This article is part of the Ukraine Special Edition, a collaboration between PRovoke Media and the Ukraine Communication Support Network that draws together authoritative international voices to explore the ongoing war through a specific PR and communications lens. More here.

Three things have become clear after 100 days of the Russia-Ukraine war:

1)      Imperial fascist Russia is an existential enemy to Ukrainians and the free world.

2)      The values and future of humankind are at stake.

3)      We must be brave enough for the new brave world to emerge.

Each day brings the losses of Ukraine soldiers’ lives up by 100. Each day contributes to the displacement of over 15 million people with more than 6.7 million Ukrainian mothers and children having fled Ukraine into safer European countries. Each day cries for the over 230,000 Ukrainian children who have been kidnapped - deported to Russia from the occupied territories to undergo filtration and Russification.

And with each day more Ukrainian territory and seas are filled with landmines, more Ukrainian farmers are blown up as they try to peacefully grow grains, and more than 350,000 infrastructure sites and millions of square meters of houses, schools, hospitals, sports facilities, and entire Ukrainian cities are groznied.

Centuries-old repressive campaigns against the Ukrainian language and identity are echoed in current Russian state propaganda. Ukrainian women are raped "so that they would not bear Ukrainian children anymore” and multiple cases of child rape have been recorded.  Russian attempts to break the body, the soul, and the spirit of the Ukrainian people have culminated in over 15,000 war crimes recorded to have been carried out over the course of the past 100 days. It’s a continuation of Russia’s war of extermination of Ukrainians that started centuries ago.

Russia’s demonstrated denial of Ukrainian statehood echoes the Russian imperial tradition – indeed, this war is the most unapologetically imperialistic undertaking of the twenty-first century. Its nature bears elements of traditional colonial conquest, further highlighted by the fact that there are now several generations of Ukrainians who have suffered from a form of Russian colonialism before and now.

This vicious cycle, a pattern that has already caused - and is currently causing - suffering to millions of Ukrainians, must be broken. And it is not Ukraine alone who can contribute to this process. Europe, too, needs to recognise that if it wants lasting peace, it must work toward a post-imperial Russia. It must not try to appease Russia or worry about its humiliation, or look for an off-ramp solution for Russian leadership.

Moreover, it must be much more afraid of what happens if Russia is not defeated in Ukraine. Only failure can persuade the Russians themselves to question the sense and purpose of a colonial ideology that has repeatedly ruined their own economy and society, as well as those of their neighbours, for decades. Yet another Yalta, yet another frozen conflict, yet another face-saving compromise will not end the pattern of Russian aggression or bring lasting peace.

This war is also beyond Ukraine’s war against Russia’s imperial ambitions, for it is a war less for territories than it is for the extermination of the values of freedom and free-spiritedness. Broadcasted on all TV screens and social media around the world, supported by democracies' cheering President Zelensky’s speeches and commending Ukrainian resilience, this is now a war, from Ukraine’s perspective, for the value of human dignity in the world. A war after which the notion of a state’s or power’s “greatness” should be seriously reconsidered.

What makes Russian aggression against Ukrainians so dangerous is that it’s a direct attack on international law and the global order which enshrines the value of human life, sovereignty, territorial integrity and the peaceful resolution of disputes - notions that provided the world with 75 years of prosperity and the absence of a major world war.

The outcome of Russia’s war on Ukraine will predetermine the behaviour of other malign states and actors, seeking impunity for their irresponsibly disruptive behavior and proliferation of nuclear arms in the future. This is a time when strategists, both at the government and corporate tables, must recognise that ceasefires and non-lasting peace or recovery cannot always be means to an end.

More credible goals are lasting peace and security based on respect for human dignity and self-determination, and security or prosperity based on justice, not on oppression or exploitation. Ukraine’s victory would therefore set a precedent for humankind to never be blackmailed or attacked by a malign state.

The war has entered a phase that is dangerous in new ways. As Russian war crimes continue and Ukrainian losses increase while awaiting supplies of adequate weapons from the West, Ukraine’s name is increasingly disappearing from global headlines. So far, Ukrainians have proved remarkably resilient to Russian genocidal war. In response to all the unjust suffering, 82% of Ukrainians are not willing to concede any territories to Russia.

Ukrainians understand it is not just about territories, but most importantly, about the Ukrainian identity, dignity and statehood. Ukraine is determined to restore its territorial integrity within the internationally recognised 1991 borders and bring Russia to justice for the war crimes it has committed.

Unfortunately, Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons has prompted NATO to compromise its values and limit the support it was prepared to offer Kyiv. Having offered initial support through partial arms supplies and sanctions, Western allies are not demonstrating a sense of urgency to provide further heavy weaponry assistance and close the loopholes of sanctions against Russia by imposing a complete oil and gas embargo.

