As the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues to unfold, the world is watching the grim zeal with which the Ukrainians are defending their homeland. From the president down to elderly babushkas, people are seizing firearms and engaging in incredible acts of bravery to fend off Putin’s military.
At this juncture, it may seem odd to ask “Why?” Why are the Ukrainians so fanatically determined to defend their nation? There’s a one-word answer: “Home.”
This was beautifully stated by a blogger named Eaton Rapids Joe. “Some of the pundits told us that the Ukrainians would roll over,” he wrote. “They implied that Ukrainians would not fight for their 700 square-foot cabins, half-acre garden plots and $60 a month pensions. … Be it ever so humble, home is what you defend. If the only thing keeping you and your wife fed is a garden and a Ukrainian state pension, then those are worth fighting for.”
The world clearly miscalculated both the despotic appetite of Putin and the grit and determination of the heavily outgunned and outmanned Ukrainian people – people who simply want to be left alone.
A few months ago, I saw an eerie quote as follows: “The most terrifying force of death comes from the hands of ‘Men who wanted to be left alone.’ They know that the moment they fight back, the lives as they lived them are over. It is a small form of suicide, as they are literally killing off who they used to be. Which is why, when forced to take up violence, these ‘Men who wanted to be left alone’ will fight with unholy vengeance against those who murdered their former lives. They fight with a raw hate, and a drive that cannot be fathomed by those who play-act at politics and terror. True terror will arrive at the Enemy’s door, and they will scream, cry, and beg for mercy, but it will fall on deaf ears. For these men simply wanted to be left alone.”
In other words, never underestimate the power of people who simply want to be left alone. The Ukrainians are fighting “with unholy vengeance against those who murdered their former lives.” They are fighting with raw hate and with a drive that Putin – presumably – cannot fathom.
Ukraine is requiring men between the ages of 18 and 60 to remain in the country and handing out firearms like candy. Women are stepping up, too – everyone from beauty queens to babushkas are prepared to go down swinging rather than see their nation fall. Some people are dismantling or removing road signs to complicate navigation for the invading Russian troops. Civilians remaining in the country’s metro areas are making Molotov cocktails for use against invading Russian forces. In fact, a Ukrainian brewery even ditched making beer and started making Molotov cocktails.
The Russian military may have an awe-inspiring reputation (though this is likely highly overrated), but Putin’s forces are pushing the Ukrainian peoples’ backs to the wall and giving them every reason to fight hard and fight dirty.
On the wider platform, Russia’s actions are being decried internationally. The United States, the European Union, Britain, Australia, Canada and Japan announced plans to target banks and wealthy individuals. Germany announced it would halt the process of certifying the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Bars and liquor stores are pulling Russian vodka from their shelves. Sports teams are refusing to play Russian teams. The EU closed its airspace to Russian planes. UPS and FedEx suspended service in Russia. A large number of multinational corporations have diverted their investments from Russia. New York City’s Metropolitan Opera even suspended one of the world’s most talented and celebrated sopranos, Anna Netrebko, when she refused to repudiate Putin.
Behind these international repercussions is something people understand at a foundational level: The Ukrainians simply want to be left alone. When confronted with schoolyard thugs and bullies, who doesn’t secretly long to start lobbing Molotov cocktails at the tormenters? Ukraine may be far away, but the actions of its people have resonated worldwide: Just leave us alone.
Lingering in the background, too, is the cultural memory from 90 years ago of the Holodomor, when Stalin starved to death 4 million Ukrainians (and possibly twice that number). For whatever reason, this atrocity is less well remembered than the Holocaust, but no less horrible. No wonder the Ukrainians are fighting with everything they’ve got. The alternative is too terrible to contemplate.
Putin seems to have grossly overestimated his popularity, both at home and abroad. The Russian people are no more supportive of invading Ukraine than anyone else, and of course they’re the ones suffering from crippling sanctions and the debasement of the ruble. Even many Russian soldiers – a lot of them conscripts – aren’t keen to engage in violence against a brother nation. As one ex-pat Russian put it, “The only good that can come from this is for the world to see what all Russians have been dealing with for so many years, just how crazy Putin truly is. Finally the world sees it.”
Whatever faults Ukraine may have as a nation, its people are proving themselves to be modern heroes. Sadly, Ukraine ultimately is likely to fall to Russia. The aggressor nation may have lousy military equipment and poorly planned maneuvers, but it still dwarfs the relatively small country of Ukraine. The Ukrainian people may fight valiantly, but their ultimate long-range prognosis is not high.
The wind of war. How I hate it.