Wrestling with Hell | National Review

Wrestling with Hell | National Review

Ukrainian servicemen take positions at the Vasylkiv military airbase in Kyiv Region, Ukraine, February 27, 2022. (Maksim Levin / Reuters)

The devastation in Ukraine is hard to look at. The videos, the pictures. The smashed apartment buildings. The rockets in children’s playgrounds. Putin’s war crimes are being documented, starkly. Women and children are running for their lives.

Why? Putin did this. Not Biden, not NATO, not the West. Not the neocons, not the MSM. Putin.

Shaun Walker of the Guardian reported, “Unbearable scenes at Kyiv central station. Old people, kids, disabled people, pets, this train is already packed full. People fear it could be the last chance to flee.”

Alexander Vindman commented, “Many times, my dad told me the story of Nazi forces attacking Kyiv, strafing the train station. When he was a 9 year old fleeing the war with his mother and sister. I didn’t really get it until now.”

This is the choice of one man: Putin. Russia is utterly unthreatened by Ukraine. Putin is terrorizing Ukrainians virtually for sport — for ego. Year after year, people all over the world have covered for Putin and kept him in power.

• Why are Ukrainians fighting? For what are they fighting? In his speech to the European Parliament, Ukraine’s President Zelensky had an answer: “We are fighting for our rights, for our freedoms, for life.” He said that Freedom Square in Kharkiv had been bombed. “Every square today, no matter what it’s called, is going to be called ‘Freedom Square’ — in every city of our country.”

One of my colleagues here in New York is from Kharkiv. She is glued to the news, filled with emotion.

• The Kyiv Independent reported that “80,000 Ukrainians came back from abroad since Russia invaded further.” Kateryna Yushchenko, a former first lady of Ukraine, was moved to comment, “I know of no other country where so many people rush back to their war-torn country to fight for its survival.”

(For my recent piece on Mrs. Yushchenko, go here.)

• Steve Bannon told his listeners, “Ukraine’s not even a country. It’s kind of a concept. . . . It’s just a corrupt area that the Clintons turned into a colony where they can steal money out of.” How many people fall for that sort of thing? Fewer than before? I hope so.

• Putin’s forces have bombed the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center in Kyiv. Last October, the Associated Press reported,

The presidents of Ukraine, Israel and Germany on Wednesday inaugurated a memorial center for the victims of the Babi Yar massacre in Ukraine eight decades after one of the most infamous Nazi mass slaughters of the Holocaust.

The report continued,

Nearly 34,000 Jews were killed within 48 hours in Babi Yar, a ravine in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, when the city was under Nazi occupation in 1941. SS troops carried out the massacre with local collaborators.

You may know the “Babi Yar” Symphony of Shostakovich. It sets a poem by Yevtushenko.

• I will say of journalists in Ukraine what I said of journalists in Afghanistan last August — and some of them are the same people: I am grateful for their work. They are bringing us the news, letting us know what’s going on. The press is constantly maligned (as well as justly criticized). Without it, we would be lost.

• Vladimir Putin is doing to Ukrainians now what he has done to Syrians for years. The AP quoted a Syrian as saying, “We more than anyone else feel their pain.” (For the article, go here.)

• In New York, the Metropolitan Opera staged Don Carlos two days ago. Before the curtain rose, the company’s general manager, Peter Gelb, came out and asked for a moment of silence — to think of people fighting for their lives, and those recently killed. Then the Met chorus came out (with cast members, I believe) to sing the Ukrainian national anthem.

This was an act of solidarity — people doing what they can think to do, and what they can do.

In his remarks to the audience, before the moment of silence, Gelb said that we were watching “helplessly” as Ukrainians were slaughtered. That feeling of helplessness is a horrible one.

Before a performance in November 2015, Met forces sang and played La Marseillaise. This was in the wake of terrorist bombings — mass murder — in Paris.

