News, On Campus

Christensen Analyzes Societal Response to Russia-Ukraine War

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February of 2022, political science professor Paul Christensen said he was four weeks into teaching a course on post-communist politics. 

“I just took the syllabus and threw it out, because you had to talk about [the crisis],” Christensen said. “Everybody was talking about it because there was a need for a very rapid learning curve among most people in the United States about this.”

McGillycuddy-Logue Fellows Jackie Coquillette, MCAS ’24, and Hope Kelley, MCAS ’24, invited Christensen to Higgins Hall on Wednesday night for a lecture that sought to answer the question, “Why aren’t we talking about Ukraine anymore?” 

“We’re still in this and it’s going to be a while until we get out of it,” Coquillette said. “There’s really no end game.” 

Christensen said Russia’s attack on Ukraine officially began on Feb. 24, 2022. 

“All indications are that [Vladimir] Putin and the Russian military thought that Ukraine was going to collapse,” Christensen said. “I mean you basically [are] in the face of overwhelming military power.”

Boston College students adapted to a “rapid learning curve” when the conflict first broke out, according to Christensen.

“I think that it was [because of] the fact that people were hungry for information, everybody,” Christensen said. “This was the first major land war in Europe since 1945.”

During the first six weeks of the war, Christensen said he organized five presentations for the student body that drew large crowds.

“The first one we held over in [Merkert] in the biggest auditorium in that building, which seats something like 180 people, and it was full and there [were] probably 80 people sitting in the aisles,” Christensen said.

When the war first began, Christensen said there was a sense of urgency to learn about it. But eventually, like with many other societal crises, he said that people accept large-scale issues as a part of everyday life. 

“In the early weeks and months of this division, there were huge changes,” Christensen said. “But, now there are fewer dramatic twists and now the war has become this kind of grinding conflict with no end in sight.”

Christensen also compared the Russia-Ukraine war to how people eventually accepted the COVID-19 pandemic as a normal part of everyday life. 

“Think about it in terms of COVID,” he said. “I mean we all know what it was like living through those early months of COVID. Everybody was thinking about COVID all the time, shutting down our universities, doing all this stuff to travel … but now it’s become a part of our day-to-day lives.” 

According to Christensen, while the western world does not prioritize the Russia-Ukraine war as a central political issue, Europe is still dealing with the effects in two main ways. 

“The twin issues of dealing with four million refugees and addressing the energy crisis keeps this front and center in Ukraine,” Christensen said. “It remains a valuable matter of national survival.” 

Addressing Russian perspectives of the war, Christensen said people do not talk about the conflict.

“The only information [Russians] are getting is what the government wants them to know,” Christensen said. “Even when [Russians] call on private cell phone numbers to tell them what’s going on, they don’t believe their own family members.” 

Inevitably, Russia may sink to a poorer economic status, Christensen said. He said this can be credited to hundreds or thousands of western companies suspending operations with the country.

“Without western technology, the Russian economy is just going to start to de-modernize,” Christensen said. “If this goes on for, you know, 10 years, basically all the progress made in the past Soviet era is just going to evaporate.”

December 8, 2022