In Conflict – The Impact of War on Social Scientists by Kacper Rekawek

“It was a Thursday, 24 February 2022. I got up and saw what was happening and that was it. For the next 72 hours, I would not sleep, I did not even attempt to. I worked the phones, the app messengers, the computer, everything. There were too many things to document, too many videos to watch, too many people to save. Only after these three days, sometime on Sunday, was I able to actually refocus on something more mundane such as lunch or dinner. It was brutal and tragic, but I could see things were not going their way. They blew it.” 

The above quote is from a colleague of mine, an academic who researches what can euphemistically be called “Russia studies.” The event he described in a conversation to me a few weeks later over an overpriced draft beer in Oslo, Norway, was the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “They” is a reference to the seemingly unstoppably advancing Russian army. 

I am a post-doctoral research fellow at the Center for Study of Extremism, C-Rex, at the University of Oslo. I study the issue of (far right) individuals who go and fight in foreign wars and are not motivated by financial gains to do so. Russo-Ukrainian war is my case study; since 2014, both sides have attracted some foreign fighters in general and also far-right fighters in particular. I am originally from Poland, although I have lived and worked in the UK, Slovakia and now Norway and held a string of positions not only in academia but also think tanks and the third sector. Since 2015, however, I have consistently published on the aforementioned issue, with my recently published book a seeming crowning achievement of a long-term research focus.  

Interestingly, until 2022 the war, waged by two neighbours of my native Poland, did not really affect me emotionally. Maybe it was my naivety, or maybe the fact that Russia was dressing it up as “civil war,” “war in Ukraine” and waged what was dubbed a “hybrid” conflict, or war short of war, and as such I was able to detach myself from the atrocities. It seemed far away from me, as Donetsk, the conflict’s epicenter, is hundreds of miles to the East of Poland and after February 2015, and the so-called Minsk II Agreements, casualties were relatively light. In effect, this was becoming a classic “frozen conflict” which would remain unresolved for years (if not decades) to come. 

All of this changed in February 2022 when my Ukrainian friends found themselves sitting in basements while under Russian bombardment, while others frantically tried to enlist in the country’s armed forces or were sending their families Westwards to Poland so they could be spared the horrors of war. No longer was I a semi-detached observer of this war—but I only realized this months later. 

Read More »