President Putin is turning cities to rubble, making life unlivable, and bombing civilians to kingdom come. The sacred Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial to the 33,000 Ukrainian Jews who were summarily slaughtered by the Nazis has been obliterated. Russian saboteurs stalk the streets dressed like farmers and street traders, shooting people randomly at point blank range. People are trapped in apartment blocks without food or water, barricaded in with mattresses and sofas. Children go to school in subways, and makeshift hospitals have been set up in underground car parks. A million refugees have fled the terrors, and a million more will follow. Scores of dogs have been tied up at train stations, abandoned by their owners faced with fight-or-flight and weren’t permitted to take their treasured pets onboard. “This is Ihor, very gentle, please look after him.”
The Ukrainian resistance forces are truly admirable, but you can’t stop a T-80 battle tank with a Renault Megane, and you can’t defeat an army convoy with Molotov cocktails. Thousands of unarmed civilians who blocked the road to prevent Russians from entering a nuclear facility have been machine gunned and dispersed. Body bags are piled high in vans; a thousand graves are being dug and wept over.
People say Putin is mad, but he really is not. Others say he’s badly miscalculated, and will be removed. But he didn’t, and he won’t be. At least not soon: he is in this for the long haul. It is a war he must win, and the West will let him: Ukraine’s freedom is the price of Europe’s freedom – or the rest of Europe’s freedom. We know it, but don’t say it. And Putin knows it, so he will continue to the end. Ukraine will be re-absorbed into the Russian fold, come what may.
But that won’t be the end.
Ukrainians have tasted freedom, and it was good. They have smelled the sweet air of sovereignty, and soared high on the wings of eagles. A tyrant may murder and maim and scorn the weeping and wailing, but he will never crush the longing of a people for deliverance, liberty, and salvation.
Putin is building his Russian heaven on earth, and forcibly gathering the lost sheep of Little Russia to his nationalist spiritual society. While the pages of this chapter of European history are yet to be written, the spirit of freedom above mighty military and political powers has already been chronicled. If the destiny of the salvation of mankind was entrusted to an obscure tribe in what we call the Middle East, then the guardians of the moral laws of liberty have been posted to the Western world. It is a fragile thing, freedom, and many millions have suffered and died for their vocation of liberation, which is a gift of God to mankind. But the greater gift is eternal life, and no Russian yoke of distress will break a word of prophecy.
The freedom of Ukraine is about to be snuffed out, because that’s what infallible autocrats do to freedom, especially when they believe God is on their side. From the Spanish Inquisition to the Iranian Ayatollahs, through the secular nationalistic infallibilities of Hitler, Stalin and Mao, the impulse and instinct of totalitarians is to destroy the people of ideas and free minds. But the light of hope has been activated by God, preserved by prophets, and transmitted by scribes. We may cavil with successive priestly expositions, contextual reinterpretations and generational reifications, but the most ancient sources of Christian wisdom speak of righteousness, justice and mercy; and that righteousness stands like the strong mountains; justice runs like a river, and mercy reaches to the heavens. God wants people to be free, because freedom is what He gave them.
Who in our petty political world of enfeebling moral relativism, paralysing equivocation and identity obsession can fail to be moved by the magnificent moral stance of President Zelenskiy? He is no longer the leader of a free and democratic nation, but he has freedom inscribed on his heart. Against Putin’s cruelty, hate, falsehood and disloyalty, the world bears witness to Zelenskiy’s kindness, love, truth and loyalty. Putin can conquer the administrative units of geographical territory; he can initiate military campaigns, soak the soil in blood, and instigate an ambitious socio-political programme of subjugation and re-education. But he will never crush the passion for freedom of proud Ukrainians, or extinguish the nationalism of God’s kingdom, which is not of this world.
Portrait of Volodymyr Zelenskiy (cc) 2022 Avi Barzel.