On the Russo-Ukraine War’s First Anniversary, New Yorkers Are Divided on Whether U.S. Involvement Should Continue

Issue 278

Some expressed concerns that the U.S. government is not doing enough to address poverty and pollution here at home.

Katie Pruden with Amba Guerguerian Feb 24, 2023

One year ago today, Russia began its invasion of Ukraine with missile strikes from the air with its ground forces advancing toward the capital city of Kyiv from the north, east and south. Russian President Vladimir Putin labeled it a “special military operation.” Both Putin and Ukraine’s Western allies assumed that the Russians would prevail in a matter of days or weeks. A year later, the war is stalemated along a 700-mile front in Eastern Ukraine as the United States and other NATO countries pour weapons into the conflict. 

The Indypendent recently spoke with New Yorkers in Union Square Park to see how they felt about the war, the prospect of peace talks and what might happen next. Answers have been lightly edited for clarity. 

Dave; Accountant; From the Bronx

I don’t think that they should be supporting it. I think we should kind of stay out of it. However, unfortunately, because we are kind of working with everybody else in the world, we can’t just make that decision alone. So I kind of feel like we’re stuck. 

Do you think that peace negotiations should commence?

Absolutely. Yeah. I can imagine that being a mess. I could see it kind of like everybody getting together and saying, “Hey, this is what we’re going to do.” And then it’s very likely that Russia might just turn around and do some more war crimes.

I feel like the US wants to get involved. But however, I think it’s more of how we look to the rest of the world, right? So we can’t just say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna not get involved.’ The rest of the world will say, ‘Oh, look at the US. They’re not getting involved in this.’ It’s kind of like a repetitive cycle every time there’s a war.

I just wish it would end. I have Ukrainian friends, and it’s just been the most horrible thing to have to wake up and find out that people died or could have died. We don’t have to deal with that here, fortunately. 

I think people like living in their little fantasy of everything’s fine here. And they’ll read the news if they want to find out about it. Just like if you walk up to somebody, they might not even know that there’s a war going on in Ukraine.

Gil Robichaud; Retired computer programmer; Spent most of his life in Manhattan

We can’t allow Russia to pick up countries one by one as they go along. We have to stop them wherever, whatever direction they go. And they can’t pick on an independent country and take it over with their soldiers. 

I wish that Putin would die so maybe it’ll come to an end. But otherwise, if we escalate, it’s only going to escalate on both sides. It’s probably where we want it to be right now. Let them fight it out with drones or something like that, instead of atomic bombs.

What would you say if it came down to US troops being sent?

Once our troops get sent, it’s gonna be a wider war, I don’t think it’s good. It’s much better to send hardware, missiles and drones and some fighter jets, whatever we can do. 

And what about peace negotiations?

I don’t think it’s going to do anything. I don’t see how it would ever work. It’s not going to work until Russia needs a way to get out of the war, then they may negotiate something.

There are almost no years between World War II and now when we have not qualified as being in one war or another.

Do you have any opinions on NATO?

It’s a good thing. In this case,  Russia is a large country, but the army may not be as good as we thought it was. But, they can take on countries one by one as Hitler did with Germany. They just took one country after another. They just kept rolling right down. In this case, we’re trying to put a stop to it. So with NATO, at least all these countries are united and they have a common front against the invaders.

Living through the Cold War and the constant threat and fear of that, how has this current conflict fit into it for you, and for maybe others you’ve talked to?

It’s just more of the same, especially where Russia is the main opponent. We had drills in elementary school where we had to get under the desk, because if there’s an atomic bomb, you got to take cover, and all that. So that’s what we lived under. The Cuban Missile Crisis, and so forth. It was always one thing after another and never stopped. 

We’ve been at war since World War II. I looked for my father one time because he was in the military and they define wartime periods where you get special benefits, because you served in a war. There are almost no years between World War II and now when we have not qualified as being in one war or another. So it’s just been the only thing that’s constant is that we’re at war with somebody, whether it’s in Latin America, the Caribbean. Afghanistan. Wherever it might be, we’re always at war. Our soldiers are always dying somewhere.

