The Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Our Responsibilities

So as you may well have heard last night the Russian Government launched what appears to be a full scale invasion of Ukraine, attacking key cities with missiles and moving in ground forces. It cannot be underestimated how shocking this is, and what an upending of the established paradigm it is. It’s also worrying because it’s likely to be an incredibly brutal conflict, especially if there is any attempt by the Russian Government at regime change or long-term occupations. The reasons for this are many, and I’m happy to discuss them if anyone wants to. It’s also going to have a much broader impact, partially because it is such a significant change, but also because it’s likely to be the first major conflict that gets played out over social media. Because of that, I want to just talk about a few little rules that I think we should all be applying to how we discuss it and share information about it.

The first thing to say is to be careful what you share. This applies in several ways. Firstly, be careful to make sure that what you are sharing is accurate. If it isn’t, or you can’t confirm it is, don’t share it. Not even to point out that it’s wrong. The Russian Government has a significant line in disinformation, and they will be attempting to wrongfoot people as much as they can to portray the Ukrainians in a negative light. Up until now in this, their efforts have been bad, sometimes even comical, but they weren’t designed for the wider world. Now they have the attention, they may well be. I’m always happy to discuss with you if you find something you’re not sure about, just drop it into my messages and we can talk about it.

Secondly, be careful sharing publicly information about military movements (especially, as far as I’m concerned, Ukrainian ones). Open source intelligence (or OSINT), where intelligence and information is gleaned from public sources and used is an increasing part of the world, and make no mistake it will be used. The Ukrainians are very much the underdogs here, and if you share information about how they are moving it could give the Russian Military opportunities that they would not otherwise have. You may think “Oh I’m just me, they won’t be looking at that”, but they might. It’s a war, they’ll be looking at all the information they can, from any source. Please don’t give the Russian Military any support, even accidentally.

Thirdly, it’s an unfortunate truth that there are likely to be distressing images coming out of this. Please don’t share them. If you want to discuss them, do so (though see below for that), but don’t share them, not even for outrage clicks. Not only might it be harmful to other people who might find them distressing, but it’s also a useful form of psychological warfare for negative actors.

A related point to this is about sensitivity. Be sensitive. Everyone involved in this conflict (on both sides) is someone’s son. Or someone’s daughter, or father, or mother. This war is not the responsibility of the individual combatant. They go where they are told and do what they are told. Individual actions and individual responses may be their responsibility, but the war as a whole is not. That lies solely with Vladimir Putin and his advisors*. So be sensitive in your comments. That doesn’t mean you can’t criticise, you certainly can, but don’t be abusive (or racist) with it. It’s unnecessary, and offensive. This is also where the distressing images come back in- any image you share will be of someone’s loved one. Let them grieve in peace.

The Ukrainian people are about to be put through a terrifying and horrific time. They are strong, they are resilient and I have no doubt that they will weather it for as long as it takes. But we should all be supporting them as best we can. There will, I have no doubt be hashtags and all sorts of things that are the modern way of demonstrating support- participate in them, but if you are able try to do more too. Words are the cheapest form of action, but they may still be valuable in bolstering morale amongst the defenders, and in showing our politicians how strong public feeling is in support of Ukraine, which will hopefully motivate them to do more.

Helping by actions is another matter, but one we should all be looking to do if we have the capacity to. Wars always create an influx of refugees and those looking for asylum and this one will be no different (if the Russian Government goes for a full occupation or regime change this will go doubly). Look up refugee charities and organisations and consider helping them if you can. The Red Cross and similar bodies will be working in conflict zones, maybe think about supporting them. The media will be reporting full time on it- so if you find a responsible and accurate media outlet doing excellent work, take out a subscription or share their content (under the provisos above). Just try and support in whatever way you are able to. If it’s just sharing hashtags or whatnot though- that’s good too. From each according to their ability etc.

The final point I want to make is to look after yourselves. We may not be actively fighting this war, but an unfortunate truth of the internet-dominated modern world is that to a limited extent we are all participants. That makes us all responsible for our actions, but also for our own wellbeing. This is likely to be distressing, but we will all get through it together. But if you find it all getting a bit too much, as it may well do, take yourself away from it and look after yourself. Hug your family and your friends close. Whatever it needs. I’m always happy to talk about it if you want a private chat.

*Side note on this, it makes it fairly clear to me that Putin is definitely planning on dying in office- if he doesn’t he would find it very difficult to travel anywhere freely in the world without a significant risk of being arrested and put before the International Criminal Court.

Stephen Hill

The Assayer

Twitter: @stephenjahill

24th February 2022

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Stephen Hill

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