Is it safe to go to Europe right now?
To be honest, the war in Ukraine is straining my higher principles of unity, human brotherhood, and tolerance. The reptilian part of me wants to see Moscow become a smoldering ruin. It’s just a corner of my mind, not in control, and it will pass, but something cold-blooded in me wants to see retribution writ large. Luckily, I’m not in charge and I find it extremely unlikely that this conflict will escalate to that point. But does it still justify canceling your Europe trip? Absolutely not.
Having traveled near conflict zones numerous times, buoyed by a sense of the distances involved, and looking at the political/geographic realities of the situation, I am confident that travel to Europe is safe. My parents are going in a couple weeks and I wholeheartedly endorse it, and plan to see them over there. (I’m not alone in this, not only does Rick agree with me, but so does every organization, agency, and insurance company I could find. When even the profit-minded actuaries say it’s safe, you know you’re gold.)
Now, a morally competent Russian leader wouldn’t have invaded Ukraine, so could he go further in his quest to recreate the Soviet Union? Putin was willing/able to overturn the postwar order because of two things: first, no meaningful consequences of his many previous offenses; and second, Ukraine was not sufficiently integrated into the European community of nations to protect it. That is, Ukraine’s not NATO, it’s not EU. For the first point, the international response to this aggression has been vastly stronger and more unified than anything before. For the second, he’s out of room (I wouldn’t be surprised if Belarus reverts to Russia after Lukashenko, but that’s it for westward expansion). Poland, Romania, and the Baltics are all EU and NATO members. Invading Ukraine was arguably a huge overstep on Putin’s part, but crossing into those alliances would be exponentially more disastrous for him. Putin is a morally incompetent reptile, but he’s not suicidal.
Sadly, I don’t see any good way forward for Ukraine. No one wants a wider war, Putin’s ego and political reality won’t allow retreat, and a revolution/coup in Russia seems highly unlikely, so Ukraine probably has a long military occupation and insurgency ahead of it. Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians, and especially Syrians are shaking their heads in firsthand commiseration, and none of us should be okay with that future.
But for the rest of Europe, the rest of us, as uncomfortable as it is to say…now is a great time to travel to Europe. The covid hangover was already keeping crowds and prices down, while polishing your odds of connection and authentic experience, and this war is adding another layer to those ill-sourced benefits. The only disruptions I foresee are longer travel times if your flightpath has to go around Russian airspace, and a slim chance of ATM disruptions if there’s cyber mayhem. But an extra book on board and some extra cash in the money belt are hardly big burdens to bear.
Beyond that, now is not only a safe and promising time to go at a personal level, but the covid and Ukraine crises mean now is also a crucial time to go support the economies and people who bear those burdens. My former students at the IRC in Oakland were refugees and asylum seekers, and their biggest employers were hotels and restaurants. My friend from Kyiv made it to Rome a couple days ago, one of the millions of refugees seeking to find safety in Europe. I can’t wait to go lend my few dollars to those areas to back them up in this time of strength. (This is particularly true of the countries on the front lines. Romania this year may be too much for most folks, but this situation will endure, and next year will be a more known quantity, if you’re considering somewhere where the tourists don’t go.)
So while that reptilian part of my brain wants to see explosions in Moscow, the higher parts of me are doing something better. Within the next few weeks I expect to pack a bag with T-shirts, an extra memory card, and my resolve to help where I can. Then I’ll board my flight to Europe. I hope to see you there.