This week’s headlines have trumpeted Ukraine’s startling counteroffensive against the Russian invasion launched by Vladimir Putin in February of this year. What are we to think about these developments?
Are we to see them as a sign that the war’s prospects are turning in Ukraine’s favor? Are we to cheer on these advances as the underdog Ukrainians strike back against the brutal invaders? Or are we to hesitate in a full-throated celebration, mindful that these victories may only extend the fighting and, hence, increase the suffering? Are we to worry about Putin’s response, fearing that it may push him to even more reckless behavior and more wanton destruction?
Early this year, these posts featured reflections about the War in Ukraine for an unprecedented eight straight weeks (from February 16—April 6). Even Trumpian shenanigans over all these years have not seen such dedicated attention! I thought it might be instructive, then, to look back and re-examine those real-time assessments to see if they might reveal then-hidden truths about the conflict and how these truths might inform our thinking today in light of Ukraine’s recent unexpected advances. (I invite you to go here, scroll through past posts from February 16—April 6 and explore this question yourself.)
Just before the invasion itself, in a post on February 10 about Canadian truckers’ blockade of supply routes to protest vaccine mandates, there was an almost sidebar comment about Putin’s intentions. “This incident is emblematic of a deeper sense of worldwide foreboding [as in] Ukraine, where the decidedly power-hungry Vladimir Putin continues to threaten invasion, thereby securing his preeminence in the panoply of international ‘strongmen.’” Then, for the next eight weeks, the central topic of these posts was exactly that—Putin’s bullying his way into the global spotlight because of his actions in Ukraine.
Citing my friend and colleague Sam Simon, who bases his probing question on events in Europe in the 1930’s by asking “what are we right before?” a post appeared in late March that queried, “How can we effectively challenge Putin’s actions? It is frightening to imagine the level of pain and destruction in an all-out war should this invasion deepen into Ukrainian territory. But the first step is not to underestimate Putin’s obsessive belief…that he has been ordained to restore Russia to its former greatness…Contemplating the future can be scary. Putting our heads in the sand is dangerous. It is imperative to see Russians actions for what they are—rooted in blind supremacy based on an inaccurate reading of history—as an essential first step in active listening to ‘what we are right before’ as we witness in real time the historical events that are about to unfold.”
Behind these posts, even when they affirmed courageous Ukrainians who resisted and endured the brutality of the Russian invasion—especially in the arts community—there was an undercurrent of dread. The Ukrainians were overwhelmingly overmatched against the Russians—economically, militarily, demographically, and geographically; the posts hinted that their cause was quixotic at best. One post, “Beware the Ballad in Your Head,” cautioned, “As we cheer on those who proudly and defiantly risk death in defense of freedom, we must not to be seduced by the ballads in our head. As the facts on the ground shift, we must guard against crashing emotionally and move forward with sensible—and equally courageous—actions in the struggle for peace, justice, and human dignity.”
So how are we to react to the counteroffensive currently unfolding in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region? These are not pipe dreams by armchair freedom fighters or partisan Westerners seeking justification for some political agenda. These are actual, on-the-ground accomplishments, so dramatic that President Zelensky can even visit the front lines. As the New York Times reports, “Mr. Zelensky’s visit to a city (Izium) that less than a week ago was under Russian control was a tangible sign of Russia’s humiliating and chaotic retreat from the northeast. In recent days, Ukrainian forces have taken back an area that is home to 150,000 people in 300 towns and cities, where many residents described months of brutality under occupation.
“It also underscored the steep challenges facing the Kremlin as it struggles to meet even its scaled-back ambition of seizing all of the eastern Donbas region.”
Perhaps it is time to believe that David may once again slay Goliath and confidently offer full-throated support to Ukrainian forces, not just hoping but expecting they will win.