Dispatch From Ukraine
"I knew that I wanted to try to stray away from the typical narratives of combat reporting which is just chasing bang-bang"
Russia is invading Ukraine. Russia is moving its troops away from Ukraine. Who knows what Russia is doing, but they’re up to something.
It’s hard to know what’s going on in Eastern Europe as tensions between Russia and the West continue to build over Ukraine. Western media has been overhyping the danger with dire predictions of doom at every turn.
For a more sober and clear look at the conflict, I talked Wednesday with journalist Jack Crosbie (Discourse Blog; Rolling Stone). Jack’s in Ukraine now, and his reporting is taking a more measured look at the situation than most mainstream publications.
I discussed Ukraine with Jack for The Flashpoint Podcast; a few portions of that conversation are reproduced below; you can listen to the full episode here.
It’s Jack’s second time in Ukraine. He first reported from the country in 2015. Jack’s work focuses on the Ukrainian people, which I find a necessary and important corrective to the standard reporting on the conflict that centers leaders in Russia and the West.
In Jack’s latest article for Discourse Blog, he takes Western media and institutions to task for their hyperbole on the issue:
Is an invasion possible? Absolutely. Is it probable? Honestly, who knows? But you’d have to be extremely gullible to believe it’s as ensured as the Biden administration says it is. Ukrainians I’ve spoken to say that this fever swamp of rhetoric is both incredibly stressful and incredibly annoying, to the extent that some of them now actively avoid the news.
What’s funny, however, is that this situation has caused the most relative insanity in people who face zero risk from the potential conflict and are experiencing it entirely online, perfectly incubated in the politically-charged and virtue-signaling primordial soup of discourse that accompanies almost any major foreign policy event—particularly those involving Russia. And that means we’re getting some takes.
And in Rolling Stone this week, Jack talked to Ukrainians about what it’s like living under the low-level threat of war:
As skeptical as Ukrainians are of America’s bombastic claims, many don’t buy Russia’s rhetoric either. “We learn our lessons here, so I assure you: any [of] Russia’s promises can’t be trusted,” says Olena, the 27-year-old Kyiv resident. “If [news of Russia’s plans to withdraw some troops] is true, then we might still have some time before they change their mind again.”
This sentiment is often motivated by the exhaustion that comes from eight years of war, following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Here’s some of our conversation. It’s been edited and condensed for clarity.
On his background reporting in Ukraine and philosophy on reporting on conflict:
I'd done a little bit of general foreign correspondence before I went to grad school when I was younger and covered a few different natural disasters and other sort of international issues and stuff like that. I found those stories really compelling.
It's something that I've been thinking more about recently because any time you're covering sort of like suffering and death and these crises, there's good ways and bad ways to go about it. I think there's a lot of pitfalls that reporters can fall into really easily and I feel like now I'm at least sort of familiar with some of those in that I've fallen into them.
You just have to be sort of self aware about your work.
In 2015 I went out to Ukraine and I didn't have a super good idea of what I was doing. I knew that I wanted to try to stray away from the typical narratives of combat reporting which is just chasing bang-bang and trying to write about things just from the perspective of the people who are actively carrying out the violence.
On how the conflict is being framed by the US, and why:
For the US, it was only in their favor to basically frame any further violation of Ukrainian sovereignty on the part of Russia as a be all and all doomsday situation. To be clear, it would be a very serious breach of international policy. Russia annexed Ukrainian territory in 2014, just straight annexed it, and then has essentially annexed—although not officially—portions of the country in the Donbas.
As far as how does Ukraine get that back, that's an incredibly tricky question that I honestly start to get out of my depth the more I think about as far as a military solution at least from my experience in covering those areas and being down in those areas and reporting on them.
The amount of resources that either side would have to commit to meaningfully shift the balance of power in that region would be immense.
On what’s likely to happen (and not to happen):
There isn't a military solution there anymore because the two sides are so dug in and the line of contact in the area around it is so already devastated. At this point I don't think it's in the Ukrainian government's interest to pursue a military solution in those areas.
I think Ukraine has definitely made it a priority to say that they want to retain sovereignty over those areas. That's what the Minsk Agreements in 2015 were about, trying to find a way to preserve some kind of autonomy, whether it's political or economic for those regions while making sure there's at least territorial sovereignty remaining Ukrainian.
I cannot see the Ukrainian government launching an attack or a major military offensive there. They know very well that a it would be a massive provocation that would give Russia the justification, or the supposed justification, to launch whatever military offensive they wanted against Ukraine and it wouldn't go anywhere.
Here are a few clips from our interview as well—thanks for reading and please go check out the full episode at Callin.
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