I have spent some time over the past couple days sitting with and slowly digesting the news coming from eastern Europe. We’ve known for months that Putin was amassing three-quarters of his army at the borders of Ukraine, so the invasion was not a surprise. The exodus of citizens from Ukraine into its free, bordering, neighbor countries like Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania is likewise not a surprise. What has surprised me is the defiance of those Ukranian citizens who are taking on this David vs. Goliath fight. The soldiers on Snake Island who told the Russian warship about to bomb them to go f*** themselves. President Volodymyr Zelensky who, when offered evacuation by the US, told us he needed “ammunition, not a ride.” These acts of bravery are an attempt to prove to the world that, even without NATO membership and support, Ukraine is a sovereign nation worth defending. And this, while devastating, is also amazing.
The news of the invasion made me livid. Maybe it’s my Eastern European ancestry that pushes me to this anger. It’s in my blood. You can’t be of Polish and Baltic descent and not be triggered by Russia and its habit of rolling over entire peoples for the sake of territory. I find solace in knowing the people of Poland are leaving clothing, toys, and food at the border where Ukrainians are crossing. The Poles, who know a bit about being dominated and upended by Russian invasions, are acting from a place of empathy and concern. This morning when I read the Polish national soccer team is refusing to play Russia in their World Cup qualification playoff match, I reflected that it’s these small acts of pushback against Russia’s aggressions that matter. Putin is an authoritarian leader, poisoning and imprisoning his opposition, while masquerading as a duly-elected leader of a “free” nation. Putin will do with the Russian people what he wants. He will use them to invade countries with territory he believes he has some claim to because of history. But the rest of us don’t have to act as if this is normal. We can support the oppressed and push back on the oppressor.
The people who have disappointed me the most during the first few days of this war Russia has instigated with Ukraine are the Republicans who have found a way to defend Putin’s actions. It’s been clear for years that the Republican party we once knew has jumped the shark. When did the party of Reagan become pro-Russia? Would Reagan have been as fond of Putin as Trump is? When Republican political leaders and media provocateurs posit that Putin’s actions are justifiable because Putin was feeling penned in by NATO, I call bullshit. The little man has nukes. The only reason no one has gone against Russia is because of its nuclear arsenal. No one has tried to invade Russia, change its borders, or turn it into a true democracy. Putin didn’t invade Ukraine because he is fearful for his country’s security or because Biden is president and not Trump. Putin invaded Ukraine because his goal is to put the old gang back together. He wanted to test NATO and its resolve. And he wants whatever else his sordid brain can scheme up. He probably does want to continue to divide our democracy, and the Republican rhetoric plays right into that. The Republicans can continue to stand and point fingers at liberals as the cause of this attack, but that is not the reality. The reality is Putin will do what fits his end goals because that is who he is. He cares only about his power. Perhaps that is why Trump lionizes him so?
During this past week, I have vacillated between furious and tearful. Angry at Putin. Angry at the people in our free nation who believe Putin’s aggression is acceptable. Tearful because of the thousands and thousands of families torn apart by an unconscionable war. Tearful because of the outpouring of support from the free world for those families and the nation of Ukraine. I have no idea where this will go, but I do know you are not a patriot if you think Putin’s invasion is justified or if you wish for the region to devolve into a quagmire because you think you can then claim this was all Biden’s fault and “own the Libs.” This war is not a talking point for American politics. It’s life or death, freedom or tyranny for the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians would rather die than be under Putin’s rule. That is what freedom means. Get your head straight or this nation truly is lost.