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The People of Ukraine Fight to Maintain a Young Democracy

Peter Goodman


Bees are essential to pollination for 90% of wild flowering plants, and much of our food. Bees are rapidly disappearing, because of human activity. One nation is so intent on maintaining ancient bee-keeping methods that 1.5% of its population is involved. It’s the largest country in Europe, and had a flourishing civilization when Moscow was a mud village.

Ukraine has a young democracy that its people are also desperate to maintain. While we poison our democracy with partisanship and conspiracy theories, Ukrainians have fought to wrest theirs from corrupt authoritarian pals of Vladimir Putin.

Russia is in a difficult and dangerous position: steadily sinking to a minor economic role in the world’s economy, with privation at home, while possessing powerful weaponry. Historically, most major wars have been started by a once-proud failing state.

For most, this war is a rude surprise. After centuries of terrible wars, Europe seemed settled. (Our world is now so interconnected that when Russian drivers with electric cars stop at a Ukrainian-made charging station these days, they get no juice, but an on-screen message urging Putin to perform an anatomically impossible obscene act, solo.)

Those earlier wars were long, bloody and costly. Russia and Ukraine suffered far more than we did in World War II. So Putin is telling Russians that Ukraine is a Fascist nation persecuting Russians. Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelensky’s paternal grandfather was the only survivor among four Jewish brothers fighting the Nazis.

We’re seeing a nation of heroes. I respected Zelensky telling the U.S. he didn’t need a ride, just weapons. “Why does it matter to us?” ask a few isolationists, saying they “care more about our southern border than about Ukraine.” Gee, so do I; but I can almost see the border, and there ain’t 90,000 Russian troops massed there.

Unlike many foreign situations we’ve manipulated for the profit of U.S. businesses, this distant crisis matters because peace and democracy, after growing for decades, are threatened by Mr. Putin and other authoritarians. (Even our country elected a fellow who thinks Putin’s just swell.) Ukraine keeps grabbing at that brass ring, freedom, and repeatedly pays the costs. If a larger neighbor can simply swallow it, the world as we know it is endangered. And, although leaders shouted, “domino theory” to the point of idiocy during the Cold War, Ukraine might not be all Putin wants of the old Russian Empire.

This won’t be pretty. How will it end?

If all of us are resolute, oligarchs and popular discontent could oust Putin. Here’s hoping Ukrainians won’t already have disappeared, with the bees they strive to save.

Will the Ukrainians remain resolved, and persist in armed resistance if the Russians occupy their cities? I believe they will. But in cities of rubble, with most civilians dead or fled, how do you blend in to fight on?

Will NATO and the U.S. continue strong sanctions, despite inconveniences? I hope so. Russians accepted Putin because he seemed a shrewd, savvy guy returning Russia to prominence while avoiding war. Severe economic pain and frustration could make everyday Russians and Putin’s fellow oligarchs ask hard questions.

Can Putin’s propaganda keep citizens blindfolded? Soldiers call home and describe what they see. Russian control of the Internet is less complete than China’s, but Putin’s pressuring big tech to help him lie. A few brave Russian news outlets have spoken truth; but this week Putin shuttered TV Rain and Echo of Moscow.

If all of us are resolute, oligarchs and popular discontent could oust Putin. Here’s hoping Ukrainians won’t already have disappeared, with the bees they strive to save.