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Experts on the war in Ukraine, two years later: ‘Europe learned a lot from the war, do not give up’

The one-day symposium ‘War in Europe: the impact of Russian aggression in Ukraine two years on’ on 23 February got Dutch, Ukrainian and international experts together. Two years after the war in Ukraine started, there is one clear message from the experts: help each other and do not give up.

Frans Osinga, professor in War Studies, opens the symposium by going back in time two years. ‘A date to remember’, he says, 'just like 9/11’. The attack on Ukraine should not have been a surprise though, as the indications were there, he says. ‘We ignored warnings.’ Two years later, the auditorium is packed with people joining this unique event, including diplomats, the top of defence, journalists and politicians. Those who could not get a ticket are gathered at the Spanish Steps in Wijnhaven to follow the symposium on a big screen. A full programme with lots of speakers is waiting for them.

Veronika Skorobogatko (left) and Daria Yehorava, both from Ukraine: ‘Glad there are many parties interested in the topic and willing to make an effort’

For some attendees, it is an emotional day. Veronika Skorobogatko wants to close her eyes when she sees the visuals shown by Osinga. ‘I cannot look back on those first days. It reminds me of pain, and my mind is trying to block it.’ Veronika, who lives in The Netherlands, worries about the situation in Ukraine: ‘It hurts strongly when a city is bombed. What's next?’


‘World wars do not start with a bang’

Once Putin attacked two years ago, the West was fast in its response. ‘Putin nearly succeeded, but he did not anticipate the Western response’, Osinga recalls. ‘We have someone in the Kremlin who wants to re-draw the borders in Europe’. He further explains the danger and also mentions the Israël-Hamas war: ‘World wars do not start with a bang: they start with wars around the world that at some point connect.’

Frans Osinga was the first to speak

Lessons for Europe

Onno Eichelsheim, Chief of Defence, continues: ‘We are all very autonomous, but we need to be stronger. We cannot fight together when we all have different weapons’, he says during his keynote speech. ‘We could be talking about ten years of European war. A few weeks ago, I visited Ukraine and realised speed is essential. Every day in that battlefield is an eternity for the soldiers.’

Eichelsheim shakes the hand of professor Bert Koenders, chair of the AIV (Advisory Council on International Affairs) who just presented a report about the war in Ukraine to the House of Representatives, that is available to the public, and describes the past ten years. For now, Koenders looks into the near future – to the elections in the world this year, especially in the United States. ‘Moscow is avoiding any serious negotiations until the elections in the US. It is therefore important to invest in the defence industry now and see it as a public good.’

Speakers Bert Koenders and Onno Eichelsheim shake hands

The influence on Europe is also the topic of the first panel discussion, with professor Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, professor Antoaneta Dimitrova and Hubert Smeets. ‘Our European DNA is peace, not war’, says Smeets. Dimitrova, professor of Comparative Governance, sees that European leaders have been united. ‘The EU has changed tremendously in the last two years and learned a lot from the war.’ De Hoop Scheffer adds: ‘War coming to Europe means a change of mentality. And that change in mentality starts with educating our students.’

‘We are traumatised over and over again’

Pavlo Radchenko is from Ukraine and lives in The Netherlands: 'It takes all of us to build the world that we want to build’

‘Everyone should help a little’

During lunch break, Pavlo Radchenko, who studies International Relations and Diplomacy at Leiden University and lives in The Netherlands since 2017, explains his attendance. ‘It’s interesting to see how the war in Ukraine was perceived by high level professionals.’ The very proud Ukrainian thinks that everyone should help a little bit. ‘I work at the embassy. That’s how I help, while others are so bravely, so selflessly fighting this war for two, or actually ten years now. It takes all of us to build the world that we want to build.’

Ambassador Oleksandr Karasevych makes one thing clear: we have to win this war

Ambassador: small differences

This is exactly what ambassador Oleksandr Karasevych tells us, after being interviewed by Bob Deen, head of the security unit at the Clingendael Institute: ‘Do remember that everyone is important and everyone should be engaged. Every student can engage: ask a Ukrainian student about the needs for Ukraine and get in touch with communities and make a small difference. Even a small difference is important.’ The Ukrainian ambassador has a tight schedule, but stays a little bit longer, just to see the female panel: ‘They are really brave Ukrainian women’.

The motivation for people to contribute is very high, says Julia Soldatiuk, Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute, shortly after the beak during the second panel discussion. ‘And how can we help? Ukraine has a lot to give and Europe has a lot to gain from this mutual cooperation. Ukraine has quite good technical innovation, drone development, work ethics and national resources. Ukraine wants to be part of Europe and shares the same values.’

Yana Rudenko got a big applause for her emotional speech: ‘Young people who have negative opinions of the army should reconsider this opinion. The military is necessary, the army saved my life’

Personal story: ‘We cannot give up’

The impact on the Ukrainian society is enormous, which becomes even clearer after the emotional speech of Yana Rudenko, who takes the stage to share her story. ‘Tomorrow is uncertain. I learned this in Bucha, when my neighbourhood was bombed, when I saw dead bodies on the street. We are traumatised over and over again. I am tired. But we cannot give up. We have to fight till the last moment.’ She gets a minute-long applause.

Military lessons

Towards the end of the symposium, defence experts talk more about the military lessons. For example,  professor Han Bouwmeester explains the new type of warfare, deception and disinformation, followed by a talk of cyber warfare expert Peter Pijpers. ‘Often only the most severe cyberattacks make the headlines. But the reality on the ground is different. Pro-Russian hackers consistently perform DDoS attacks on instances like the Ukrainian forces, the national banks and the security services.’

The day ends with the closing words of Robert Adang, Deputy Commander of the Royal Netherlands Air Force: ‘This war needs to be studied, and this day did just that. I encourage all of you to do so in the future as well, in the interest of Ukrainian people and our own peace and security. Be brave like Ukraine.’

Read back our live tweets on X: @fggaleiden


Text: Magali van Wieren & Sabine Waasdorp

Ernst Dijxhoorn, assistant professor in the Institute of Security and Global Affairs with Tim Sweijs, the Director of Research at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies
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