Thoughts from Kyiv — after Biden’s State of the Union Address

The SOTU address was not watched live in Ukraine. We spent the night huddled in bombshelters and basements while Russian rockets destroyed our homes, our schools, our hospitals, our places of worship, our cities.

This morning we heard on television and on the internet President Biden say “We, the United States of America stand with the Ukrainian people”. We then waited with bated breath for some news of real action, real help that would be forthcoming in our very real war against an invading dictator’s army.

We saw wonderful symbolic gestures, standing ovations, quotes from President Zelensky’s speeches, hugs between FLOTUS and Ukraine’s ambassador to the US. We heard the President talk about western unity and American resolve. We heard about a worldwide coalition that is “inflicting pain on Russia” and isolating Putin.

Massive economic sanctions have been targeted at Russia’s oligarchs, whose ill-begotten gains will now be investigated on a global scale (as if that shouldn’t have been standard procedure in rule of law states)…

Then came the key part: “Let me be clear. Our forces are not engaged and will not engage in the conflict with Russian forces in Ukraine”. As Biden said this phrase, the camera was still focused on my dear friend Ambassador Oksana Markarova: the disappointment on her face mirrored that of this entire nation.

My dear Americans: We thank you for your words and for your sanctions. We thank you for the equipment, arms and diplomatic support that you have provided and continue to provide.

We also thank you for your clarity. We now understand (finally and clearly): this war is ours to fight alone.

Perhaps you will someday understand that Putin does not care if he is isolated. North Korea and Iran have been isolated for many years and their regimes continue to exist.

Putin does not care if sanctions destroy the Russian economy, or the well-being of the Russian people. If people were important to him, he would not be sending Russian kids to die in a senseless war in Ukraine. If people mattered, the Russians would not be including mobile crematoria as part of their advancing columns (burning bodies is less hassle than sending them home for burial).

In these conditions, there are no “off ramps”. After last night, Kremlin-friendly websites have begun spreading maps according to which Ukraine may be divided into four regions.

Putin is not afraid of Russia’s oligarchs. He has isolated himself from their influence and will simply kill any that do not acquiesce to his will. He has provided them with ample warnings in the form of well publicized poisonings (Skripal, Navalny, Lytvynenko) and “suicides”.

In these conditions, there are no “off ramps”. After last night, Kremlin-friendly websites have begun spreading maps according to which Ukraine may be divided into four regions. Supposedly this is a “path to peace”. Ukrainian intelligence today reports that former President Yanukovych (ousted in 2014) has been brought to Minsk and will be proclaimed “legitimate” again. This is all bluster.

Ukrainians will resist. Ukrainians will continue to mobilize and fight. This country may well descend into a Syria-like quagmire with massive insurgency operations, endless destruction and death. But Ukraine will resist. Ukraine will prevail.

Sadly yesterday, the leadership of the United States abstracted itself from this war. President Biden made clear that America (and the alliances that it leads) has effectively agreed to be held hostage to a terrorist. The threat of nuclear war is the reason the US refuses to provide us with air cover. So be it. The terrorist has a victory. His target is afraid.

Yesterday the leadership of the United States demonstrated to the world that talk of values, words like “freedom” that are supposedly so fundamental to the American ideal, are just words. They are applicable only to Americans sitting safely in their comfortable homes.

The Anthem is hollow. Nevertheless, let me remind you of the words:

And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there..

Our flag stands.

Meanwhile your President reassures you that gas prices will not be affected by US sanctions against Putin.

Our war is with the terrorist in the Kremlin who has terrorized the world with his nuclear weapons. Sooner of later that threat will have to be neutralized. If it happens sooner, fewer people will die. Later — more.

Until then, Ukrainians stand alone.

God help us!

* Thoughts from Kyiv is a series of flash essays by Mychailo Wynnyckyj from February 2022

Author: Mychailo Wynnyckyj, Ukrainian Social Scientist, Public Intellectual, Academic Development Officer, Professor at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy

Illustration by Christina Katrakis. The Fields Of Silver. Mixed media on canvas, 2010

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