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On a June 6 nearly eight decades ago, tens of thousands of Allied soldiers, including Canadians, stormed the beaches of Normandy in a pivotal battle against fascism.

Operation Overlord, the formal name for the D-Day assault, was decisive. There would be setbacks and much more bloodshed, but the ultimate victory over Nazi Germany’s tyranny secured a foothold on the beaches of France.

This year, on another June 6, another pivotal battle against fascism has gotten under way, as Ukraine begins its long-awaited counteroffensive to reclaim its territory. Vladimir Putin, of course, has ludicrously contended that Russia is at war with a neo-Nazi regime. In truth, there are fascists fighting in Ukraine – but they wear Russian uniforms.

It is Russia (more specifically, Mr. Putin) that launched a war of aggression last year, invading Ukraine in violation not only of international law but of specific security guarantees. It is Russia that has deliberately targeted civilians and civil infrastructure. It is Russia that has executed civilians and dumped their bodies in unmarked graves, Russia that has laid waste to cities, Russia that is attempting to extinguish Ukrainian sovereignty and culture. Russia, not Ukraine, is the inheritor of Nazi barbarism.

Now there is a fresh disaster, and quite possibly a war crime, unfolding on the Dnipro River, where the massive Kakhovka dam has been destroyed, threatening the city of Kherson as well as dozens of other settlements downstream. Environmental catastrophes loom: the draining of the Kakhovka reservoir imperils the water supply of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant; already, 150 tons of oil from the dam’s hydroelectric plant have escaped into the Dnipro.

Predictably, Russia has tried to blame Ukraine for the dam’s destruction. But signs point to Moscow being the culprit, including the Russians’ deliberate increase in the amount of water in the Kakhovka reservoir in recent weeks. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called it “an outrageous act, which demonstrates once again” Russia’s brutality.

Ukraine has denied responsibility, and its denials seem heartfelt and credible. There have been other cases in which Ukraine has taken actions that superficially seem on par with those of Russia, such as attacks on civil infrastructure. But there should be no false equivalency between Russia’s unprovoked aggression and Ukraine’s legitimate acts of self-defence. Setting a forest on fire is arson. A controlled burn to contain a conflagration is firefighting. The motivations and morality of each act are starkly different.

Even if the cause of the collapse turns out to be incompetence, there should be no doubt about this: Russia and its illegal invasion are to blame.

None of this is to say that Ukraine is perfect. (Neither were the Allies in the Second World War.) Corruption is a significant problem, as shown by the removal of several top officials by President Volodymyr Zelensky in January.

Kyiv is also wielding the threat of withholding press accreditations to bully journalists into favourable coverage. The Ukrainian government should have more confidence in its actions, and understand that allowing even its missteps to be publicized would ultimately help its cause.

Imperfect, yes, but a world removed from the repression rolled out in Russia, where merely giving voice to opposition to the war is a crime, and the state’s grip on media outlets is unrelenting. In Ukraine, by contrast, journalists helped to uncover the corruption and forced Mr. Zelensky to act.

Whatever its flaws, Ukraine is on the right side of history in its struggle against Russian aggression. It is defending not just its own sovereignty, but the principle that armed might cannot be allowed to redraw borders. It is defending not just its own citizens, but the foundation of international law that punishes those who commit war crimes, whether they are a private or a president. Ukrainians are dying to defend not just themselves, but also to defend our collective security.

In that sense, the unrolling Ukrainian offensive is a turning point, just as D-Day was eight decades ago. If that counterpunch succeeds – or rather, when it succeeds – the message to Russia, or any other would-be aggressor, will be impossible to avoid: the free world will defeat you.

Until then, we wish Ukraine godspeed. In the words of General Dwight D. Eisenhower on D-Day: “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”

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