Russia and Ukraine need to begin peace negotiations to end the destruction and bloodshed that has been going on nearly a year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, said Nicholas Davies, co-author of a book on the war in Ukraine.
"This could be the moment when Ukraine has the opportunity to go to the table in its most favorable position," Davies said about a negotiated peace deal.
Davies spoke Tuesday in Memorial Union at the University of Missouri, but the presentation was dominated by pushback from audience members about many of the other points made in an introductory video and by Davies. Those outraged by the presentation included MU Ukrainian students, who labeled his presentation as Russian propaganda.
He wrote "War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict" with co-author Medea Benjamin.
The 18-minute introductory video labeled the 2014 Revolution of Dignity that ousted a pro-Putin, anti-European Ukrainian president as the result of a coup.
The video described a civil war among Ukrainians over some territories in another point of contention.
Audience members also took issue with Davies' claim that threatened NATO expansion to Ukraine provoked the Russian invasion.
Irynka Hromotska, a Fulbright student from Ukraine studying at MU, was the first to speak up.
"The stuff you have just seen in a video is just pure Russian propaganda," Hromotska said.
As she continued, organizers tried to shut her down, with Davies at one point lunging for the microphone. At another point, organizers nearly surrounded her at the front of the room.
"I'm interested in what she has to say," came a shout from the audience.
"It's insulting to call the Revolution of Dignity in 2014 a coup," Hromotska said. "I am offended, not shocked."
She was one of the peaceful protesters beaten badly by riot police, she said.
There was no civil war, she said.
"Ukraine, by the way, is a sovereign state," Hromotska said.
Davies has no expertise on Ukraine, she said.
"Either you don't know what you're talking about or you're on the Russian payroll," Hromotska said, getting to her question. "Which is it? It's one or the other."
"I am not on the Russian payroll, so according to this lady, I have no expertise," Davies said.
Russia shot down a passenger jet a few years back, said MU Ukrainian student Vlad Sazhen.
Davies acknowledged that, but said there is some disagreement.
Russian troops and tanks were involved in the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk before the current Russian invasion, Sazhen said. It wasn't a civil war, as the video claimed, he said. He showed a video on his tablet computer of Russian troops greeting their families in Russia.
Everything Davies presented was propaganda, said Alex Zyernov, who said he grew up in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union.
"How dare you bring this book and present it as fact?" he said.
The conflict will end when Ukrainian sovereignty is re-established, Zyernov said.
Davies said he was hearing a lot of speeches. He asked for a show of hands from anyone who doesn't believe there should be peace negotiations.
"That's not what we're saying," Hromotska said.
Addressing a question from Mark Haim, with event co-sponsor Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, Davies said he didn't think the U.S. participating in the negotiations would be a good idea.
"The U.S. has its own interests," Davies said.
A peace deal can be reached, he said.
"If this does not end at the negotiating table, then how does it end?" Davies said.
Russia has committed war crimes in Bucha and elsewhere, said audience member Kristie Hilgedick, of Hartsburg. It has also removed at least 100,000 children from Ukraine and taken them to Russia.
"What the young people were looking forward to was freedom" in 2014, Hilgedick said. "They asked for freedom. It wasn't a coup."
How can Ukraine negotiate with Putin, who in addition to war crimes also isn't reliable, she asked.
"If they don't fight, that's what they have to deal with," she said.
Jeff Stack, with event co-sponsor Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation, attempted to wrap up the event, saying there were a lot of passionate feelings in the filled room.
"This is not passion," Hromotska said. "He's spreading Russian propaganda and you're giving him a platform."
Stack said after the event that, in hindsight, he should have held the microphone as audience members asked questions.
Zyernov and Sazhen each said after that Davies listed everything they've heard from Russian propagandists. Sazhen said he's never heard so much Russian propaganda concentrated in one event.
Roger McKinney is the Tribune's education reporter. You can reach him at rmckinney@columbiatribune or 573-815-1719. He's on Twitter at @rmckinney9.
This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: MU students, others label author's presentation Russian propaganda