The Situation in Ukraine: Challenges of the Hybrid War and the Role of Civil Society

On 9 March, The Hague Institute hosted a religious leader, Bishop Borys Gudziak, President of the Ukrainian Catholic University who discussed the current situation in the country, in particular, the nature of hybrid warfare. At the heart of his wide-ranging remarks was a call to speed up the process of reconciliation.

Bishop Gudziak opened his lecture by providing a short overview of Ukraine’s recent history. He underlined the casualties the country suffered in the last century, not least during the two World Wars and The Holodomor or man-made famine of 1932-1933. It is important, he argued, to bear this history in mind when considering the collective memory of Ukrainians.

Bishop Gudziak then proceeded to outline the current state of the conflict in Ukraine, taking the Maidan protests as a starting point. What kind of war is this, he asked, when a war was never announced and one of the sides has repeatedly refused to admit involvement. As far as the Ukrainian government is concerned, the conflict is officially described as “an anti-terrorist operation,” Bishop Gudziak stated.

Denying the claim that the events in Donetsk and Luhansk are a manifestation of civil war, the President of the Ukrainian Catholic University described them as a conflict between Ukrainians and irregular Russian forces. He also identified the clashes as one of the signs of an ongoing hybrid war consisting of military operations, sabotage, controlled media and focused propaganda, coupled with an ongoing economic crisis in Ukraine.

To cope with all this, huge swathes of the Ukrainian population, Bishop Gudziak pointed out, have coalesced behind a rising volunteering movement, in which the churches have taken a prominent part. He reiterated his often quoted summary of the plight of Ukrainians as “a pilgrimage from fear and Totalitarianism to dignity and freedom.”

In the second part of his talk, Bishop Gudziak delved into the root causes of the conflict. He explained that Ukrainian society is struggling even more amidst the ongoing conflict as the government is undertaking administrative reforms difficult to introduce even in peaceful circumstances. Corruption was identified as a major problem to be eradicated on all levels, with Ukrainian society striving to achieve a functioning rule of law system. Bishop Gudziak rejected a narrative which links the conflict to Russian fears of Ukranian accession to NATO or the EU. These claims were, he argued, ideological constructions used as rationalizations for conflict.

The President of the Ukrainian Catholic University concluded his talk with a plea to the international community to focus on alleviating the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the country and to speed up the process of reconciliation.

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