It appears that the price of gasoline should come at the expense of the lives and identity of Ukrainians. Prosperity seems to matter more than human lives. Their hesitation to help Ukraine win once and for all, not cope, is guided by a blind belief that peace in Ukraine can be bought off or stopped nicely. However, as Peter Pomerantsev says, Russia "is a predator that works according to its own logic of internal oppression and external aggression."

Ukrainians have lived through Chernobyl - but are afraid of the nuclear winter less than they are afraid to be denied of their identity and statehood. Freedom or death, people say in Ukraine and the Ukrainian people prove every day that freedom is their biggest value, one that Ukrainian soldiers are sacrificing their lives for and the only one that provides the suffering of the Ukrainian civilian population with any meaning.

If there is anything that keeps Ukrainians going, it is the sense of justice and that for the sake of our future generations, it must prevail. Otherwise, we will never be able to explain to our children and grandchildren, why Ukrainians in the 21st century were raped and killed while everyone just stood by.

Russia needs to stop being a threat: to its neighbours, to its people, to the world. In recognising Russia’s disruption of all supply chains, the mining of land and seas which is meant to provide food for others, nationalising of international businesses, and ordering and executing crimes against humanity, crippling Russia’s ability to attack others should be the goal of all Western policies.

How can professional communicators help:

1) Keep not just the humanitarian response. but long term interests of Ukraine on the agenda: Remember that Ukraine would like its mothers and children to come back and live in a successful and prosperous Ukraine. Amplify Ukraine and Ukrainian voices. Speak up for the war crimes in Ukraine and the need for Russia to be held accountable for them - it is the only way to counter trauma. A good example is Iga Swiatek, a Polish tennis player, who after winning a second Grand Slam at 2022 Roland Garros asked Ukraine to “stay strong” and reminded the world that the war is far from over.

2) Contribute to isolating Russia: Advise clients to exit and divest from Russia immediately. Historically, Russia’s only allies have been its army and fleet. With time they turned to oil and gas. Deprived of oil and gas dollars, Russian economy will be too crippled to continue waging its war on Ukraine.  As of today, just over 1033 companies have started divesting, but 582 international businesses continue to fully operate in Russia, while 430 only reduced their presence. We must campaign for human lives over profits. Staying in Russia amounts to complicity. The choice remains: to leave with reputation intact or stay and be complicit in war crimes.

3) Support Ukranian entrepreneurs who support Ukraine: Almost everyone I know in the Ukrainian creative industry is now working on the information front for Ukraine. People are exhausted. Founders, like myself, are stretched. Everyone needs financial, platform, and media support to sustain the effort, to maintain the teams, to stay focused on our goals of communicating Ukraine’s agenda in multiple geographies and support the formation of anti-Putin coalition. The toll on women-led enterprises - be it in tech, consulting or creative production industries - is especially hard. When choosing between sponsoring an image campaign claiming support or creating an actual fund of scholarships or grants for Ukrainian-led projects, choose the latter. If unable to contribute financially, sharing a platform with Ukrainians is still extremely valuable. An upcoming example is the Copenhagen Democracy Summit that will be hosting a delegation of 50 Ukrainian activists and incorporating an art installation by a Ukrainian artist Daria Koltsova. The world’s influencers are sharing their Instagram accounts with Ukrainians to help tell their stories - if you know of anyone who has not spoken or contributed in some way yet, you can help make it happen.

4) Lead by example: Advise clients to publicly state their position on the Russia-Ukraine war and serve as an example to others. Furniture retailer JYSK closed all of its operations in Russia and said it would never return to the country that has so blatantly attacked its neighbour. The best investment you can make in the rebuilding of Ukraine is to not finance its destruction any further – do what is an honorable, not immediately profitable, thing to do.

5) Invest in resilience: Invest and have your clients invest in societal resilience and nurturing of the free world values that are necessary for the new brave world, whether it’s in media literacy and critical thinking, or in civic responsibility and education. Staunch acceptance of the truth, knowing who we are, and finding solidarity with other like-minded nations are necessary vitamins for any society, not only for a Ukrainian one. Rethinking policies, laws, security dimensions based on values is the only way to bring about lasting peace and provide a foundation of security and international law that all companies need to grow and prosper.

If we embrace the five points above then a brave new world will emerge: one based on equality and justice, freedom and dignity, and one that is passionate about peace and prosperity. A world in which human rights won’t be secondary to economic interests, and security won’t prevail over human dignity.

This article is part of the Ukraine Special Edition, a collaboration between PRovoke Media and the Ukraine Communication Support Network that draws together authoritative international voices to explore the ongoing war through a specific PR and communications lens. More here.

The Ukraine Communication Support Network (UCSN) is an international organisation of PR associations, agencies and advisors committed to helping the people of Ukraine through the power of strategic communications. To stay up to date with UCSN activities globally and to learn what’s happening in your country, please subscribe to the international newsletter.