Group One winning jockey Craig Williams took a moment on national television last Saturday to remind people about the war in Ukraine.“Razom my peremozhemo – it means together we will win,” he said, raising three fingers* for the Channel Seven camera, only minutes after winning Australia’s richest race, the $15 million Everest sprint.
Williams, 45, knows all about winning big races – he’s won 68 Group 1 races – the top races for the best horses. Among them he’s won the Melbourne Cup, Cox Plate, Caulfield Cup, The Doncaster and now the Everest. But there’s another side to the champion jockey and that is the humanitarian aid programme he and his Ukrainian-born wife Larysa started this year. Larysa’s parents are safe, but they started thinking ‘What can we do?’
Craig and Larysa flew to Poland in June with a consignment of suitcases containing 92 trauma kits for distribution to civilians and soldiers.The initial project was funded by donations ($30,000) but for the second, winter campaign, Rotary Australia got involved as did the Australian racing industry. Last I checked the tally was up around $300,000. It will take all of that and more. The team purchased vehicles in Poland to take humanitarian aid packages directly into Ukraine. For the second campaign (mid-November), Craig and Larysa are hoping people will donate warm clothing to help people through the harsh northern winter. The couple established the fund with the humanitarian objective of supporting the people of Ukraine by supplying vital equipment and clothing. This includes medical trauma kits for treatment of wounded Ukrainian civilians and soldiers. Trauma kits usually contain tourniquets, chest tubes, compression bandages and other life-saving equipment used by medics in the field.They made an eight-minute documentary about their first mission which can be seen here.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is now in its eighth month, with the world looking on anxiously as Ukraine fights back. As Craig says in the couple’s latest video, people in Ukraine have no electricity, no heating, no fresh water and in some places where there have been missile strikes, they don’t even have a roof over their heads.“Everything is deemed essential. We are looking for companies who can supply clothing, anything suitable for minus degree temperatures (thermals). There is also a need for hydrolytes and water purification (tablets) for the trauma kits”.
In terms of the disruption within the country and the humanitarian plight of refugees, Craig and Larysa’s campaign is a relatively small gesture.The Australian Red Cross says it is 64% of the way towards its $10 million target and there have been many other humanitarian fund-raisers. Australia’s Ukranian community (around 38,000 people) includes 16,830 people who were born there, according to the 2021 Census. The Ukrainian connection is small compared to Canada, where people born in the Ukraine comprise 4% of the country’s population. But here, everybody knows someone who knows a person with connections to Ukraine. Warwick resident Sally Edwards is hopeful the Ukrainian family she raised funds for can be brought to Australia by Christmas. Sally, whose Ukrainian friends live at the Gold Coast, raised $25,000 in a three-week campaign, to bring their extended family to Australia.
As we see every night on our television news and on social media videos, things are grim in Ukraine. Martial law has now been declared in occupied parts of the country.As New York Times correspondent Matthew Mpoke Bigg reported in a month-by-month update on the conflict, Ukraine started fighting back in August.
Ukraine deployed newly arrived missile systems supplied by the US and other Western countries to destroy Russian ammunition dumps and other military infrastructure. In September, Ukraine recaptured much of the north-eastern Kharkiv region, including the city of Izium, a key Russian logistics hub. The advance, which continues, enabled Kyiv to seize the momentum in the war, he wrote.
Meanwhile, Russian leader Vladimir Putin looks increasingly isolated, not just on the world stage, but inside Russia as well, according to academic Matthew Sussex, writing in The Conversation last week.
“The longer the war goes on, the harder it will be for him to extricate himself with any credibility, either at home or abroad,” said Assoc Prof Sussex of the Australian National University.
Sussex detailed the obstacles facing Putin, not the least the estimated 700,000 Russians who exited the country when Putin called for more troops to be mobilised.
Then there was the United Nations General Assembly’s vote condemning Russia’s sham “referendums”, annexing chunks of Ukraine. The vote censuring Russia was 143 votes in favour, 35 abstentions and five against (including Russia itself).
Sussex notes that among countries abstaining from the vote were China and India; both have publicly signalled their disquiet about Putin’s war.
What do we know about an unexpected war between two countries that were once part of the Soviet Union? Given past events, millions of Ukrainians did not wait to find out, fleeing the country in late February and March. Millions more have been displaced within the country as a result of occupation, attacks and missile strikes.
What we do know is that by early October, 6,200 people had died in the conflict, including 396 children. There have been similar numbers of casualties on the Russian side.
In any conflict, there’s the other side of the story and in this case it is Russia believing it has the right to re-claim territories it once regarded as part of the Soviet Union.
You may recall it did so in 2014 when annexing the republic of Crimea from previous control by Ukraine.
Lacking any real understanding of geopolitics in that part of the world and suspecting bias of one kind or another in reporting, I sought out an independent source.
The Institute for the Study of War keeps a watching brief on this and other conflicts around the world. In its latest bulletin, Frederick Kagan claims that Ukraine has every right to fight to liberate all the territory Russia has illegally seized.
“Kyiv’s insistence on regaining control of Ukrainian territory to the internationally-recognized borders is not an absolutist or extremist demand. It is the normal position of a state defending itself against an unprovoked attack as part of a war of conquest.
Ukraine must regain certain specific areas currently under Russian occupation to ensure its long-term security and economic viability,” he writes.
The more chilling ramifications of this conflict boiling over into other countries rests on what Kagan calls “Russia’s demonstrated irresponsibility toward nuclear facilities in Ukraine.”
Russian forces damaged the inactive Chernobyl facilities, and then used Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) grounds as a base for conventional military operations.
“(It) shows a similarly cavalier attitude toward the dangers of bringing war to a massive nuclear power plant.
“Allowing Moscow to retain control of the ZNPP puts Ukraine and all Black Sea states at permanent risk of the downstream consequences of Russia’s willingness to play with nuclear fire.”
Given the news that Russia has knocked out 30% of Ukraine’s power generation, there will be much need of blankets and warm clothing.
- The three-finger salute, a pro-democracy gesture, symbolises the emblem of Ukraine