“Gary, we got the first explosions and pretty close. I need to check on the kids and go down to the basement. We’ll talk later. And have a nice day!”
This is as surreal an interchange as most will encounter.
I’d been talking with our friend Juliya from Irpin, Ukraine. It was nighttime there, about 14 miles outside of Kyiv, and on the second night of a Russian mega-barrage attack of missiles and drones against that city. During May, sleepless, terrified nights in basements have become almost routine. Russia has attacked Kyiv on 16 nights during May. But the day before had been Kyiv Day, celebrating the founding of Kyiv in year 482, and Putin ratcheted up his terror to the city’s inhabitants, launching 64 drones and missiles in one night. Now, armed with Patriot and other anti-missile systems, Ukraine has been able to put up a remarkable defense, generally knocking out over 96% of arrivals. Yet some get through, leveling hospitals, schools and other critical civilian infrastructure.
Readers may recall my prior story on Juliya’s family. Early in the war, Irpin was sacked like Bucha, and Juliya had to leave her husband and three adult male children to flee with her then-10-year-old daughter to escape the rape and carnage that took down 40% of her beautiful garden town. Months after Ukraine cleared out Russians from northern Ukraine, Juliya returned to her family — just in time for Vladimir Putin’s assaults and destruction of Ukraine’s power grid. That winter, her family and all of Ukraine suffered endless blackouts and cold.
Juliya’s family, her neighbors and most all of Ukraine are folks pretty much just like us. They’re well educated, high tech, have nice homes, love their democracy, and above all, want to keep their freedom. But unlike the USA, they have the grave misfortune of sharing a 1,220-mile border with a very blood- and empire-crazed Russia bent on regaining lost Soviet glory. This war is not a border dispute. This is Ukraine fighting quite literally to save their people from slaughter, rape, genocide and slavery into Putin’s kleptocratic state prison of a country. Ukraine fights for the life and freedom of every Ukrainian. There’s no alternative but to win.
And they’re fighting stoically and heroically. But not without untold hell and pain and death and sacrifice. Entire cities have been shelled to rubble. Some 30,000 civilians, perhaps as many as 60,000, have been murdered. Military losses may be as high as 100,000 killed. For the pathetic Russian conscripts, it’s even worse – with as many as 205,000 Russian soldiers already killed in action, nearly three times our total losses in Vietnam. But Putin has nearly unlimited hapless conscripts and mercenaries to keep the human canon-fodder waves attacking at the front, while Iranian drones and old Soviet missiles target civilians deep inside the country. There’s no sign of Putin backing down. He bet all of Russia’s chips on a quick victory and now, having lost that, he’s fighting for his own survival.
Thanks to NATO, the European Union and USA, motivated by Joe Biden’s leadership, Ukraine is getting outfitted with the weapons it needs for defense. But defense is not enough: Without grinding the Russian military to defeat, Putin will keep at it for years and there will never be peace. Ukraine knows that. All the former Eastern Bloc countries know it. And Juliya and her family know it. Russia doesn’t honor treaties, so victory over the treacherous despot is the only way out.
Juliya’s husband and oldest son suddenly announced that they were enlisting in the Ukrainian armed forces. She’s sending her husband and a son off to war in Europe’s worst battle since World War II. Everyone in Ukraine knows this is an existential struggle in the true sense of the word. Win or be exterminated. So, they will fight on.
I can’t imagine the kind of courage and resiliency it takes to tell a friend in the USA, “The explosions are getting close – I’ve got to grab the kids and get to the basement for the night … have a nice day!” These people are tough.
Ukraine has proven at nearly every point they deserve our full support, even more than we’re doing now. When they win, they will emerge as a leading democracy in Europe and one of our best allies. Should they lose, all of Europe will be at risk of continued war and expansion of totalitarianism for decades.
Ukraine is where democracy makes its latest stand in Europe. Yet, while Ukrainians huddle in subway stations, praying for their air defense systems to hold, we have authoritarian, anti-democratic “leaders” like Marjorie Taylor Greene and others, promoting the upside-down thinking that we’re wasting our money in Ukraine and Putin is a better leader anyhow. God forbid!
We just celebrated Memorial Day, honoring own soldiers who died and sacrificed for our freedom. Now, we’re watching real-time, as a desperate democratic nation sacrifices hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians for its own freedom. We honor our own heritage and American values by firmly standing side by side with these Ukrainian heroes, as they push back the world’s biggest threat to democracy in our time.
Meanwhile, in the middle of a full-blown air assault, comes a remarkably resilient message from a friend in a basement bomb shelter: “I’ve got to go. Talk later. Have a nice day!”
Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.