Thus spake Winston Churchill in 1940 after the Nazi’s overran France:
“I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”
Ukraine is not Britain. Ukraine lies not as a naturally protected island of civilization, but at the crossroads of cultures – the juncture of two continents, Europe and Asia. It’s a precarious place.
Ukraine is largely Slavic in an anthropological sense, as is, to varying extents, Western Russia along with Romania, Serbia, Hungary, Poland, Croatia, Slovakia and, to a lesser extent, the Baltic republics . But that doesn’t mean Ukraine is Russian. Russia is a nationality; Slav is an ethnicity.
Russia’s claim to Ukraine is approximately the same as Britain’s claim to the United States or Ukraine’s claim to Poland. Which is to say, Russia’s claim is no claim at all.
And so, to my friends who say that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rightly seeks to “reunite Russia,” I say you’re full of it. You know just enough about anthropology and history to be dangerous, and just enough about morality to be impenetrably amoral.
Ukrainians know this. They know who they are, and they know they’re not Russian. They struggled under the yoke of totalitarian Russian rule for the better part of a century. They finally broke free along with the rest of eastern Europe upon the inevitable but long-awaited fall of the Soviet Union. They have no desire, and do not deserve, to become a vassal state of backward, tyranical Russia again.
The Ukrainians want freedom, and they’re earning it every hour. They’ve risked everything in defying one of the mightiest armies the world has seen. They’ve driven them out of Kyiv, they’ve denied them Kharkiv.
Women in basements are assembling Molotov Cocktails (how fitting is that?) and old men and women are arming themselves with assault rifles (a weapon that the New York Times suddenly salutes) even as the Russians rain missiles down on children in apartment buildings.
The Ukrainians are standing up for their heritage, their land, their culture, their families and their nation. They’re standing for freedom.
A tiny Ukrainian island in the Black Sea manned by 13 Ukrainian soldiers was assaulted by a Russian warship. The Russian captain demanded the Ukrainians’ surrender. They answered, “Go f*ck yourselves.” Those Ukrainians are now in captivity or, more likely, dead.
The Ukrainian President was formerly known as the guy who won the Ukrainian equivalent to “Dancing with the Stars.” This Jewish man whom Vladimir Putin has called a “neo-Nazi” has grown in office, it’s fair to say. Most recently, the U.S. recommended to him that he flee the country, and offered to fly him to safety. His answer? “I don’t need a ride, I need ammunition!”
He’s getting it. The European Union – even Germany – has suddenly grown a pair. Sweden, Finland and Kosovo (yes, Kosovo) are talking about joining NATO. Economic sanctions of Russia and more armaments to Ukraine may be turning the tide. If Ukraine can hold another week, freedom rings. For Ukraine, maybe freedom rings.
I’m an old-ish man. But I have half a mind to make my way to Kyiv. It’s Ukraine’s finest hour. I’d love to live it, and I’d be honored to die in it.