On 24 February 2022, the Russian army invaded Ukraine, starting the first international land war in Europe since World War II. This in turn triggered a large movement of forced migrants across Ukraine and Europe. At the time of writing, 10 million people have fled their homes, 3.6 million of whom have left Ukraine.[I] Thousands have died in the conflict, and thousands more have been injured, both physically and psychologically.[ii]
Our research into stretching the boundaries of how we understand peace and conflict led me to discover peace as an act of care – which can occur amidst conflict, not just in more stable times. Other items in the museum reflect on acts of care between humans. For this item I decided to explore how care for non-humans might help us to visualise peace in new ways and also contribute to peace-building itself.
Part of my ‘Pockets of Peace in Ukraine, Spring 2022’ project, ‘Care for Animals’ is one of three macro trends I identified on Twitter that reflect a larger outpouring of acts of care and empathy during the war in Ukraine, both despite and because of the overarching context of violence. This trend foregrounds the efforts humans have made to rescue and protect animals amid the war.
The role of animals in conflict and peace-making is largely overlooked. We sometimes see images of dogs sniffing out bombs or helping to find people trapped under rubble; and some animals (the dove, and nature more generally) are often associated with utopian visions of peace. However, I have come across very little analysis of the role that animals and our interactions with them can play in efforts for peacebuilding.[iii] While this is an unusual path to take towards visualising peace, looking more at acts of care for pets and other animals can help us identify key building blocks for peace-making more broadly. Moreover, it opens new ways of visualising peace in the everyday that can be extended far beyond the invasion of Ukraine.
Visualising Peace with Pets
“”A man’s soul can be judged by the way he treats his dog.” ~ Charles Doran”@HustleNlow on Twitter
The tweets here are just a sample of what I have seen. While not the most popular trend I found in social media content connected to #Ukraine,[iv] I was really intrigued by how our relationship to pets can affect our perception of the conflict. Particularly from a Western perspective, where pets like dogs and cats are often treated as another family member, photos of pets within conflict enable the audience to begin to imagine living within war. On one post, for example, @virginsnowbunny commented, ‘I grieve for the animals in Eukraine [sic]. I wonder how I would be with my dogs in this situation.’ Others commented with photos of their own pets (see this thread, for example), demonstrating that visualising care for animals enabled a more personal connection between Twitter users and Ukrainians facing hardship. Tweets about pets speak to acts of care and empathy on the ground, in the midst of conflict; but they also help to build care and empathy between victims of war (human and non-human) and more distant observers. Pet stories can play an intriguing narrative role, in other words, in communicating the horrors of war and helping observers visualise what it is like to live through them.
“–how can I abandon him, we survived bombardments together.”A Ukrainian grandmother about her pet rooster, via @Ilya_poet on Twitter
The pet stories I have come across also narrate solutions – alternatives to conflict – not just the conflict itself. Take for example, this moving video between a husky and its owner on their reunion. Their story evokes the violence of separation, but also the joy of reunion, helping us visualise a ‘pocket of peace’ in the conflict which speaks to a better future beyond it. Social media has also shared stories of human reunions, but this human-animal one has a particular energy to it. There is something about the unrestrained joy of the dog which strikes a chord, almost as if the purity of a pet’s emotions tells us more about the moment than the human.
A recurring feature of the posts I found is also the literal embrace of pets. A hug is one of the simplest acts of care, establishing a physical closeness that communicates love and safety and releases hormones in the body which make us more resilient, both physically and mentally. As refugees and displaced people flee their homes, often they carry their pets close with them. This is perhaps not immediately practical, as pets inherently require care and do not provide pure survival benefits, as perhaps a bag of food would. Yet, there are good reasons why people bring their pets with them: owning a pet involves a commitment to ongoing care for them; and hugging them nurtures both human and animal. Through images of humans hugging their pets, we can see how broader acts of care help to establish the bonds of love and resilience that enable survival within war. And that commitment to a family pet also looks ahead to a time beyond war, when life might be lived more normally again.
In a nutshell, the social media posts that I have found illustrating war-time care for animals not only illustrate brief moments of joy or small ‘pockets of peace’. They also help us understand how resilient and vital ongoing care and empathy can be during a conflict; and those ‘pockets of peace’ are an important reminder of what can be achieved if care and empathy spread and are scaled up. As long as care continues, peace is possible.
What do you think?
- Have you come across any human-animal stories in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February 2022?
- What role do you think social media generally can play in building empathy between those experiencing conflict directly and those watching with concern from afar?
- Can social media help to spread images of peace – or even peace itself?
- Do you think that acts of care for animals can contribute to peace-making?
- How can micro acts of peace-building, like embracing pets, be translated onto a macro scale?
If you enjoyed this item in our museum…
You might also enjoy ‘Jasmine‘, ‘Green Mosul‘, ‘Make me a Channel of your Peace‘, ‘Peace is Fun!‘, ‘Pockets of Peace in Ukraine, Spring 2022: ‘A Reflection‘, ‘Care through Music‘, and ‘Care for Nature‘.
Grace Bitner, May 2022
[i] These statistics have been published by the UN, on the basis of research carried out by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) between 9 and 16 March. As this BBC article notes, the actual figures are likely to be even higher.
[ii] This podcast reflects on the long lead-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1717787/10586724. Among other topics, it discusses the role played by social media in shaping how people have visualised the conflict, and also how people on the ground and far away have engaged with in and offered support.
[iii] This article is a rare example, exploring connections between rhino conservation and peace-building in north India. The intersection between peace-building and wildlife conservation is a growing area of study – a promising trend for the future.
[iv] I came across a few dozen tweets highlighting animals in Ukraine, particularly from @domdyer70, an animal welfare campaigner. This trend has, however, increased in popularity since I first discovered it. While many of the posts I initially found received a few dozen likes and retweets, some of the more recent posts’ engagement has reached into the thousands—see these posts from 1st May or 5 May, or search #Ukraine and #animals to see for yourself!