Ukrainian service members collect unexploded shells after a fighting with a Russian raiding group in Kyiv in the morning of Feb. 26, 2022, according to Ukrainian service personnel at the scene. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Experts with Prairie roots surprised by speed of attack on Ukraine, but not by resistance to it

As an academic with a focus on Ukraine and a woman of Ukrainian heritage, the war in her ancestors' home country has affected USask graduate Marnie Howlett (BA'15, MA'17) on several levels.

By Theresa Kliem | CBC News

While not surprised about the war in Ukraine, Marnie Howlett (BA'15, MA'17) says, in an interview with the CBC, she didn't expect the Russian invasion to happen as fast or to the extent as it did.

The researcher from Saskatoon works at the University of Oxford, U.K., as a lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations.

Howlett said people might have expected tensions to rise in Eastern Ukraine, particularly Donetsk and Luhansk, but not an invasion across the country.

"We didn't expect Putin to escalate as quickly at this time," she said. "The tactics being used, I think, are what is most surprising." 

Personal connections with Ukraine

As an academic with a focus on Ukraine and a woman of Ukrainian heritage, the war in her ancestors' home country has affected her on several levels.

Since Thursday morning she hasn't heard from one of her closest friends who lives in Ukraine. Howlett assumes he has joined the fight.

"It's very heartbreaking," she said. 

"I feel like my life has been turned upside down since I woke up on Thursday morning, not only personally but academically. I mean, the place that I study is no longer and it will no longer be the place that I have been to."

While not born in Ukraine, the researcher calls the country her second home and her friends there family, she said.

After finishing her master's degree in Political Science in 2017 at the University of Saskatchewan, Howlett moved to England to work on her doctoral research, studying grassroot sentiments, nationalism, how borders have been drawn historically and how people feel about them.

"While this [research] can … highlight separatism, it also can highlight people's attachment to their territory," she said.

"We also see people's attachment to the state of Ukraine and their territory and their willingness to defend those borders…. We see Ukrainians willing to die for their country."

It's important to remember that Ukraine has been an independent country since 1991, said Howlett, however, Ukraine has not been treated as such by Russia.

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