Inna Lanigan, right, a native of Ukraine, said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “mostly likely he will end like Hilter end(ed).” Lanigan was one of four keynote speakers at Unite for Ukraine panel discussion Monday night at the USC Beaufort Center for the Arts. Also speaking were Kevin Dopf, Tatiana Tatum and Julie Seibold. Photo by Bob Sofaly.

Area residents share insights on the war in Ukraine 

 By Tony Kukulich 

Speakers with a broad range of experiences related to Ukraine took the stage at the USC Beaufort (USCB) Center for the Arts on Monday night to discuss their perspectives on the war currently being waged there. 

Panelists covered topics from economics and military strategy to intensely personal and emotional stories of what life is like for family and friends who have either fled Ukraine or are still in the country. 

Beaufort Mayor Stephen Murray was moderator of United for Ukraine on Monday night at the USC Beaufort Center for the Arts. Around 200 people showed up to listen to the panel discussion. Photo by Bob Sofaly.

“Due to this war – a terrible, terrible thing that happened – I’ve lost my sleep for the last two weeks,” said panelist Inna Lanigan, a Beaufort resident and Ukrainian national with family in Ukraine. “Every morning I wake up and call my mom. ‘Are you still alive?’ It’s so difficult.” 

In addition to Lanigan, other speakers included Kevin Dopf, a professor of political science at USCB and retired Army officer who taught at the U.S. Army Command & General Staff College; Julie Siebold, who taught English to students in Ukraine; and Tatiana Tatum, a Russian national and artist who has lived in Beaufort since 2018. 

A crowd of approximately 200 people filled the theater for an hour-long panel discussion entitled “United for Ukraine.” The event was presented by the City of Beaufort and USCB and moderated by City of Beaufort Mayor Stephen Murray. 

In his opening remarks, Murray discussed the city’s efforts to raise money for the informally adopted City of Ostroh in western Ukraine. Ostroh, located 177 miles from the Polish border, has taken in approximately 1,100 refugees. While the fighting has not yet reached that part of the country, Murray said preparations are being made there for a sustained Russian offensive. He also announced that the city’s fundraising efforts to help the residents of Ostroh had reached an important goal.

Mayor Stephen Murray, left, listens as Julie Seibold, second from right, makes her remarks during the Unite for Ukraine panel dicussion Monday night at the University of S.C. Center for the Arts. Listening from center left are Kevin Dopf, native Russian Tatiana Tatum, Seibold and Inna Lanigan, native Ukrainian.

“I’m very excited to tell all of you that as of noon today, we have raised $25,050,” he said. “Pat yourselves on the back. This community is so generous and so giving. It’s just been heartwarming to see the reaction and how you’ve donated in such a quick amount of time.”

By the end of the night, that number would rise significantly.

Ukraine was invaded by Russia on Feb. 24. Russian military advances have reportedly been slowed by a tenacious Ukrainian defense. Multiple news agencies reported this week that Russia announced its intention to reduce military activity in two areas including the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv. According to Dopf, the effectiveness of the Ukrainian defense has been a surprise to just about everyone.

“I think the most surprised person is Vladimir Putin,” he said. “This has a huge effect, that the whole nation coalesced together, and he did not think that that was going to happen. Neither did the Russian military. … They expected everything to be over in a short period of time, that the Ukrainian army was going to surrender. There was a massive miscalculation on the Russian’s part.”

Lanigan said that despite warnings about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions to invade Ukraine, many there dismissed the threat.

“None of them thought it was going to happen,” she said. “All the young generation sent emails saying,’Don’t read the news. It’s not good for you. It makes you stressed. Nothing’s going to happen. It’s suicide for Putin. It makes zero sense.’”

In the wake of the conflict, approximately 3.7 million refugees have fled to other countries, as reported by the Pew Research Center this week. The BBC also reported this week that an additional 6.5 million Ukrainians have fled their homes and are displaced inside their country.

Seibold offered a perspective on the challenges faced by refugees, noting that escape from the fighting doesn’t necessarily mean finding safety.

“Even when somebody feels like they’ve made it to a safe place, it’s not really safe, it’s not really secure,” she said. “When they’re a refugee and somebody comes and helps them, they’re relying on the good will of the person. They may or may not be a good person that they’re going with. That opens up all kinds of other dangers.”

Speaking with The Island News after Monday night’s event, Dopf speculated on what the next couple of months could look like for Putin and the Ukrainians.

“That’s the question everyone is asking,” he said. “I think a possible outcome is that the Russian army will reposition itself, and Putin will declare victory, once he has the Donbas region – the separatist region – under control, and maybe a little more territory. That’s a possible scenario, an offramp where he can get out and declare victory. The Ukrainians won’t buy it, I don’t think. But you never know. He may double down. No one in the world can predict what that man can do.”

At the conclusion of the discussion, gallery owners Mary and Eric Thibault and artist Greg Rawls presented Murray with a check for $10,850 raised for the Ostroh relief effort. That amount represented 100% of the proceeds raised through the sale of Rawls’ popular Ukrainian flag pendants and pins in just the last two weeks.

Glass artist Greg Rawls making Ukrainian flag pins.

Those that want to directly help the people of Ostroh can drop by the Thibault Gallery on Bay Street and purchase a Ukraine pin for $20, or visit https://bit.ly/3wg97U0 to place an order.

Anyone wishing to donate to the city’s Pride of Place fund for the benefit of the citizens of Ostroh can visit: http://www.cityofbeaufort.org/270/Beaufort-Pride-of-Place.

A video of the entire panel discussion can be found on the City of Beaufort’s Facebook page.

Tony Kukulich is a recent transplant to the Lowcountry. A native of Wilmington, Del., he comes to The Island News from the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent seven years as a reporter and photographer for several publications. He can be reached at tony.theislandnews@gmail.com.

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