Friday, 14 November 2014 00:00

Ukraine: The Challenge for Europe

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Ukraine colours
Photo: Ilya (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0
What lies ahead for Europe's troubled eastern neighbour Ukraine?


Sixty students from all over the world gathered in Berlin for a week last month to discuss Europe and boost a sense of solidarity throughout the continent. Their first meeting included a focus on the current situation in Ukraine and on how it should be addressed in an European context. We are pleased to host a report by Igor Ryabinin, the German-Ukrainian student who moderated a panel discussion during that meeting.

I was born in Charkov in eastern Ukraine, grew up in Germany and currently study in Moscow. This biography might seem unusual for encounters in everyday life, but it certainly was not in the context of the first meeting of the new College of Europe in Berlin-Wannsee in October 2014.

In 1994, I emigrated from Ukraine to Germany with my parents. Their main motivation in moving away was the unstable situation and the lack of prospects in Ukraine back then. Unfortunately, even at the 20th anniversary of our emigration this year, Ukraine still remains unstable, with an unpredictable future. It was against this backdrop and in light of broad public concern about current events in Ukraine that a panel discussion was organised by the College.

Two students and two experts debated the topic "Solidarity with our eastern member states and neighbours - the challenge of Ukraine". The students were Ivan Ivanshchenko, who has lived for almost his entire life in Ukraine and Darko Radosavljev, who was born in what is now Serbia and examined the situation in Ukraine on a recent excursion to Kyiv. Dr. Claudia Major, an expert for security policy and Prof. Alexander Wöll, a Slavonic studies specialist brought professional background knowledge to the discussion.

The panel participants tried to find answers to three general questions: whether Eastern Europe is threatened by the situation (that is to say, what is Russia aiming to achieve), how Europe should and should not respond, and where Ukraine is likely to head in the coming months and years.

Photo courtesy of the College of Europe / Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes
Students from Russia, Israel, Germany, Ukraine and Bosnia sit together around a table at the College of Europe.

It was argued that Russia seems to be leading a hybrid war, using both troops and media as weapons. The European Union and NATO were not prepared for the events in Ukraine; nevertheless these alliances were viewed as strengthening the backs of the other European states in the East. Equally, it was appreciated that the EU is reacting as a united whole, even if sanctions against Russia are connected to serious disadvantages for some members. However, the argument was put forward that Europe should focus on the needs of the citizens of Ukraine and should not go over their heads – above all that Europe should profess solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Moreover, in view of the fact that Ukraine is highly destabilised, the panelists suggested that neither NATO, nor EU membership is realistic. They saw Ukraine a country with a lot of unused potential and argued that the time has come to support Ukrainians in doing what they are capable of.

When the panel was opened up for comments from the audience, Maria, at first glance an inconspicuous woman, stood up. "As a Russian citizen I feel somehow helpless and ashamed in face of the current conflict", she said, visibly touched emotionally. "I feel sorry for civil society in Russia and for the fact that it has not been able to bring about a change in my country's political circumstances."

Lessons learnt

Mankind tends to think in terms of in-groups and out-groups: "It's us on one side and them on the other". In the case of the conflict in Ukraine it seems that people even tend to think in schemes along the lines of  "It's us (Europeans) versus them (Russians)", with Ukraine struggling somewhere in between.

At the end of the discussion, it stuck me that all of the panelists and listeners agreed on one point: mistrustful self-isolation like we had during the Cold War will not help us tackle the challenges of our time. Getting in contact with each other, staying in dialogue and understanding each others' points of view are forms of behaviours that not just politicians should exhibit, but young people – from Lisbon and Vladivostok. That is what the College of Europe is actually all about and it is definitely the right way to solve the problems of our time, putting our common future on a solid foundation.

All I know for sure is that we must no longer think in "us versus them" categories anymore.


At this point I would really like to come up with an game-changing idea, which could be implemented simply and would solve all of the conflicts in Ukraine. Unfortunately, however, I do not have one and it will undoubtedly take time to resolve the deadlocked problems. All I know for sure is that we must no longer think in "us versus them" categories anymore.

The College of Europe brings together international students to spend two years dealing with the general topic of "Solidarity in thinking about Europe". The initiative is the result of a collaboration between three organisations: the German National Academic Foundation, the German Academic Exchange Service and the Alfred Toepfer Foundation. Further information (in German) can be found here.

Last modified on Monday, 24 November 2014 15:57
Igor Ryabinin

Igor Ryabinin is a 24-year old student of psychology at the Philipp University of Marburg / Moscow State University. He is particularly interested in social psychology, which deals with topics like intergroup behavior, racism and prejudice, and is currently working on a research project in Moscow about the impact of contact between native Russians and minorities in Russia on support for the minorities' cause.

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