The Question of Genocide in Russia's War against Ukraine: Exploring Perpetrator and Victim Perceptions of Identity
Kristina Hook, PhD, School of Conflict Management, Peacebuilding, and Development
Kennesaw State University
The Ukrainian state and people stunned the world with fierce resistance to Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, sharply escalating an armed conflict that began in 2014. While military analysts have credited eight years of armed forces transformation, this talk discusses a parallel social transformation process in Ukrainian society—often revealed through seemingly unrelated national narratives regarding the 1930s Ukrainian Holodomor famine under Joseph Stalin that killed millions. Based on seven years of research and 2.5 years of fieldwork in Ukraine, I discuss the national narrative signs that foreshadowed Ukraine’s growing ability for nation-wide, high-stakes solidarity. Revealing otherwise opaque sociopolitical transformations, the Holodomor story became a powerful rallying cry for Ukrainian resistance to existential threat perceptions and perceived global neglect from 2014-2022. Similarly, Holodomor narratives reflected important efforts to reclaim Ukraine’s sense of political and cultural uniqueness after centuries of Russian imperial and Soviet domination. Together, these social transformations and the stories used to drive them fostered Ukrainian abilities today to withstand Russia’s onslaught. In this talk, I explore this national identity development in post-colonial, post-genocidal Ukraine, analyzing how the Kremlin’s failures today were predicated on false interpretations and denigrations of Ukrainian national identity. With evidence of systematic war crimes by the Russians against Ukrainians mounting, the specter of genocide has again emerged in Europe and increases the urgency of understanding the Ukrainian national group—a protected category under the United Nations Genocide Convention.