Human dignity and why people of goodwill should care about the war in Ukraine


At the University of Dallas, we care about truth, justice and the dignity of the human person. While we are a Catholic university, our community consists not only of Roman Catholics, but also of Orthodox, Anglican, Episcopalian, Methodist, Baptist and other Christians, as well as those who identify as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist and the list goes on. Amidst these differences, we share common interests in truth, justice and defending the dignity of the human person. Sharing these values, we are people of goodwill, and as such, we should care about the war in Ukraine. 

Some Americans question whether we should be concerned about a country so far away — after all we have our own problems both national and local. However, it is a

false dichotomy to claim that either we should care about and act to help those at home, or we should care about and act to help those abroad. 

In fact, this war directly impacts people in our own UD community. We have a faculty member, Dr. Irina Rodriguez, who is Ukrainian and UD students who are Ukrainian. Some members of our community have Ukrainian relatives and Ukrainian and Russian friends whose lives are being upended and traumatized because of this war. I have both Ukrainian and Russian friends and speak with them regularly about this war and how it continues to harm their lives. 

From 1999–2002 I lived in Moscow, and I keep in touch with a handful of my Russian friends. This war has deeply unsettled their lives and livelihoods. One family I know has had to use their entire life’s savings to flee Russia, first to Kazakhstan and then to Georgia, in order to avoid Putin’s mobilization. The situation is exponentially worse for Ukrainians living under constant bombardments. 

Even if you don’t have any Ukrainian or Russian friends, there are still reasons why, as a person of goodwill, you should care about the war in Ukraine. First, there are documented accounts of war crimes and atrocities committed against Ukrainian civilians. While it is true that propaganda causes much confusion in this war, there are reputable journalistic sources such as the Associated Press, Reuters, the BBC, the Telegraph, UK — which has an excellent podcast, “Ukraine the Latest” — and Deutsche Welle. 

These news groups have reporters on the ground in Ukraine; they risk their lives in order to interview Ukrainian civilians who have been tortured by Russian soldiers or who have lost loved ones due to Russia’s invasion. There are also reputable international human rights organizations with extensive experience covering genocides and atrocities. 

One group is the Reckoning Project, which trains conflict journalists to gather the testimonies of victims of war crimes so that their testimonies will be legally admissible in international courts of law. A recent article in The Atlantic describes how Russian invaders brutally tortured Ukrainian civilians, including 60-year old Viktor Marunyak. The article is based on interviews conducted by the Reckoning Project and includes a video interview with Mr. Marunyak, where he describes the violent treatment he received from Russian soldiers. 

Such cases of torture are not “one off” instances. As the Reckoning Project has shown, these documented crimes are happening in multiple Ukrainian cities, towns and villages occupied by Russian/Wagner soldiers.

Another group tracking Russian war crimes and atrocities, the Conflict Observatory, has recently issued a report detailing how the Russian government has relocated more than 6,000 Ukrainian children “to a network of re-education and adoption facilities in Russia-occupied Crimea and mainland Russia.” 

Not only was consent obtained under conditions of duress, but the “camps” appear to be for the purposes of “systematic re-education efforts that expose children from Ukraine to Russia-centric academic, cultural, patriotic, and/or military education.” 

People of goodwill should call for justice and respect for the human dignity of thousands of Ukrainian lives lost in and permanently harmed by this war. Such utter contempt for human life and dignity demands an ethical response. Immanuel Kant has argued in the “Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals”: “What has a price can be replaced by something else as its equivalent, what on the other hand is raised above all price and therefore admits of no equivalent has a dignity.” 

Human beings do not have a price; human beings do not have relative worth but intrinsic worth; they possess dignity and thus should never be treated as mere means only but as ends in themselves. The dignity of the human person is, of course, the bedrock of Catholic Social Teaching. 

Although the two views of dignity should not be equated owing to their different grounding, they, nonetheless, have significant overlap in their affirmation of the inherent worth of humans and can be further elaborated to provide arguments for universal human rights. 

As people of goodwill, we should not only care about the war in Ukraine, but we can also act to help Ukrainians. Our individual actions matter and can make a difference. We can donate to groups like United24, whose efforts include demining and rebuilding Ukraine and providing critical humanitarian aid to Ukrainian civilians. 

We can give to Catholic Relief Services, whose work focuses on providing food, shelter, clothing, and counseling to Ukrainian refugees, the majority of whom are women and children. We can choose to spend time learning about Ukrainian culture, literature and history so that we have a better understanding of the present war and why Ukrainians are willing to persevere and fight Russian aggression. 

Here Vaclav Havel’s “living in truth” in “The Power of the Powerless” is fitting, as it describes precisely what thousands of Ukrainians did when they filled Kyiv’s Maidan Square for their “Revolution of Dignity” and what they are doing now in their willingness to fight Russian imperialism. In speaking and acting against Russian propaganda, dehumanizing discourses and efforts to deny their right to exist as a sovereign country, Ukrainians — like the example of Havel’s greengrocer who revolts — assert their dignity and give their “freedom a concrete significance.” 

Their ongoing resistance, resilience and courage — their daily decisions to live in truth—proclaim that persons are not things, nor means to further Russian imperial power, but are ends in themselves. These are values and actions that we should support.


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