• At CPAC last week, a speaker referred to “a dispute 5,000 miles away in cities we can’t pronounce, in places most Americans can’t find on a map.” Some of us could not help thinking of a different speaker, elsewhere, in September 1938: “a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.”

History doesn’t repeat itself, but often it rhymes. (A line attributed to Mark Twain.)

• By God, Russians are brave: the Russians who are demonstrating against this war, this assault. They are risking everything. Novaya Gazeta reported that parents and children were locked up, for laying flowers at the Ukrainian embassy.

Novaya Gazeta is one of the few independent outlets left in Russia. Its editor in chief, Dmitry Muratov, shared the Nobel Peace Prize last year. Six of his colleagues on the paper have been murdered. (I wrote about Muratov and the Nobel here.) Another of his colleagues recently fled the country, in fear of her life.

Echo of Moscow, a radio station, has long been an independent outlet. It has now been shut down.

• In Kupiansk, Ukraine, residents shouted at Russian soldiers, “Why are you here?” I wonder what the Russian soldiers think the answer is. Do they believe what Putin tells them? That they have been sent to subdue Nazis who were burning people alive in crematoria?

• From the Daily Mail:

Weeping Russian prisoners of war have said they had no idea they were being sent to invade Ukraine and were used like “cannon fodder” by commanders who threw them into battle against “peaceful people defending their territory” after Vladimir Putin’s forces took heavy losses in the opening days of the conflict.

(Article here.)

Bill Browder observed,

This is the other heartbreaking part of this war. Russian teenagers are being sent in as cannon fodder by Putin to be killed. They don’t want to kill innocent civilians and they don’t want to die. It’s all so awful.

It is.

• Julia Ioffe tweeted,

Childhood friend called from St. Petersburg. She and her husband are in shock, disgust, despair. “We’ll never live down this infamy. The way the Germans are still apologizing for what they did 80 years ago, that’s going to be us and our grandkids.”

• Fans and defenders of Putin come in different types. I know some who are not bad people — on the contrary. They are simply deluded. “He got Russia off its knees,” they say. “He restored Russian pride.” All that stuff. But now that Putin is targeting civilians for murder — they must wake up, you would think. Because if not now, when?

• In recent days, I have seen people flip from Putin-friendliness to “Sleepy Joe is letting this tyrant run roughshod” with the speed, if not the grace, of Olga Korbut.

• In a previous set of notes, I discussed Matteo Salvini, the prime Putinista in Italy. He is a darling of the nat-pop crowd, worldwide. The shifty fellow has gone from wearing Che-style Putin T-shirts to bringing flowers to the Ukrainian embassy. And poor Marine Le Pen, up in France. Apparently, she has had to shred 1.2 million copies of a campaign pamphlet — because it featured a photo of her with Putin.

The sacrifices that these great nat-pops make: flower fees; reprinting fees.

• In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, another of the revered nat-pops, is weakening a bit. Reuters tells us, “Bolsonaro won’t condemn Putin, says Brazil will remain neutral over invasion.” Neutral? Not outright pro-Putin? Sounds suspiciously cucky to me . . .

• Scott Walker, the former governor of Wisconsin and the current president of Young America’s Foundation, is having his cake and eating it too. I mean, he is commenting on Ukraine and conducting business as usual. “If only @JoeBiden was as passionate about defending our borders as Ukrainian President @ZelenskyyUa is about defending his borders.”

Ah, the tribal mind. Never resting.

• Thinking of Putin’s fate in Ukraine, a reader of ours is reminded of a line from John Steinbeck (The Moon Is Down): “The flies have conquered the flypaper.” Putin may well crush and re-subjugate Ukraine. In other words, he may well achieve his goal. But wouldn’t it be something if the Steinbeck line wound up applying?

• I think the most promising path to removing Putin can be put succinctly: His oligarchs, and others in his orbit, must come to feel that he is more trouble than he’s worth.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.