Since Russia’s full-fledged war on Ukraine began on February 24, we have seen a transformation of the geo-political and security landscape the impact of which will be felt for many years to come.
We have seen the best of human nature – the good and the decent and the noble – and we have also seen the darkest expressions of man’s inhumanity to man.
We have seen the incredible unity and bravery and resilience and dignity of the Ukrainian people, led by an inspirational president.
We have seen exemplary grit, determination, fighting skills and creativity of the Ukrainian military. The Ukrainian armed forces have exceeded all expectations, thwarting what many experts predicted would be the swift decapitation of the Ukrainian government and the takeover of Kyiv.
We have seen stunning underperformance by the supposedly mighty Russian military. Russia clearly overestimated its own capabilities and grossly underestimated Ukrainian ones. Russian President Vladimir Putin seriously miscalculated the level of resistance, including from civilians, manifesting yet again his profound ignorance of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.
The Russian military thus far has displayed a weakness and incompetence that few would have predicted. There are many reasons for this reality, among them corruption (While I have been a long-time critic of corruption, this is one of those rare times where I welcome it).
We have seen the world come to understand the reality of Ukraine and her aspirations for freedom and independence as never before. Ukraine has never had so many friends, and Ukraine has never experienced such favorable media coverage.
We have witnessed an incredible outpouring of support from the free world – from governments as well as ordinary people. Deeply moving has been the enormous sympathy, solidarity and generosity of the American people – from elites and everyday folk. That support has been displayed in countless ways, as has been the care and support from decent people around the world, particularly in Europe. Poland especially stands out for its generous welcome of massive numbers of Ukrainian refugees.
We have seen the tireless efforts from many organizations and individuals in the diaspora to help Ukraine. The work of several newer Ukrainian American organizations has been nothing short of remarkable.
We have seen the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden rally our allies and partners to an extent that has surprised many. That coalition has imposed exceptionally severe sanctions on Russia and provided unprecedented amounts of assistance to Ukraine.
We have seen the traditionally strong bipartisan support for Ukraine in Congress intensify. The debate has not been whether to support Ukraine – that has been a given. The debate has revolved around how to make that support most effective.
Since the war began, America has provided Ukraine with more military, security, economic and humanitarian assistance than any other country, including all of the European Union countries combined. The U.S. has committed to $3.7 billion in security assistance alone since the start of the war. With each passing week, we have seen the Biden administration become more fully committed to do what it takes to support Ukraine, especially militarily. And we need to ramp up our assistance, including by providing and ensuring the speedy flow of more and better weapons of all kinds, and further ratcheting up sanctions, as many of us have been advocating. We also need to keep pushing some of our European allies to do more.
But along with the good and the encouraging and the positive and the noble, we have also seen unspeakable cruelty, barbarism and evil.
This evil is rooted in a hateful and twisted Russian chauvinistic ideology that has existed in various forms for centuries. It is an ideology that includes the deeply flawed notion that Ukraine was and is not a real nation. The arrogant and insecure Putin has championed and taken this distorted view to new extremes, leading to the kind of savagery not seen in Europe in many decades.
Russia’s denigration and disparagement of Ukraine is nothing new. Russians doing terrible things to Ukrainians is nothing new. For more than 300 years, the Ukrainians who have had the misfortune of living under Russia’s domination have had their rights and freedoms – individual as well as national – denied. Indeed, the suppression of individual human rights and of Ukraine’s identity and nationhood have gone hand in hand. Throughout the centuries, Moscow has carried out a campaign to Russify Ukraine – in a sense, to “wipe out the idea of even being able to be Ukrainian” – as Mr. Biden said succinctly when he recently called what was happening in Ukraine a genocide.
Under imperial Russia, there were no individual freedoms. Ukraine, like others in the “prison house of nations,” was thoroughly subjugated. Ukraine and Ukrainian identity – its culture and literature – were stifled and suppressed. A secret imperial decree in 1863, the Valuyev Circular, asserted that the Ukrainian language “never existed, does not exist and shall not exist.” The notorious Ems Ukaz of 1876 banned the use of Ukrainian in print.
Under Soviet rule – and let’s face it, despite the claims of internationalism, the Soviet Union was just another especially evil manifestation of the Russian empire – millions lost their lives in the genocidal Holodomor of 1932-1933. Many lives were lost during Stalinist purges that included the execution of much of Ukraine’s intelligentsia. Millions more were imprisoned or exiled to Siberia. Churches linked with Ukrainian identity, such as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic and Autocephalous Orthodox churches, were brutally suppressed and banned. They experienced similar fates in imperial Russia.
In the post-Stalin era, individual dissidents, including many Ukrainian Helsinki Monitors, were sent to the Gulag. For what? For peacefully calling upon the Soviet government to live up to its freely undertaken international human rights commitments or for daring to criticize Moscow’s policies of Russification.
And since Russia’s invasion of and war on Ukraine that began in 2014, we have seen egregious human rights abuses and brutal repression in the Donbas and the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula, particularly against the Crimean Tatars. Not surprisingly, we have also seen the suppression of any expression of Ukrainian identity. Nowhere else in Europe, and in few places around the world, has the human rights situation been more appalling.
Until now, that is.
In the last few months, the entire world has witnessed the grotesque manifestations of Putin’s demonic delusions and pathological obsession with Ukraine, his desire to liquidate Ukrainian statehood and eliminate the Ukrainian nation as such. His absurd accusation that a democratic, pluralistic and tolerant Ukraine is being controlled by Nazis, though its president is Jewish, has been dismissed and mocked around the world (Note to Putin regarding fascist regimes: Look in the mirror, Vladimir!).
Putin is aided and abetted by all too many henchmen, institutional as well as individual. This includes that centuries-long appendage of the Kremlin, the Russian Orthodox Church, led by the morally bankrupt Patriarch Kirill. Russian state media, for whom truth is an alien concept, has also played an outsize role.
These lackeys are facilitators of this Russian onslaught of carnage and butchery, which has included summary executions, indiscriminate shelling, rape and looting in Bucha and other cities. To add insult to injury, Putin, in yet another example of his callousness and cravenness, recently bestowed honors on the Russian military brigade that massacred civilians in Bucha.
The sick irony is that many of the victims of the Russian onslaught in southern and eastern Ukraine – notably, in Mariupol, where the horrors defy description – are the “oppressed” Russian-speakers Putin claims he wants to protect. He still clings to this fantasy, or, more likely, cynically exploits it, having learned nothing from the reaction of Ukrainians to Russia’s initial 2014 invasion.
Ukraine has no choice but to keep fighting, and the free world, led by the United States, needs to help in every way possible. This assistance is crucial for Ukraine to defeat the perverse Russian imperialist ideology that denies Ukrainians their dignity as human beings and their right to choose their own national identity and future. It is an ideology that is killing innocent people before our very eyes.
It will not happen right away. A tough and bitter fight lies ahead. As fervently as we might wish otherwise, there are no magic bullets. The only real antidote to Putin’s goal to “wipe out the idea of even being able to be Ukrainian” and the only way to stop the atrocities and the war crimes and the genocide, is to ensure that Ukraine remains an independent, democratic country entirely free from Moscow’s domination, once and for all. The world will be much better off when this day comes.
Russia’s barbaric actions in Ukraine, based on an ideology of lies and hatred, are the embodiment of man’s inhumanity to man. Putin is the face of evil in the 21st century. For the sake of Ukraine and of democracy, the rules based global order, and global peace and security, the Putin regime needs to be vanquished. For the sake of humanity, good needs to prevail over evil.