Pullman residents express concern for family in Ukraine

Ukrainian forces moved against Russia in two cities, but nuclear threat is present



Demonstrators at the Rally for Ukraine event hold up posters in solidarity for the country, Glenn Terell Mall, March 10.

PUNEET BSANTI, Deputy news editor

The Russo-Ukrainian war is a continual source of worry for Pullman residents, whose family members and childhood friends are still on the war’s front lines eight months later. 

“This Sunday, the rocket hit on the building on the street where my brother lives, so that was really stressful. It’s very taxing mentally in that account,” said Anna Stowe, research associate for the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences.

Stowe’s friends and family are still in Ukraine, with one of her cousins on the front lines right now. She said she checks the news hourly to stay up to date with the conflict. 

On Tuesday, Ukrainian forces advanced against Russian forces in the cities of Kherson and Bakhmut, according to The Washington Post.

Russia has been in conflict with Ukraine since 2014. However, the conflict started up again when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, said Andrei Smertenko, associate professor for the Institute of Biological Chemistry. 

“Every day since 2014 some Ukrainians were killed. Some of them were military personnel, some of them were civilians, but it doesn’t stop,” he said. 

Smertenko, who has been at WSU since 2013, said his in-laws moved to Pullman to escape the war, but his parents still reside there and do not want to leave because it is their home.  

His childhood friends in Ukraine joined the Territorial Defense Army to help fight in the war. The Territorial Defense Army is made up of civilian volunteers who leave their homes and lives to fight, Smertenko said.

He said he is also worried about the children, civilians and armed forces in Ukraine because there have been many deaths.

Smertenko said the U.S. did not fulfill its obligations to Ukraine and its promise to help Ukraine stay secure in the event of an attack from another country.

In the Budapest Agreement signed by Ukraine, the U.S., the United Kingdom and Russia in 1994, security assurances were agreed to be provided for Ukraine if they gave up their nuclear weapons. The United Kingdom did supply critical weapons at the beginning of the war, he said. 

 If the U.S. provided air defense systems, many civilian lives would have been saved, said Smertenko. 

“This loss is irreversible,” he said. “You will never bring these people back, and that is [a] huge loss.” 

Stowe said she tries to help the Ukrainian volunteers and army as much as she can through donations. She also sends money to her family because the economic situation is worsening every day in the country.

“My brother just recently lost his job because the company just closed because they cannot work in this situation,” she said. 

Stowe said she is worried about the nuclear threat made by Russia. On Oct. 17, Russia occupied the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Enerhodar and cut off its external power supply, which keeps electricity flowing and prevents a nuclear meltdown within the plant, according to a Reuters article

Energoatom, a Ukrainian nuclear energy operator, fears this may indicate Russia is preparing a nuclear attack using radioactive waste from the nuclear power plant, according to a Washington Post article.

“They occupied nuclear power plants and keep shelling it,” Stowe said. “It would be a horrible tragedy if they use nuclear weapons or blow up a nuclear reactor in Ukraine.” 

Smertenko said if Ukraine is attacked with nuclear weapons, they cannot retaliate as they do not have nuclear weapons. This would make Ukraine very vulnerable.

He said he hopes the war will end soon, but fears that even if it does end, this would not be the last encounter that Ukraine has with Russia. 

“This is what my heart hopes for. What my mind tells me is that the war between Russia and Ukraine goes for 300 years,” he said.