Profiles in Courage

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On the day Russia invaded Ukraine, the New York Times ran an op-ed piece from a Ukrainian journalist arguing that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a 44-year-old former comedian and actor, was in over his head.

A week later, it’s an understatement to say that perceptions of Zelenskyy have dramatically changed. “Savvy communication skills, his ability to sway audiences via social media, a healthy dose of grit and defiance — and not least of all, his readiness to die if necessary — have transformed him into an unlikely champion for Ukrainians and the world,” wrote the Washington Post.

On Tuesday morning, as Russian forces continued their relentless assault on Kyiv, Kharkiv and other Ukrainian towns in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s revanchist quest to revive the Soviet empire, Russian forces – while causing significant death and destruction – had yet to subdue the capital or other major cities due to a series of strategic and logistical blunders, the Associated Press explained.

It’s Zelenskyy and his fellow Ukrainians’ courage and solidarity that is a major factor in Russia’s failure to secure a quick and decisive victory. As Vox noted, Russian intelligence incorrectly believed the Ukrainians were unhappy with their government and would embrace invading Russian troops as liberators – Russians watching state media broadcasts have been told that Ukrainians are greeting them with pies.

Instead, because of their resistance, Zelenskyy successfully convinced European governments to aid Ukrainians in their time of need when some were on the fence, CNN noted. He called into an emergency meeting of EU leaders Thursday and left some in tears after telling them that Ukrainians are dying for European ideals. Meanwhile, he rallied a mass mobilization that turned the entire country into enemy territory, the Hill reported.

While millions of refugees leave for the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, millions of those who stay behind – like the Kalashnikov-carrying parliamentarian Kira Rudyk who appeared on Britain’s Channel 4 – have taken up arms in expectation of laying down their lives for their homeland.

Students in the Western city of Lviv are preparing Molotov cocktails in a former rave space at a rate of 1,500 a day. The students know the makeshift bombs won’t stop tanks. But one student said that didn’t matter. “It will break Russian soldiers mentally, and show them they are not welcome here,” he told the Guardian.

An elderly woman berated a Russian soldier in the city of Henichesk on the Sea of Azov, telling him he was a fascist and yelling at him and other soldiers to put seeds in their pockets so that sunflowers – the Ukrainian national flower – would grow when they died, the Independent added. The video has gone viral.

In another incident celebrated around the country and fueling defiance of Russia, a small group of soldiers on Ukraine’s Snake Island are heard in a video telling their counterparts on a Russian warship who are giving them a choice to surrender or be bombed to “fuck off.” On Monday, it was reported the soldiers were still alive.

One reason Ukrainians so quickly formed ranks was because they have already rejected Russian domination and won. As the Wall Street Journal wrote, eight years ago, Ukrainians rose up to oust the corrupt, Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych from office, prompting Putin to invade Crimea and begin supporting separatist movements in the eastern region of the country, known as Donbas, which he formally recognized as independent states last month.

Make no mistake; Russia has the numbers and weapons to win the conflict if Putin remains in power and keeps ordering his troops forward. Already, the suffering is growing as thousands remain without power in sub-zero temperatures. But, as Market Watch noted, the Kremlin has lost the information war that sways opinions worldwide as to who is in the right.

Against all odds, hearts and minds mean something.

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