Count on it. The 40,000,000 Ukranian people will not be defeated by Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked attack.

As Kristina Berdynskykh, a Ukranian journalist, put it : “Ukraine will break Putin. Our country might have to suffer greatly for it, but this is definitely the end for him.”

President Zelkenskyy sounded the same defiant note. He broke off diplomatic relations with Putin, called up all the nation’s military reserves, declared martial law, and had his foreign minister appeal openly for all assistance from NATO and from anywhere.

The Ukranians will fight.

They will fight for their homeland, their neighbors, their freedom to be a nation of their choice. Meanwhile, what are Putin’s 190,000 troops fighting for ?

Just as in Afghanistan — as we ourselves learned the hard way — the Russians will not defeat a people fighting on its own turf for its right to be, to exist, to be a nation.

It will be painful. It is a tragedy that a war of aggression on European soil has ben unleashed for the first time since World War II. We are now at war, all of the West. This is a moment that we created NATO to prevent, or if not prevent, to defeat. For 77 years this moment did not come to pass. Perhaps we grew comfortable about it. Doubtless we imagined that aggression in the heart of Europe was a thing of the pasty, a bogeyman of old boneyards. But we were wrong. Now what ?

Putin claims that his attack is righting wrongs wreaked on Russia, that Ukraine was a creation of Russia and belongs to Russia. If he believes that, he is a fool. Almost the reverse is true :

In the 900s, Viking adventurers founded the principality of Kyiv. It was a very prosperous trading kingdom lying astride the main trade routes from the Baltic Sea to Constantinople. Kyivan “Russia” — those Vikings called themselves “‘rus” — prospered mightily for over 2509 years, until the great Mongol invasions of the 12009s put an end to it all and then some.

The principalities that sprang up in northern “Russia” in the 1400s arose entirely separately from the Kyivans. The men of Nizhny Novograd, Veliki Luki, Yaroslavl and Tver, who established satrpies under Petcheng rule (the Petchengs were descendants of the Mongols) … were in no way descendants of, nor related to, the men of Kyivan “Rus.” Far from it. At the time that these small dukedoms held sway, the lands of Kyiv were ruled by Lithuanian first, then Poland, then Sweden. It wasn’t until the armies of Peter the Great defeated the last major Swedish army at Poltava (in what is now central Ukraine) in 1707 that the peoples of what is now Ukraine began to recover something of the glories of 10th century Kyiv.

But not for long. The armies of Tsar Alexander, after defeating Napoleon’s 1812 attack on Russia, swept through the Ukranian lands, occupied what was left of Poland, and besought borders with the rising Prussian state. Well until the collapse of the Soviet Union, this was the men of the Kremlin’s plan (with one exception which I will discuss below) , and they carried it out with all the repession at their command, including, in Stalin’s time, an imposed famine that killed millions of Ukranians.

So much for Putin’s theories of who created whom.

I mentioned that there was an exception to the Moscow men’s repressions of the Ukranian peoples. By which I refer to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (a city in what was then Poland), by which Vladimir Lenin, newly installed as the Bolshevik boss of revolutionary Russia, accepted the creation of an independent Ukraine, as demanded by the then victorious German Army (eastern front, World War I) in exchange for Germany agreeing not to contest Bolshevik rule in Moscow. By that treaty an independent Ukraine was established, and it proceeded until crushed by Bolshevik armies during the 1920s, the protecting German Army having eventually been itself defeated in November 1918.

Putin referred to the Brest-Litovsk treaty in his speech justifying his attempt to conquer Ukraine. He excoriated Lenin for having “given Ukraine away.” Maybe Lenin did “give Ukraine away” : but the Ukranians were no less real and distinct, speaking a distinct language and with a distinct history much older than that of the Moscow regime.

Thus it was that when the Soviet empire collapsed in 1990, the people of Ukraine formed themselves a nation, much along the lines of the Brest-Litovsk creation. And thus it has been, these 32 years, that Ukraine has enjoyed sovereignty over its ancient lands with a bustling capital at Kyiv just as it was 1000 years ago, long before there was any sort of regime in Moscow — indeed, long before Moscow even existed.

Putin’s history is a mistake, just as his war is a mistake, as he will find out. Because the people of all NATO countries will not stand by and watch their neighbor be swallowed. Because we of the United States know a thing or two about freedom and fighting for our right to exist. Because, as the UN ambassador of Kenya so eloquently spoke at the recent Security Council meeting, the world cannot go back to old, dead empires.

But most of all, because fighting for one’s liberty — one’s nation, and its right to be sovereign — is a fight that all of us have a life stake in.

I stand with the people of Ukraine. I stand with Ukraine. As do you, and you, and you. Ukraine will win.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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