Krakovets, Lyviv Oblast Ukraine: As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine now targets military bases and supply lines here in the far west of Ukraine just miles from one of the busiest Polish border crossing, the letter Z has morphed from a proud symbol of Russian arms symbol into of the mark of Russian terror. What did the nearly two million women and children passing through this corridor ever do to have their homes, hospitals, and factories destroyed by Russian artillery?
Ukraine’s guilt is manifold. She is guilty of not surrendering; guilty of defending herself against impossible odds; guilty of standing up to the tyrant of a mighty and aggressive neighbor. She’s guilty of celebrating her national identity and independence and worst of all, she’s guilty of not succumbing to the ever-growing terror from the east nor the neglect from an uncertain and terrified west, led by the United States.
Ukraine officially now puts the number of its dead war fighters at nearly 1500, but as in all wars, the heaviest price is paid not by those who bear arms, but those who cannot fight back. Those who can’t find refuge even in the hospitals and apartment blocks Russian heavy guns now target.
Ukraine’s armed forces are now joined by a tragically growing army of inconsolable mothers and orphaned children. Recently vibrant urban landscapes are rendered lifeless by Russian armor. Tanks are parked where cars should be. Churches are without spires. The longer it takes Russia to occupy Ukraine the more it is turning this country into ever-growing heaps of uninhabitable rubble. The more valiant the Ukrainian defense stifles Putin’s plans, the more his war becomes a war of vengeance that Russia has by no means yet lost.
What must go through the minds of Russian soldiers as they are given their orders to fire upon civilian neighborhoods. Do they think it to right the wrongs against a Russia more sinned against that sinning? Do they think of themselves are actual victims of real western aggression? One can only wonder what it is they see themselves fighting for as they traduce the fields villages and cities of Ukraine. Not to mention whether they think it worth dying for
Such is not the case among those they are fighting against. If they didn’t before, Ukrainians certainly now know what they are fighting for. Like the citizens of Russian-occupied Maritipol, who by the thousands surround Russian tanks outside city hall chanting “bring back our men.”
Putin may question the right of Ukraine to exist as a free and sovereign nation, but with every shell he lobs into parks filled with pram-pushing mothers, every cluster bomb be targets on maternity hospitals, Putin makes their case for them better than they could themselves. As never before, Ukraine’s identity as Ukraine is being forged on the anvil of this brutal and unforgiving war.
The opera company of Odessa serenading citizen volunteers working round the clock filling sandbags to defend this historic Black Sea city from an expected Russian naval assault with the Ukrainian national anthem proves yet again that history is not destiny and the so-called fate of man is but the necessary fiction of those who seek to deny others the freedom to prove otherwise.
Putin’s entire rationale is that the Ukraine we see with our own eyes, does not in fact exist. Ukrainians are not Ukrainians at all, says he, but Russians longing to be reunited with the Motherland and are prevented from doing so by a gang of Nazis, led of course by a Jewish president. But then why are these supposedly nonexistent Ukrainians fighting like fearless lions against their deluded liberators?
If the war is, as Putin says, about the very existence of Ukraine, then Putin has already lost. and today, as the entire world knows, Ukraine most certainly does exists and will fight to its last man to keep existing.
To those Blame America Firsters who proclaim that it was NATO that somehow provoked Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, how is it that none of those the thousands who pour through this border every hour believe so? As former Vice President Mike Pence asked during his visit here, were it not for NATO, how far west would Russian tanks be today? Would the Baltics states still be free?”
Blame America Firsters might want to recall that NATO is an open and purely defensive alliance that has repeatedly invited Russia herself to join. The Russians themselves were signatories to the 1991 German Reunification Act that included folding the former East Germany into NATO. In 1994, addition to signing the Budapest Memorandum in which Russia herself solemnly agreed to guarantee Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, Russia also joined the “Partnership for Peace” program which established a pathway for Russia herself to join NATO. In 1997, Russia signed the “Founding Act” of on mutual relations, cooperation and security with NATO, and in 2002, Russia cofounded the NATO-Russia Council which gave Russia a permanent seat in Brussels NATO HQ. The notion that NATO provoked Putin’s invasion is nothing more than a revisionist expression of Blame America Firsters.
Not to mention that the very notion that Russia, the world’s largest country that stretches across 11 times zones and encompasses 10% of the earth’s landmass is herself in need of buffer states. What threat of invasion does Russia face and from whom? Estonia?
To those who breathlessly speculate what might come next, they need look no further than Syria for It’s the self-same Vladimir Putin who is behind Grozny, Aleppo, and Homs but with one key difference. In Syria, while Russian chemical weapons and barrel bombs were dropped from Russian planes, on the ground it was Syrians slaughtering other Syrians. That isn’t so here. Not only are bombs being dropped from Russian planes, but it is Russian soldiers killing Ukrainians on the ground.
Russians and Ukrainians are not enemies, or at least they didn’t used to be. While they went their separate ways after the fall of the USSR, they did so as friends, neighbors, and families. Ukrainians and Russians are to each other in many ways what Americans and Canadians are to us. Kindred peoples, who share nearly identical lifestyles, languages, and cultures, but who are distinctly different nations.
Putin’s everlasting legacy will be his turning of these long fraternal peoples into blood enemies.
The freedom and security we take for granted don’t spontaneously emerge nor do they independently sustain themselves. There is no historical process that preordains them. There come moments in time when individual choices are essential. This is one of them. For each day Ukrainians resist gives the rest of us another year of the kind of life our forebears sacrificed to bequeath to us. Every day they fight allows us to reflect on their struggle in a way that helps us recommit ourselves to defending what we have.
Putin’s vision rejects the idea of peoples' capacity to create things anew. Putin’s vision is all about the past. That what happened in the past must determine what will happen in the future. Ukraine shows this is to be true. Ukrainians lived under the same tyranny as Russians when part of the Soviet Union, worse in fact. Yet Ukraine chose differently and fought repeatedly to protect their independence.
It is to Ukrainians that we owe not merely thanks and gratitude for reminding us of these hard-learned truths. We owe them our support.
Graphic credit: Дмитрий-5-Аверин CC BY-SA 4.0 license