Ukraine during a sunset with orange sky
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Scenes in Ukraine, from a Pitt economics professor

  • Global
  • Faculty
  • Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences
  • Ukraine

“I am in Kyiv, woke up from explosions,” tweeted Tymofiy Mylovanov, a Pitt associate professor of economics, on Wednesday. “The news reports rocket attacks across Kyiv and other major cities. I hope it is not true.”

Mylovanov had arrived in Ukraine, his home, on Sunday, Feb. 20. He understood the high risks to returning as Vladimir Putin threatened an attack by Russia but felt an obligation to his country.

“I wanted to be here with my family and for the Kyiv School of Economics,” said Mylovanov. “I have to help manage through the crisis; we have to keep it together.” He intended to return to Pittsburgh on April 1, but with full militarization in effect, males are not allowed to leave the country.

It's unlikely I will be able to come until this is all over,” he said.

Mylovanov is president of the Kyiv School of Economics, in addition to his role in Pitt’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. As a respected economist who served as the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture of Ukraine where he oversaw land reform, he still advises the office of the president on economic issues. He founded VoxUkraine, which remains a top Ukrainian think tank, and in 2016 was elected to the Council of the National Bank of Ukraine and selected deputy chairman. Additionally, he is chair of the supervisory board that holds Ukraine’s state-owned defense companies. The group meets later today.

Given his proximity to these unraveling events, Pittwire asked him to share what he’s witnessed since the Russian military invaded Ukraine on Thursday.

“I had multiple jets flying over my car today as I was getting my family to a safe location, and they later engaged in an air fight with Russian helicopters in the Kyiv suburbs,” said Mylovanov. “I am safe. My family is too. For now.”

What’s happening on the ground right now?

Yesterday, the Russians targeted a military airbase. Airstrikes continued over the course of the day, and then there were incursions from all over — from the east, the south and from the north, from Belarus. Somehow, it’s not being talked about by the media as an actual invasion from two countries — from Russia and Belarus. I think the Western media has taken away the agency Belarus has allowed Russian troops.

There were more attacks this night but on buildings. There were reports of tanks moving from the north and the Ukrainian military blew up some of the bridges, about 20 to 50 kilometers from Kyiv to slow them down. There's been some flights on the outskirts of Kyiv, but there has even been tanks and some armored vehicles. There's widely circulated footage of one of the key districts where an elderly man was driving his car, and a tank drove over his car. Why? Because there was absolutely no threat. Miraculously, he survived but is in critical condition in the hospital. It's insane. They just drove over a guy because they could. I know where it happened.

For people who might not be keeping up with the news or even be familiar with the Russia-Ukraine crisis, what's the short explanation of what's happening?

It's a much broader picture: It isn’t the Russia-Ukraine crisis but an issue of Russian behavior in central and Eastern Europe.

But what exactly is the episode with Ukraine? In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, but to generate a pretext, they pressured our president at that time to abandon our European aspirations. People protested and Russia put pressure on them to use the military secret police. There were kidnappings in Kyiv, people were shot and killed, so that president was toppled. I think it was a miscalculation, that it was meant similar to what we saw with [President Alexander] Lukashenko and Belarus, where people were protesting and the police cracked down on the protesters, but Belarus had to rely on Russia, and  Lukashenko became an outcast of the West.

Maybe that was the plan for our president too, but people persevered. They toppled the president, even though a lot of people died. Russia annexed Crimea to prop up a separatist regime in the east of Ukraine. They have been continuing war and shelling at the front lines. There were some battles, some ceasefire agreements and negotiations linked to the Minsk Protocol [a 2014 agreement to end war in the region], but it has been stagnant with occasional interruptions and escalations.

Recently though, Russia started amassing about 100 gate troops at the borders, and from October to November, started bringing more troops until they finally invaded. They're claiming it’s just from the east, but they’re moving from the territory of Belarus, they're having missile strikes on all civilians, the buildings in Kyiv; at least six or so buildings, skyscrapers are on fire.

[Read more: Learn about Ukraine's resilience and its history with Russia through these 4 songs]

How are people reacting to the escalation of events? Are most choosing to stay or are they fleeing?

It depends on the situation and circumstance, you know? If you move too late, sometimes you can't. There are windows when you can. I have a friend who was trying to leave a little bit later than me. He has a three-month-old baby and is desperate to get out. He spent five hours in a traffic jam, and he just came back to his home. You can see how over hours his responses are kind of changing because I was asking, “How are you?” His first reply was, “Should we go or not?” The second one was, “I'm trying to get out.” The third call was, “Well, we tried, we failed.” And now he’s simply answering, “it’s quiet on my street,” implying it’s quiet on his but not on neighboring streets.

People are responding in all different ways — I'm very proud of them. Some joined the military. Currently, the government is distributing weapons, Kalashnikovs and assault rifles to anyone who is willing to haul it, has a passport, passes a background check, who then joins these self-defense units. We have a lot of veterans from the east of Ukraine, so a lot of people are coming back.

How are you seeing the government react?

The government has been consolidating and mobilizing its resources and military and positioning and training. Our air force was not destroyed during the first strikes, and the first wave is the most difficult because you don't know what you're facing.

How are you holding up, given all that’s happening around you? 

Humans are resilient. What's important is that you don't lie to yourself, that you're not delusional about the risks and don't betray the people and values which are important to you. There are a lot of questions everyone is having during this time, you know, should they stay in Kyiv, should they help the government and which role do they join in the military? If you get separated from your family, are you willing to leave them behind or not? How are you going to meet with them?

There are a lot of questions like that coming up, and hopefully you won't have to face them. But if you face them and you're not ready, you may endanger everyone. That’s why planning and training is important. We were fortunate that we trained for this. We planned for this. But I'm not sure everyone did.

Are you surprised by what’s transpired?

Part of me is. We’ve been warned and even planned, but I just hoped it wouldn’t come to this.

Can you explain the global implications of this war, immediate and long-term?

There are several implications — security and geopolitical, and economic ones. There's a lot of uncertainty and disruption of supply chains and energy security issues, food prices, rising global inflation. There'll be a hit on global inflation and because of that, there'll be instability and volatility in the financial markets, plus uncertainty about the type and degree of sanctions. All of that will ripple through the economy, and probably mean higher prices, some disruptions, shortages and perhaps higher costs of investments. There will be volatility with energy and the price of gas and oil. There’s also the cost of militarization.

All countries will respond by putting more of their budget into security, military, cyber, diplomatic. That means the funds will be diverted from education, infrastructure, social security, you name it. That will impact all countries. I think the real winner will be China.

What do you think is Putin's end game? And what’s the cost?

I don't know what that end game is. It's not ensuring that Ukraine isn’t in NATO. But I can look at the pattern, and the pattern consists of very brutal, dictatorial persecution of any kind of oppositional resistance. Ukraine has been resistant; it's a successful democracy. It's not willing to recognize this breakaway region or succumb to the bullying of Putin.

Russia is getting isolated in the long run and is going to lose in so many ways. But we’re experiencing casualties, regardless.

How can the Pitt and global community assist Ukrainians during this time?

Donating funds, influencing politicians to provide humanitarian support like medicine, oil and gas — these kinds of things are needed there. But above all, people can show empathy. People don't want to feel they’re alone. They're frustrated by the lack of material and meaningful support to stop this from the rest of the world, but on an individual level, just reaching out or helping make Ukrainians’ voices heard matters. Pitt and Pittsburgh overall, have done a phenomenal job on this, and I'm very proud of the community.


— Kara Henderson