Today, the United States stepped up support for the people of Ukraine to help defend their nation against invasion, and the President declared Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal. The announcements came after a morning speech by Ukrainian President Vlodymer Zelensky to the United States Congress, where he evoked images of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the September 11 attacks in our memories.
His words had a visceral impression on lawmakers, who were united across their normally partisan lines in support of the fight for Ukraine’s survival.
These two events are the bookends of the devastation Ukraine has become in 21 days of this unprovoked war. As the Russians continue to invade this sovereign, democratic nation, witnesses say the Russians are deliberately and indiscriminately attacking civilians in what many have described as the genocide of a sovereign people. Especially in its cities, the human tragedy is difficult to grasp. Imagine a 9-11 happening every minute.
The Red Cross describes the situation in the former beautiful Black Sea port city of Mariupol as a human catastrophe. In what used to be a city of half a million people, hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped without food, water, electricity, heat or a way out. Since this morning, Russian troops have taken over an intensive care hospital and are holding more than 400 doctors, nurses and patients hostage, while using the hospital as a base of operations to bombard the city.
This morning, the Russian army shelled the Mariupol drama theatre, where around 1,000 to 1,200 people had taken refuge. The number of victims is not yet known. Look carefully at the featured image: the building was marked on the front and back with the Russian word for “children”. The Russians bombed it anyway.
But before that happened, on Wednesday (Russian time), Putin outdid himself, calling pro-Western Russians “scum and traitors” who needed to be removed from society. He then described the war in Ukraine as part of an existential clash with the United States. It seemed to prepare the ground for more aggression directed against the West.
In fact, what the West has not necessarily understood is that Putin calls the West – all of us – Nazis. His increasingly harsh speeches equate us all with former Nazi Germany, something to exterminate (as if Russia were the only country fighting the Nazis). His speeches evoke deep emotions in Russia – a country that actually lost more than 20 million people in World War II. But first under Soviet rule, then under Russian authoritarianism, the country did not evolve. A significant portion of people who only see state-run media channels believe it.
But today Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov said Russia sees “some hope that a compromise can be found” with Ukraine to end the war.
The human toll of this country is terrible – more than three million refugees have crossed the borders to other NATO countries; 1.5 million of them are children. At least 10% of the 45 million Ukrainians are displaced, either within the country or after crossing borders. According to UNICEF, a Ukrainian child becomes a refugee every second.
Do the math. This represents 60 children per minute, 3,600 children per hour, 86,400 children per day without homes, schools and, in many cases, families.
Journalists have died covering this war, some deliberately targeted by Russian troops. It’s war, but it’s a new standard of brutality.
US steps up military aid
While America staunchly refuses to support a no-fly zone over Ukraine (with leaders fearing it could trigger World War III), it offers a wide range of military support.
Today, the President approved nearly a billion euros in hardware and support increases; including a range of anti-aircraft systems including stingers, machine guns, shotguns, rifles, drones, rocket launchers and ammunition. The president says there will be more to come.
“I want to be honest with you, this could be a long battle in the face of Russia’s immoral and unethical attacks on Ukrainian civilians,” President Joe Biden said.
Then the president took another step out of the press conference in which he announced the new arms support. He was asked: “Do you believe that Vladimir Putin is a war criminal?”
Biden turned around, came back to the microphone and asked the reporter to repeat the question. Then he said, “Yes, Vladimir Putin is a war criminal.
Feature Image: The Mariupol Drama Theatre, which housed 1,000-1,200 people, mostly families with children, was hit by Russian bombs this morning. If you look closely, you can see the Russian word for “children” written in big white letters on either side of the building. The satellite image was reviewed and retrieved by The New York Times.