Josephine; Lives in Rhode Island

I do think the fact that the support is there is good. But, I feel like it’s really frustrating sometimes because there’s stuff going on in our own country that doesn’t really get taken care of with much urgency. If you’re gonna be there for one cause, you have to sort of put your money where your mouth is for everything. And I feel like there’s a lot of things where there could be an equal amount of support being given both towards Ukraine, and also the people that are being affected in our own backyard. And, you know, especially with the stuff that’s going on [with the train crash] in East Palestine right now and how the government has just really handled that in general. I hope that they’re doing all the right things with Ukraine, but sometimes it can feel hard to be trustful. I’d like to think that they’re all putting things for the right causes, but it is hard when you see even your own neighbors aren’t really getting the support they need.

There’s just been a lot of unrest, and people aren’t being taken care of here. 

You mentioned East Palestine. What else?

Reforming law enforcement, Flint still doesn’t have clean water. There’s still unrest in Minneapolis, three years after the death of George Floyd. And at this point, it’s not even just about George Floyd anymore, there’s been others.

Jade Jones; Actor from Washington, D.C.; Moved to NYC in January

I think that our money should go elsewhere. I just moved to New York, and seeing all the houseless people on the street and all the people that need resources, I just feel like our country is so set on being a superpower that we often neglect our own people. So I think that money for Ukraine should be spent elsewhere. I think we’re fighting a war that doesn’t have much to do with what needs to be taken care of here.

I’m against the war in the first place. I’m all for talking about peace because at the end of the day, the people that are being affected by this war are not the people that this war is about. Anything to stop the annihilation of an entire civilization would be good. 

I don’t even know what they’re really fighting about. I mean, I know what they’re fighting about — I don’t know what Russia’s problem is. I don’t know what they want. I don’t know what a negotiation would look like between them. But in order to have people stop living in fear for their lives, I think doing whatever is possible is necessary. 

Eden Elam, 24; Works in media; Originally from Washington, D.C.

I do believe the United States should be supporting Ukraine. I think it’s a sign that we are standing by our values and that we don’t back down to bullies. And it’s an effort that I’m proud of that we’re engaged in.

And if it came down to it, how would you feel if the United States started sending US soldiers?

Definitely not an ideal situation. Ultimately, the only instance in which that would be necessary if it escalated to a point where also American citizens were under threat.

I would hope that without more conflict, lives lost, buildings collapsed, that a resolution could be made. I think that would be in everyone’s best interest. And I also think it would be an amazing show of strong leadership if things could be resolved that way, you know, without any casualties.

I love Zelensky. I work in the media and I found out that he was a comedian.  It’s just hilarious that he has these kinds of performance skills. And he’s utilizing them right now. But it’s for good. It’s not in a phony way. I think he used to play the role of the President in a television show before and now he’s playing it in such an amazing way. And I think it’s really getting people excited, egging them on, and during a time when they really need hope and encouragement. So I just love what he’s doing. And I think a lot of leaders could take notes from him. 

Julia; Grad-school student

I do appreciate the amount of effort the United States has taken with it. But I think there’s a lot of misplaced effort that’s put towards Ukraine that hasn’t been put towards other wars. So I don’t know if it should be less, or if there should be equal efforts with other nations that are in crisis as well. Like,​​ the genocide in Tigray in Ethiopia for example. I followed a lot of people on social media, who were from Tigray and talking about how it’s kind of sad to see how other people have been brutalized for so many years. It’s nice to see how much the United States cares about Ukraine, but they’ve just felt slighted. 

Lemy, 18; Musician from Los Angeles

I think it’s fine that the United States is taking some stance and helping Ukraine in the fight against Russia. But I don’t know how well Ukraine is gonna do without some outside support, because I know they’re having trouble funding their military, being able to afford weapons of mass destruction, which I don’t really support. There’s two sides to it. It doesn’t seem like Russia is gonna back down. So it’s a tricky situation. 

Do you foresee this lasting years longer?

Actually, I feel like it’s not. But that’s me being hopeful that it doesn’t explode into something even bigger, because I feel like in the past that’s what’s happened. We’ve had small involvement maybe in Vietnam or something and then five years later it gets even worse and then becomes conflict. 

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