Yuri Polakiwsky is a Toronto-born writer based in Kyiv, currently in Lviv. His work has appeared in the Atlantic Council, the Kyiv Post and Brussels-based New Europe.
The invasion of Ukraine illustrates the immorality and abject lawlessness of Vladimir Putin’s regime.
What Ukraine is experiencing, and the rest of the world is seeing, is a direct attack on the value of freedom and on individual and national dignity, as well as a belligerent assault on the sovereignty and independence of a country that has, and deserves, the right to determine its own path and destiny.
Mr. Putin has flouted international laws that have been in place since the postwar period. But regardless of what happens in the coming days, Ukraine has already achieved a historic victory for both itself and the world.
Ukraine has exposed Russia’s leaders as immoral criminals, as the lawless manipulators and liars that they have always been. Russia has transcended a “rubicon of fear” that had heretofore paralyzed the Western world, and has now laid the groundwork for the weakening, and even potential extinction, of Mr. Putin’s regime through sanctioning and international isolation.
Since the Maidan revolution, the people of Ukraine have envisioned the establishment of a free society, one that would be based on the rule of law, respect for human dignity and the freedom to pursue individual economic ambitions. They imagined a system by which they would be governed fairly and guaranteed individual safety by the application of fair justice.
Mr. Putin despises the values that inform what it means to be human, and in his Stalin-like arrogance, he wants to destroy any sense of individuality or free thought. This is why he attacked – he wants to destroy the guiding soul of Ukraine, just as Stalin tried through the Holodomor.
Mr. Putin is an old and nostalgic Soviet man, enamoured with power and the exercise of it. He uses fear in an attempt to control how others think and act. He is a liar. He cares not for any type of legal or moral constraint that might govern his behaviour. He is a lawless man.
The Ukrainian people have always known this and they have had enough. They categorically reject the principles of the Russian leader and refuse to submit to any type of authoritarian or foreign rule.
Ukrainians are, by nature, a rebellious people, weary of being oppressed and told how to live. What is now being seen in war-torn Ukraine is the expression of its soul, a quest in its modern history to define the essence of its national identity, and the rejection of suppression by authoritarian empires.
Invaded, Ukraine has resisted, and will continue to resist. When Ukrainians say they will fight to their death, they mean it.
Ukraine will not be occupied.
On New Year’s Eve in 2014, I attended a concert in Kyiv during the Maidan revolution that attracted over 250,000 people. A young Crimean woman approached me, asking, “Does the West support us?”
“Yes,” I said, but then added, “But if you expect Canadian, American or European boys to fight and die for Ukraine, don’t.”
At that time, a large segment of Ukraine’s population did not have the determination to fight for their country. Now, eight years after the occupation of Crimea, in spite of Russian propaganda and the continued psychological manipulation of Ukraine’s people, and in spite of the influence of pro-Russian oligarchs and sycophants in business, government and politics, a new generation of Ukrainians believes that it is they who will form the future of Ukraine, once they have repelled the Russians.
Ukraine’s resistance toward Mr. Putin must be seen as an example of the power of the human spirit and a determination to live freely.
In their resolve over the last week, Ukrainians have shown the world that freedom is worth dying for and that freedom demands a cost that must be paid.
For this present generation, Ukraine is providing a lesson to the world, reminding millions who live in democracies of the costs paid by their grandfathers on the battlefields of the Second World War.
Ukrainians have also shown fearlessness in confronting one of the supposed strongest armies in the history of the world. In doing so, they have demonstrated not only their courage but also the inadequacy and incompetence of the Russian military.
Courage and fearlessness in the context of existential challenge reveal the nature of the soul. Regardless of one’s politics, you have to admire President Volodymyr Zelensky’s attitude when offered to be extracted this past week: “I need ammunition, not a ride,” he stated.
Watching Ukrainians fight at the gate of Europe illustrates the worthiness of Ukrainians to become beloved members of the European family.
History will record that it was Ukraine who stood up against a formidable foe to democracy on the field of battle. As the progeny of the Soviet Union, the Putin regime’s eventual demise will be triggered by a fledging democracy who, while relying on the military stores of its Western friends, showed that combined efforts and unity of purpose against international lawlessness can remain the basis of the world’s security order. That order has been strengthened by Ukraine this past week.
As Russian invaders have central Kyiv in their sights, Ukraine’s warriors say that they will not submit. To this end, I offer a Ukrainian interpretation of Churchill’s famous clarion call from the last world war:
“We will fight on our streets, we will fight in our villages, we will fight atop the black soil of our fields, we will fight for Kyiv. We will never give up. We will never surrender.”
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