Dr. Fiona Hill Speaks to Upper School Students About Ukraine

The situation in Ukraine is changing fast. So fast, in fact, that when Fiona Hill came to speak to the Upper School on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, some of the information she had when she got into her car to drive to the School was outdated by the time she arrived in the RLS Meeting Room.

Hill served as deputy assistant to the president and senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council from 2017 to 2019 and is the author of several books, the latest of which is There is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century, a memoir that traces her journey from her childhood in England to becoming an renowned expert on Russia and serving in multiple White House administrations. She came to the Upper School after students expressed a desire to learn more and dig deeper into the Ukrainian situation.

“We are all living through history,” she said. “And we all have a role to play in it.”

Hill first gave a brief history lesson about the relationship between Russia and the former Soviet state, providing context for the current struggle. She also made it clear that the Russian people carry almost no fault in the war; they live, she said, in a “dome of propaganda” so sealed that some people may not even be aware there is a war, as Russian President Vladimir Putin and the oligarchs in the Russian government are telling the people they are engaging in military exercises—that is, if they’re telling them anything at all. “The Russian people don’t have a voice,” Hill said. “They don’t have a say.”

Who does have a voice? The students who were listening to her. In addition to calling on government officials and private businesses to support Ukraine, Hill pointed out that social media can reach ordinary Russians in a way that bypasses the state-run media. Students with any contacts among Russians—family, friends, or online acquaintances—can try to get accurate information into the country.

After her talk, the students asked questions. They were wide-ranging: Will economic sanctions against Russia only hurt ordinary Russians and leave Putin untouched? What does the endgame look like? Will Putin quit?

To the last question, Hill is relatively certain she knows the correct answer: No. “He knows what happens in history to people like him who are overthrown,” she said. “He has to show he’s a winner.”

“It’s still a scary situation, especially with the nukes,” said one student as he chatted with friends while walking back to class. “But at least now I know a little more.”

It is still a scary situation, as the Russian invasion of a sovereign nation sets a dangerous precedent unseen since World War II, Hill said. But sometimes a little more information can make things a little less scary.

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