[Column] In times of need

Without diminishing, why is the fervent and heartwarming support for Ukraine sorely lacking for other countries ravaged by war, Vishal Onkhar wonders.

Vishal Onkhar: “Rembrandt’s forays into Indian drawing techniques might have guided his hand in The Jewish Bride, a copy of which hangs in the hallways of 3mE.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

  • Vishal Onkhar put quite some effort into research and fact-checking for this article. We made a reference list at the end of the article instead of using hyperlinks, to avoid the distraction of the reader.

At two months since Putin’s incursion, it appears everybody is still painfully aware of the plight of the Ukrainians, enduring or fleeing from a homeland flogged by war. The support that has poured in for their cause has been thunderous, a veritable rallying cry that has reverberated throughout the West! National governments (including historically neutral ones in Europe have proclaimed their solidarity with Ukraine, imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia (now the most sanctioned country in the world, by some distance), drastically increased military budgets, dispatched substantial funds, personnel, supplies, transportation, weapons, military intelligence and equipment to aid the war and humanitarian efforts, not to mention facilitated the absorption of around five million Ukrainian refugees in a matter of days via schemes providing waivers on visas and work permits, rent-free accommodation, living allowances, and access to social welfare.

All this merely scratches the surface – additional trade embargoes have been levied on Russian exports such as oil and gas by some countries (with many more to follow suit), investors and corporations across several economic sectors have boycotted and withdrawn from Russia, international organisations have imposed blanket bans on Russian artists, musicians and sportspersons (arguably in a case of misdirected anger, since many are protesting against the war) while promoting the culture of Ukraine, and even civilians have been spurred into action, donating vast sums of money (the Dutch contribution alone is sizeable) and provisions, going above and beyond the call of duty to welcome refugees with open arms (complete with flags, fanfare, and orchestras), establishing support groups for Ukrainians, engaging in cyber warfare against Russia, and even volunteering to fight on the front lines! And then there’s the media (which includes our very own Delta), that has drummed up sympathy for Ukraine by churning out news on the conflict at unprecedented rates (the irony of my article’s timing is not lost on me). To top it off, this is by no means an exhaustive list but rather, an enumeration off the top of my head!

‘We should persist and endeavour to do even more for the Ukrainians’

My immediate response to this tidal wave of support for a war-torn nation is that it is heartwarming. We are witnessing the depths of human compassion that can spring forth when people genuinely wish to help as a united front, and this gives me a flicker of hope for mankind. Without a doubt, we should persist and endeavour to do even more for the Ukrainians! But – and this is a very important ‘but’ – it is entirely possible to ask, without diminishing, downplaying, or distracting from their suffering, why this fervent support is sorely lacking (in comparison) for other countries ravaged by war. In Yemen (the world’s worst humanitarian crisis), Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Ethiopia too (among several others), the lives of innocents have been ripped to shreds and cast asunder. Many of these conflicts have complex histories spanning decades, have been caused/exacerbated by foreign military intervention (including the Netherlands), have resulted in colossal losses of life and livelihood, but remain stubbornly unresolved, a sinking realisation that mars my initial feelings with a twinge of sorrow.

The comparative lack of attention, aid, and acceptance of refugees these crises have received (sometimes in years, as opposed to days for Ukraine) exposes a gross double standard in the West which has repeatedly been identified by top-ranking UN officials, philosophers, experts, critics, and journalists, citing a plethora of reasons – racism, xenophobia, islamophobia, normalisation of suffering outside the ‘civilised world’ (an especially problematic term, due to its dehumanising connotations), NATO’s vested interests in these futile conflicts, greater geographical and cultural ‘distance’ from Europe, and lesser fears of Europe being invaded. In my view, the only way out of this quagmire is to retire Eurocentric outlooks, shed any misguided notions of Western exceptionalism (claims of immunity to fascism and war when they are, in fact, brewing here), and internalise the beliefs that human life across the globe is equally precious, war is folly no matter where the battleground lies, and that we must oppose it with equal ferocity wherever it rears its ugly head. In the end, as we transition from a Cold War to a ‘Hot Peace’, we owe it to the future of humanity to do better for all the battle-scarred nations of the world.

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Vishal Onkhar is from Chennai, India and pursuing his PhD in Vehicle Engineering at TU Delft. He is an avid player of chess and video games, but he also harbours a special interest for reading and writing fantasy fiction. He doesn’t drink coffee but good music and film have the same effect on him.

Columnist Vishal Onkhar

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