By: Avraham Frohlich  | 

Dmytro Vovk, Visiting Cardozo Professor From Ukraine, Leads Event Commemorating Russian Invasion

The Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs and the Dunner Political Science Society hosted an event about freedom of religion and human rights in Russian-occupied territory with Dmytro Vovk, a visiting professor at The Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law from Yaraslal Muryi National Law University in Kharkiv, in commemoration of the first-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

The event, held in the Presidential Boardroom in Befler Hall with over 20 students from both the Beren and Wilf Campuses on March 1, also featured Maria Zaitseva, assistant professor of political science at Yeshiva College, and Jonathan Cristol, a government contractor and political science teacher at Stern College for Women, who each gave their perspectives on various issues pertaining to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing conflict. 

The event was planned and implemented by Ronnie Perlelis, the director of the Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs, along with help from Jacqueline Englanoff (SCW ‘24) and Rivka Krause (SCW ‘25).

At the start of the event, Perelis introduced Vovk, who is the director of the Center for the Rule of Law and Religion Studies at Yaraslal Muryi National Law University and was forced to flee following Moscow’s invasion, which occupied Kharkiv before Ukraine’s armed forces retook the city this September. 

Vovk began by detailing the destruction of Kharkiv and displaying photographs of the war, including of his family taking shelter from shelling and of religious sites damaged by shelling and gunfire from the Russian military. 

Vovk also provided an overview of the religious makeup of both Russia and Ukraine and the effect that those differences have had on the invasion and its aftermath, including causing a sharp decline in religious diversity in the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine and an increased level of discrimination and stigmatization of religious minorities with a short history in the region. 

“The biggest challenge to religious freedom remains in the domain of what Russia has been doing on the occupied territories,” Vovk told The Commentator. “We should be aware that Russia and its bloody attack against Ukraine have turned one of the most religiously pluralistic Ukrainian regions (Donbas and Crimea) into the territory of the grossest violations of religious freedom in Europe. Several religious groups, which had been flourishing before 2014, disappeared or left the region and they presumably will never come back even when the war is over.”

“From a broader perspective,” added Vovk, “the religious freedom case demonstrates that it’s the war not only around Ukraine’s sovereignty and the right to exist, but it’s also the war between the system based on freedom and civic activism and the authoritarian system based on hierarchy and restrictions. This means that if Ukraine loses the war, there will be less freedom and less democracy both in the region and the world.”

Following Vovk, Zaitseva spoke, noting that the war allowed Putin to increase Russian autocracy. She also discussed Russian narratives surrounding the war and possible third-party brokered resolutions to the war.

Following Zaitseva, Cristol shared his views about the conflict, stressing the unusual nature of the Russia-Ukraine war, the gradual development of Russian-NATO tensions that led up to the conflict and noting how the war broke with the liberal world order set after the Second World War. To close, Cristol argued that it is likely that Russia would go on to absorb other countries if they win in Ukraine and that the U.S. should increase military aid to Ukraine.

“The event offered our students a chance to go beyond the headlines and slogans to understand just how interrelated our world is,” Perelis told The Commentator. “Prof. Vovk shared insights from both his personal experience as a Ukrainian who had to flee his hometown and his deep scholarly expertise to explain the current state of religious freedom in Ukraine and Russia ... The evening was a success because the students took time out of their busy schedules to come together, to learn and ask questions and go deeper.”

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Photo Caption: Ukrainian Embassy in Washington

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons