It’s no coincidence that we all appear to be feeling Ukraine’s plight more strongly than in many previous armed conflicts. One reason beyond the obvious horror of seeing World War II style combat being played out in Europe in the 21st Century is because our experience of the destruction and violence is much more graphic. What’s different this time results from a significant change in communications since the last time anyone tried to walk into their neighbour’s territory in the West.
Nearly every single person on the ground owns a broadcast quality camera on their smartphone, and with it the means to be a broadcaster, able to post candid footage on the internet that is shared around the world in seconds. Smartphones and social media-savvy Ukrainian citizens are sharing harrowing images of on the ground footage recording anything and everything that happens, uncensored, and in real time. And because it’s user generated and not slickly edited, the sense of emotion, the fear and the sadness comes across extremely powerfully.
In the same way live footage of conflict at the end of the last century brought wars into people’s living rooms, now user-generated content by smartphone means we can keep up to the instant with the latest developments wherever we are and whatever we are doing. It’s impossible not to be entirely immersed in the reality of the situation as it rolls past on our social media timelines.
This has a powerful influence on political and public reaction to what has happened. Whether it will lead to the right political decisions, history will be our judge, but it has galvanised European leaders into a completely new and different stance on Russia in the space of a week. Politicians are watching our reactions and we are scrutinising theirs. Such a pressure cooker environment means it very difficult, almost impossible, to remain detached from what is going on in Ukraine because it feels like we are living through it ourselves.
It's anyone’s guess whether President Putin expected this or whether he has been blindsided by the depth of reaction from people across the world, who have no previous emotional connection to Ukraine, and who before this week probably couldn’t even have pointed to it on a world map. Smartphones have made Ukraine’s plight our plight. We stand with Ukrainians emotionally, and we are seeing Governments take quick and unprecedented action against Russian businesses and individuals. With interest rates in Russia already at 20 per cent, the Rouble bleeding value and the country losing valuable, large-scale western business partnerships by the hour, it’s hard to see how the Russian economy can survive this.