For the ten days, President Vlodomyr Zalensky has acted as David to the Goliath Russian President Putin. But this is not theatre. No, this is sacrifice: brought to the citizens of the world in real time. I must confess that prior to this week, I considered the seemingly endless conflict in the Ukraine just another of the tribal skirmishes we see all over the world: Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Nigeria, Chinese Christians, and here as well, if we bother to reduce the arguments to the fundamentals.
And President Zalensky?
I knew nothing about him. And precious little about his country and its long history of suffering.
Until Wednesday of last week when all hell broke loose on the Ukraine. In just eleven days, the president of Ukraine has placed himself and his country in my cold and stony heart and those of our world and its leaders. Zelensky’s response to the invasion and Putin’s public threat to assassinate him and his family, is to refuse to leave his capital and nation. But to stay and fight. Making him the subject of countless accolades. Like this piece from last Monday:
The camera moves, but only a little. The man in the foreground, filming, wears a jacket of olive green. The men around him do too. Their expressions are grave. They stand close, arranged in the scrunched togetherness of the group selfie. If you happened to encounter their video as one of many across a feed—a group of guys, a bit blurry in thumbnail form, poorly lit against the night—you’d probably not realize what you were witnessing: a president and his cabinet, outmatched but outspoken, declaring their defiance in the face of an invasion. You’d probably not realize the deep significance of the refrain Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky repeats throughout the 32-second video that doubles as a state-of-the-union address: Тут—tут—tут. Here—here—here.
Zelensky looks ten years older than his age of forty-four. He’s a man who a mere ten years ago was an actor, a comedian. The Jewish husband of former Ukranian model Olena and father of their two teen-aged children, Zalensky won 73% of the vote after playing president of the country in a TV series called Servant of the People. In the art-imitating-life series, Zelensky plays a history teacher whose anti-corruption rant goes viral and wins him the presidency.
Since his election in 2019, Zalensky’s hold on the electorate was increasingly shaky because of the rival factions within Ukrainian politics. But then Russia showed up.
After declaring martial law and releasing prisoners with combat experience to fight, teaching citiizens how to make molotov cocktails and Zelnsy’s brilliant use of social media, the Ukranians repelled the initial attempt at a Russian takeover of Kyiv. The world followed suit.
Germany ended the Nord stream pipeline, shipped weapons to Ukraine and committed a 100 billion in defense immediately. “Hungary, thought to be the weakest link in the Western chain, has supported without question moves by the European Union and NATO to punish Moscow. Turkey, arguably the most Russia-friendly NATO country, having bought missile defense systems from Moscow, has invoked its responsibilities in the 1936 Montreux Convention and closed the Bosporus strait to Russian warships. NATO deployed its rapid-reaction force for the first time, and allies are rushing to send troops to reinforce frontline states. A cascade of places have closed their airspace to Russian craft. The United States has orchestrated action and gracefully let others have the stage, strengthening allies and institutions both.”
Following last week’s near total destruction of Ukrainian satellite service, Elon Musk delivered and activated his Starlink software so that communication could be maintained in the ravaged country.
Those of us already living in free societies owe Ukrainians a great debt of gratitude. Their courage has reminded us of the nobility of sacrifice for just causes. As Ronald Reagan memorably said, “There is a profound difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest.” What Ukrainians have done is inspire Americans and others to shake ourselves out of our torpor and create policies of assistance to them, in the hopes that we might one day prove worthy of becoming their ally.Putin Accidentally Revitalized The West’s
The tribute is profoundly moving, but it may turn out to be a euology for the once free and independent nation of Ukraine. Despite massive Russian causualties of up to 6000, at least three failed assassination plots against Zalensky, Goliath’s juggernaut is relentless. President Zalensky recalls Azazel-scapegoat for the evil that cloaks his land and much of this world.
Over and over Zalensky pleads for no-fly zones over his devasated country. Declaring his gratitude for global support he fears it came too late.
And yet President Zalensky recalls Isaiah in Thursday’s electifyng address:
“No bunker can shelter you from God’s response…You have come to destroy our cities. Destroy our people. Take away from us everything that is dear to us. You cut off electricity, water and heating to civilians in Ukraine. You leave people without food and medicine. You are shelling routes of possible evacuation. There is no weapon that you would not use against us, against the free citizens of Ukraine. And now you are telling your propagandists that you are going to send so-called humanitarian columns to Ukraine… Remember, godless men: when millions of people curse you, you have nothing to save yourself..They wanted us to be silent. But the whole world heard us…”
This past Wednesday-Ash Wednesday,when Fr. Jabob made the sign of the cross in ashes on my forehead and intoned, “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” I heard the words differently. And now feel exceedingly grateful for what our Byzantine and Ukrainian friends call The Great Fast-Lent. It’s a time to rend our hearts and minds and fast. The whole church revels in
“And today we ask, – said the Head of the Church, – this wisdom of God, which has always been the basis of life of our Church and our people, became the basis, the strength of our stability, that God’s wisdom reigns over human madness, so the God of peace we rely on, gives us the opportunity to defend this world, hoping that we will not stumble. Before dawn, says the psalm, the Lord will bless us and help us.”