Friday, August 19, 2022

Today's News: "We will stay here together"

When the Ukraine-Russia War started in February, and quickly became so awful for the people living under bombings and occupation, one of the questions I had at the time is why more Ukrainians hadn't evacuated before the war began.
Biden began warning Ukraine in the fall that this time Russia was serious, yet Ukraine seemed oblivious to the danger. They just didn't seem to believe Russia would actually invade.
This week in their major article about the beginnings of the war, "Road to War: US struggled to convince allies, and Zelensky, of risk of invasion" the Washington Post asked Zelenskyy why he had not taken the warnings more seriously. And his response explained to me, for the first time, 
Zelenskyy's reasoning: 
...Zelenskyy resisted calls to relocate his government and was adamant that he not panic the public. Down that path, he thought, lay defeat. 
“You can’t simply say to me, ‘Listen, you should start to prepare people now and tell them they need to put away money, they need to store up food,’ ” Zelensky recalled. “If we had communicated that — and that is what some people wanted, who I will not name — then I would have been losing $7 billion a month since last October, and at the moment when the Russians did attack, they would have taken us in three days. 
... Generally, our inner sense was right: If we sow chaos among people before the invasion, the Russians will devour us. Because during chaos, people flee the country.” 
For Zelenskyy, the decision to keep people in the country, where they could fight to defend their homes, was the key to repelling any invasion. 
“As cynical as it may sound, those are the people who stopped everything,” he said. 

When I read this, I could understand Zelensky's reasoning - but I could also imagine how difficult it would be to explain this reasoning now to the people in Mariopol, in Bucha, in Kherson, who crawled out of the rubble of apartment buildings, who slept in basement shelters for weeks, who had to 
abandon their animals on farms in the Donbas, who fled to Poland with nothing. 
So its not surprising that now people in Ukraine are also speaking out in anger at Zelenskyy: 
Comments he made to The Washington Post justifying his failure to share with Ukrainians details of repeated U.S. warnings that Russia planned to invade [triggered] a cascade of public criticism unprecedented since the war began. 
Ordinary people tweeted their experiences of chaos and dislocation after an invasion for which they were unprepared, and described how they might have made different choices had they known what was coming. 
Public figures and academics wrote harsh critiques on Facebook of his decision to downplay the risk of an invasion, saying he bears at least some responsibility for the atrocities that followed. 
 ...Many Ukrainians took exception to the implication that Zelensky had prioritized the health of the economy over their well-being, and suggested that many lives might have been saved had the government adequately prepared the population for war. 
...The lack of warning for civilians living in the threatened areas, and especially those with children, the elderly and those with impaired mobility, was “not a glitch, not a mistake, not an unfortunate misunderstanding, not a strategic miscalculation — it is a crime,” said Ukrainian author Kateryna Babkina. 
 ...Even those who said they understood why Zelenskyy didn’t want to provoke panic said they nonetheless wondered whether there were steps that could have been taken to alleviate the impact of the invasion — from preparing blood banks to digging trenches along the northern border to prevent Russian troops from overrunning many towns and villages before they were halted outside Kyiv.
...“My biggest question is about the level of atrocities we saw, and I think about whether they could have been prevented,” said Oksana, who did not vote for Zelenskyy but now supports him wholeheartedly as the leader Ukraine needs to win the war. 
“It will damage us to discuss this now,” she said. “Ukraine is winning because of our belief in the president and our armed forces. So I’m ready to wait for the explanation until after we win the war.”
And then? 
“Then we start asking questions,” she said. “There are questions that need answers because this is the society we are fighting for — a society of accountability.” 
Yes, there will be a reckoning, undoubtedly. 
One of the comments about this article mentioned the decision Churchill made during World War 2, when he did not warn Coventry about a devastating bombing raid because he did not want to alert Germany that England had broken the Enigma code. 
I was also thinking of that decision while I was reading this article. It was years after WW2 before anyone knew of this, and history may now agree that Churchill's decision to protect such a secret was worth the lives lost during that bombing raid. Even so, by the time the war ended, the British public were tired of Churchill and he lost the first election after the war.
I don't know if Ukraine will ultimately agree that Zelenskyy's decision to maintain Ukraine's capacity and willingness to fight was worth the lives of the thousands who did not evacuate or prepare for occupation. Zelenskyy did not evacuate his own family either, even when the US wanted him to; his courage is undisputed, and his patriotism for his country. As he said in the Washington Post interview linked to above, "Our land is the only thing we have. We will stay here together."
August 24 is Ukraine Independence Day. I hope these dire predictions do not come true!


Anonymous said...

What a mess, what does one believe anymore?

Cathie from Canada said...

I do think Zelenskeyy is the leader Ukraine needs, but his decisions have undoubtedly resulted in some difficult outcomes.