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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to U.S. Congress by video to ask for support on March 16.J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press

Hamida Ghafour is author of The Sleeping Buddha: The Story of Afghanistan Through the Eyes of One Family. She has lived in and reported extensively from Europe, the Middle East and South Asia.

It has been five weeks since Russia’s invasion and the world remains transfixed by ordinary Ukrainians valiantly defending their country against indiscriminate and unprovoked aggression.

Farmers have towed Russian tanks, newlyweds have set off to fight after exchanging wedding vows and parents have broken down as they bundle children on trains to be evacuated to the safety of European cities.

Thanks to Ukrainian determination, Russia is finding it more difficult than expected to achieve its initial ambition of overthrowing the democratically elected government and imposing a repressive regime.

The war’s moral clarity is serving as a clarion call to the West that values centred around liberty, individual rights, democratic governance and the rule of law are worth defending.

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This is evident in the grassroots response from many ordinary people in North America and Europe answering Ukraine’s pleas for help. Some are bringing aid directly to Ukraine. A team of Canadian and British volunteers delivered ambulances and medical supplies to Kyiv.

Others are actually taking up arms against the Russians. Thousands of volunteers from Canada, the United States and other countries have joined an international brigade of fighters, albeit with mixed results, after an appeal from the embattled Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Some are doing so from the safety of their homes. Within days of the war starting, US$15-million was raised on Airbnb as more than 434,000 nights were booked in Ukraine, tweeted Brian Chesky, the company’s chief executive officer.

For a generation that came of age after 9/11, this moment is remarkable and transformative.

The Iraq and Afghanistan disasters led to a deep sense of cynicism about America and its European allies as self-appointed moral forces for good in the world. Was the Iraq invasion ever about anything more than securing its vast oil reserves? Was the overthrow of the Taliban really about liberating Afghan women? Debates trying to figure out who the so-called “good guys” were seemed endless.

U.S. credibility was damaged by the falsifying of intelligence that led to the Iraq invasion, while in Afghanistan the U.S.-led coalition killed many innocent civilians – a war that turned out to be pointless after the Taliban seized back control last August. In this context, calls by Western politicians to respect human rights and the rule of law in places such as Syria and China seemed as feeble and discredited as the neoconservative hawks of the George W. Bush administration who started the 9/11 wars.

Now, nothing captures the reinvigorated spirit of Western liberal values more than the Ukrainian President himself. In emotional tours of the capitals of the West and its Asian allies through live video link, Mr. Zelensky dispenses with dark suits and diplomatic subtleties in favour of casual green T-shirts and straight talk. Speaking to elected representatives, he appeals to each country’s defining, historical moments or cherished way of life as he seeks further military support.

He asked the Canadian Parliament to “imagine if someone is taking siege to Vancouver.” He borrowed from Winston Churchill’s wartime speech when he spoke to the British Parliament, promising that just like the British fought the Nazis, Ukraine, too, would fight, “in the forests, on the shores, in the streets.” To the Japanese, he alluded to the 1945 atomic bombings and the nuclear threat presented by Russia today. Germany’s Bundestag was reminded of the Berlin Wall and Mr. Zelensky spoke of a new wall coming down in Europe between, as he put it, “freedom and slavery.”

It was after the end of the Cold War that political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously argued Western liberal democracy had triumphed over all other forms of government. This idea seemed to go out of fashion in the 9/11 era, but days after the war in Ukraine began, Mr. Fukuyama was back with a boldly optimistic prediction.

“A Russian defeat will make possible a new birth of freedom, and get us out of our funk about the declining state of global democracy,” he wrote in American Purpose. “The spirit of 1989 will live on, thanks to a bunch of brave Ukrainians.”

The tiny Baltic states, which remember the crush of Soviet rule in the previous century, and fear they may be next on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hit list, are also vocal about what is at stake. While NATO doubled its troop presence on its eastern flank, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania sent their speakers of parliament to Kyiv on March 24 to show solidarity.

“This is a hard fight for the Ukrainian people who are fighting not only for their sovereignty and territorial integrity but for the broader idea of liberal democracy and the right of nations to decide their fate,” Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte told CNN.

More than four million people have fled Ukraine, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and they are being received with welcome and compassion. Canada announced Ukrainians will be able to stay for up to three years. The U.S. is taking up to 100,000 refugees and will donate US$1-billion to help European countries with the humanitarian crisis.

But the majority are fleeing to other parts of Europe. The European Union invoked a rarely used directive that gives Ukrainian nationals the right to live and work in the EU for up to three years.

“Europe stands by those in need of protection. All those fleeing Putin’s bombs are welcome in Europe,” said Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, in an official statement.

The response has been less generous to Afghan, Syrian and Iraqi refugees, but this may have less to do with race and more about a continent seeking to avoid the horrors it inflicted on itself during the Second World War.

To defeat Russia, the West is relying on arming Ukraine and imposing powerful financial sanctions to cripple Russia’s oil and gas economy – thus reducing Mr. Putin’s ability to pay for his war.

Mr. Putin may be hoping that the continuous waves of refugees and higher energy prices will prove destabilizing and politically costly for the West’s elected leaders. Continuing increases in food and gas bills and social services, such as schools and hospitals, overwhelmed by refugees, are distinct possibilities if the war continues.

Riding this out will require resolve. There is a broad parallel here with the 9/11 wars. In Afghanistan, the U.S.-led coalition lacked strategic patience to understand its history and complex dynamics. Billions of dollars were spent, but military strategies and aid programs were often short-term solutions that did little to address underlying causes of a failed state.

In a similar vein, winning against Mr. Putin – a much more daunting adversary than Saddam Hussein or the Taliban – will require patience. How long are Western taxpayers willing to live with the higher cost of living? Can leaders swallow the political cost of discontented voters? How can Europe wean itself off dependency on Russian energy?

The sacrifices required from all of us may be the real litmus test of how dearly held “Western values” are.

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