Albert Rose, a senior at Sacred Heart Preparatory in Atherton, CA, has a unique identity that makes the Russian invasion of Ukraine very personal for him and his family. Our Editor-at-Large, Makena Tom, sat down with Albert to talk about the situation.
What is your background and relationship to the war?
I’m half-Russian, half-Ukrainian. Both my parents were born in Russia, but most of my mom’s life was spent in Ukraine. My grandma is also Ukrainian. We have a lot of extended family there: relatives, nephews, cousins, aunts, uncles, all that. Some of them I’ve met, some of them I haven’t.
I probably have equal amounts of family in Ukraine and Russia, possibly less in Russia, though. I have a half-sister and my niece in Russia with a few other cousins. I’ve never been to Russia or Ukraine, but I’ve met with relatives in Croatia.
Can you describe to students what is happening and why? Why does Putin care so much about Ukraine?
It started off with Ukraine wanting to join NATO. And, well, Russia didn’t want that to happen. Putin has the most power out of any world leader in their given country. Like, our President doesn’t have the power Putin has relative to their own countries. So, he’s gotten kind of drunk off of his own power. It happens to every single person in power in Russia. They don’t have checks and balances as we do. They have some, but it’s not nearly enough to prevent someone in power like that from doing whatever he wants, and that’s pretty much what happened. He believes in Stalin’s ideas that the USSR is best when all of its countries are together. So, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan… all of the countries that were part of the old USSR – he wants them back, and the key to that is first getting Ukraine. It is the most valuable piece of land that they can acquire that was part of the old USSR. They had to move quickly before they joined NATO, so that NATO wouldn’t get involved in the situation nearly as much as they would have if Ukraine was a part of it. So, he was kind of pushed to take action in his mind, and that’s exactly what he did. He took action.
None of the Russian or Ukrainian citizens wanted this war. This is more of a political thing. Putin wanted Ukraine for power. None of the people in Ukraine or Russia wanted that to happen. And, he tricked a lot of soldiers into thinking they were going on training exercises when in fact they were going to the frontlines. Basically, through deceiving ideas and lots of propaganda, he was able to take a lot of soldiers, a lot of power, and just invade Ukraine. He has no sense of morals. He has committed so many war crimes. I can’t keep count, but…bombing, fighting against citizens, bombing hospitals, using illegal weaponry like vacuum bombs. It’s just a very, very bad situation that gets worse every single day.
What are the attitudes and opinions of your Russian and Ukrainian families?
As I said, everyone is against it. Nobody wants this to happen. My niece is terrified that she’s never going to see her brother, my nephew, again because he is stuck in Ukraine right now. He’s hiding in a basement with his cats and his girlfriend. And he’s terrified, but everybody is opposed to this. We’re all trying to be as helpful as we can if we’re outside of Ukraine and the ones in Ukraine try to keep us updated as much as possible. It’s about the whole community, or my whole extended family together.
How do you feel about the future of Russia and Ukraine?
That’s a tough one. It’s really hard to imagine where this would go. Ideally, one of the many peace talks that have happened or will happen would go well, and there would be a ceasefire, but there’s really no winner. Russia has caused so much damage to Ukraine that is going to take years, possibly decades to rebuild. All of the sanctions we’ve thrown at Russia… Well, Putin’s going to find a way to have them not affect him or any of the oligarchs. With money in power, the sanctions are just going to trickle down to the citizens. There’s going to be a huge lack of money in Russia and Ukraine and possibly surrounding countries, as well.
Best case scenario, there’s a peaceful end to this war very, very soon, and we can work on rebuilding everything that was destroyed. But, there’s no telling what Putin can do. What sucks is that he is a very intelligent guy, but he’s literally insane. He has gone mental through COVID-19, through everything. The photos of him sitting at a table distancing himself from everyone… He’s in his own mind now, and he’s gone so far that he can’t back out now… and that’s what’s scary. He has nothing to lose because no matter when he stops, he’s probably going to get killed or go to jail till the very end of his life. There’s no saying when this will end.
What can American students do to help?
My classmate Misha and I have launched a GoFundMe. That’s the biggest thing that I think will be helpful because we’re going to be directly transferring the money to our relatives in Ukraine so that they can distribute it to their community. For example, one of my cousin’s really close friends died recently due to the bombing, and so, we want to send money to him, so that he can distribute it to the family affected by that. We’re trying to just inject money into these small communities so that the people that we know and trust can spread it out in the way that they see best.