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Studying and Traveling from Latin America to the Netherlands and Ukraine

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Dalia Krapavickaitė MAIA ‘22

1. What encouraged you to apply to Johns Hopkins SAIS? 
As I was studying at Leiden University in the Netherlands, I got to know about the SAIS MAIA cooperative degree program. At first, I expected to only do my Master’s in the Netherlands, but I after I got accepted to SAIS, I realized that it complements my education very well.

2. What were you doing before attending the school? 
My Bachelor’s was in Music (Choir Conducting), after graduating I travelled around Latin America. I did an internship at the Lithuanian Consulate in Sao Paulo and at the Lithuanian Embassy in the Hague, and as mentioned, I studied International Relations (with specializations in Culture and Politics) at Leiden University.

3. What program are you in and what do you hope to gain from it?
I am in the MAIA program, which allows me to tailor my curriculum very freely. I appreciate that, so whilst my former master’s was rather qualitative, at SAIS I aim to focus more on economics and other quantitative classes.

4. Why did you choose to go to Ukraine? What are some of the things you saw? You felt? 
SAIS Europe is in a very convenient location to travel. As we were already observing the increasing militarization around the Ukrainian borders, the idea to see Kyiv came naturally – “what if we don’t get to see it?” and, evidently, we were right. I had already visited Kyiv around ten years ago, when I was singing in a girls’ choir. After that I had lived with host families of some of the Ukrainian choir, and I had warm memories of walks around Maidan even before the Maidan protests happened.
This visit was different not only because of the different political atmosphere, but also because I am now older. Having grown up in Lithuania, I felt strong familiarity with the people and architecture of Kyiv, some corners felt like home. In these post-Soviet countries people have a certain look of distrust on their faces, and while walking around the streets, I was wondering if those people that pass me by feel the fear of escalation or if their faces are just naturally so grim. Indeed, we often do not greet our own neighbors, we do not initiate any contact.
When we were there, streets were at the time full of people taking walks and chatting. We were asking those we met, especially the young people – “how do you feel?” I think the key aspect was that they emphasized how the war was there already ongoing for 8 years, and yet nobody noticed. Such a constant state of war is numbing, so most people did not believe an escalation of the scale we see now was possible. This can be emphasized by the fact that Kyiv was not prepared logistically for a military attack – there is no suitable infrastructure that could provide the whole population with shelter from shelling.
Some said they were too afraid of what might come, so they would not check the news more than once or twice a month. Some were confident that if an invasion occurs, they would be able to take the next flight and leave the country but expressed concerns over family members living close to the borders. Nevertheless, the city was vibrant, full of places to go, with amazing and diverse food, shops and music, so we managed to drop by an IT networking event with live music and a number of other places. Kyiv felt like such a European city (which had the population equal to the population of my whole home country - Lithuania), as everyone we met could speak English and had travelled around the world a lot. Even the coffee in Kyiv, in my very personal and controversial opinion, is of much better quality than in Italy.

5. What do you hope the school, the country, and world should do for the Ukrainian people? Feel free to share any message on their behalf.
There are many reasons why current Ukrainian issues are important. Firstly, I am convinced it is a historical event that will change the face of Europe and the world as we know it. I would address the fragility of global supply chains, especially wheat, and the migration crisis. In tandem, the sustainability of the current response is questionable, as is the ability of the world to address other ongoing humanitarian crises. Additionally, the response of China is concerning since the inaction of the West might encourage it to make a move on Taiwan.
Secondly, from the Eastern European, and I am thinking Ukrainian, Polish, Georgian and any Baltic state perspective, this was an anticipated event. The Polish leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski years ago warned about the Russian threat, as did the Lithuanian former President Dalia Grybauskaitė. Clearly, NATO was aware of possible aggression against Ukraine, thus it did not accept it to the alliance, and now we have these consequences. The West has been neglecting Russian imperialism for a long time, and Western academics, as well as the media, keep focusing on the Global North – Global South divide. The inability to address the occupation of Georgian territories and of Crimea is the most painful part for Eastern Europe and Ukraine, as they do believe this war could have been avoided if only the world would have responded. Instead, the EU, instead of increasing their reliance on Russian gas after the occupation, could have already moved towards almost complete energy independence from Russia.
At this point I am in touch with a number of Ukrainian people, trying to help them with moving or with finding a job abroad, while my friends are volunteering in Lithuania to fix accommodations and help them with similar needs. We all have a strong stance: Ukraine has to be supported so that it wins this war. I reject the calls for “peace” (and surely almost all Ukrainians would agree), as they imply concessions. If Russia wins, it may continue terrorizing other countries, and Lithuania (even though a member of NAT), is seen as one of the targets (as seen by recent news where Putin claimed that Lukoshenko would like to have access to the Baltic sea). Humanitarian relief is important, yet it would be much more costly if the war is not ended. Thus, I encourage everyone to reach out through official channels and write to your political representatives in order to support the Ukrainian army, donate to them online on their official website, and do everything in your power so that more losses of human lives would be prevented.
According to the saying “if it bleeds, it leads”, it seems that the conflict that feels personal to me is often seen in the West as a reality show. Let me say that it is highly disturbing to receive a text message from a member of humanitarian organization in Charkiv saying “hi, we’re being bombed right now. I will answer a little later”.

6. Why did you choose to highlight your project through photos? Why do you believe photos are such a powerful medium?
I consider Kevin’s pictures to be able to capture the feeling of Kyiv as we saw it. While as scholars we often aim to be rational, claiming to be emotionless, in reality I do not believe such a stance exists. There would not be a single war started if we were not driven by emotional, irrational forces that are a key part of human nature. The best we can do is to acknowledge that and to be transparent about the emotions that we are driven by. Similar positions are expressed by Emma Hutchison and Roland Bleiker, whose articles on emotions in world politics I would highly recommend.

7. What do you hope to do with your degree after you graduate?
Unsurprisingly, I am looking into jobs in the humanitarian field around Ukraine. Talking to some other students, professionals and alumni of SAIS, a humanitarian career seemed fitting to me (already before the current war started) and as a student with regional and linguistic knowledge, I would be happy to contribute my skills to a cause that I care about highly, before pursuing a career in other places.