Overview:

Russia's war in Ukraine shows no signs of slowing, but after six months do we know how to navigate the wide, messy range of related reporting?

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On February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine. At the time, much of Western media believed it would be a swift takeover, given Russia’s size and storied military reputation. It was not. And although Russian talking points about the inevitability of Ukrainian sublimation to Russian identity circulated widely, the last six months have done for the region what brutal attacks from external sources usually do: fortified in-group identity.

Ukraine, which celebrates its 31st anniversary of independence August 24, is now known both for its indomitable nationalist spirit and for being in an unending state of siege, with grave political, economic, and nuclear ramifications for the rest of the world.

Six months on, there are many threads to media coverage, in part because the “fog of war” makes precise statistics difficult. For instance, earlier this month the Kremlin reported Russian casualties as 1,351, while Ukrainian tallies claim around 43,000, in contrast to its own death count of perhaps 9,000 troops. U.S. intelligence agencies went even further at the end of July: estimating between 70- and 80,000 Russian casualties, with around 15,000 dead. The UN has more details for Ukrainian civilian casualties (13,212 in total, 5,514 killed and 7,698 injured, up to August 14), and displaced Ukrainians (over 6.6 million, most in Poland and Germany, with some 150,000 in the U.S.), but these are still conservative figures, subject to daily change.

Some news outlets sustain daily updates on the conflict, so that the war in Ukraine never fades into the backdrop. Others have seen such briefings fall to the wayside, as much from “war fatigue” as from the gravity of other global crises. Still, many try to provide key visual guides to regional proceedings where they can. Niche forums for monitoring and hashing out weapons’ specs, deployment details, supply routes, and overall military strategy exist in abundance, but so too do corners of the internet where state propaganda fuels the idea of war as a thrill ride of righteous revolution.

Secondary coverage includes issues like refugee resettlement (and its disparities), heightened risks of human trafficking, brutal war crimes and POW trials (along with trials for foreign nationals), war tourism, the impact on grain economies, the state of financial sanctions, an imperiled global market in COVID-19’s wake, European restructuring of power-grid relationships, heightened U.S. involvement through arms investment, the fate of Crimea, and the dangerous role of nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants. Diplomatic resolution, as we were recently informed by a Russian senior diplomat, is not currently on the table.

Local celebrations for this year’s Independence Day will be minimal, with large public events banned in Ukraine’s capital as signs emerge of renewed Russian attacks.

How shall we move through further news of this unending war, with its abundance of distinctly violent aspects, and so many potential sites of global catastrophe?

Carefully. We have been through such wars before: on the sidelines, and as direct participants. The danger here, six months into this uncertain conflict, lies with letting data fatigue, skepticism, horror, hot-take mainstream media spin, and a general desensitization to loss and trauma shape how we engage with related intel.

Take nothing for granted, save that war is an enterprise that dehumanizes us all.

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GLOBAL HUMANIST SHOPTALK M L Clark is a Canadian writer by birth, now based in Medellín, Colombia, who publishes speculative fiction and humanist essays with a focus on imagining a more just world.