the widespread coverage of the situation in Ukraine, the urgency to act and support their refugees, and how the world has typically reacted to wars in the Middle East. But is it helpful right now to say let’s help Ukraine but why didn’t you do something about Yemen, Palestine, Afghanistan… etc? PHANZ caught up with Natalia who is a Russian New Zealander, and to that question “Why didn’t you do something about…” she says – “you’re right. I am human and we have weaknesses and strengths. And one of our strengths is the ability to recognise when something is wrong and try to right it. Let’s make this point the turning point. Let’s stop ALL WARS. Let’s admit that we didn’t care much about other wars when we should have. Let’s feel fragile and scared, scared for the lives of our children. And let this make us strong to stand up and demand to STOP ALL WARS.”
Living in peace is a fundamental determinant of health. All wars must be stopped.
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