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LACONIA, NH — It has been more than a week since Russia began its wide-scale invasion of Ukraine. As of this article, more than 1 million Ukrainians have fled their country. Men ages 18 to 60 are required to stay behind to fight as families are separated. Tens of thousands of weapons have been handed out to civilian fighters to bolster Ukrainian forces, while aid pours in from the West in the form of everything from medical supplies to tank-killing, shoulder-fired javelin missile systems. For the first time in decades, there is country-to-country warfare in Europe.
For one local family with close ties to Ukraine, the news coming out of the region is heartbreaking, while they are frustrated by the cautious response from Western allies.
Through a combination of foreign supplies and Ukrainian resolve, the former Soviet Block country has managed to make the Russians pay in blood for every inch. Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy claims that nearly 9,000 Russian troops have been killed since the invasion, while the Kremlin claims the number is just under 500. A recent estimate from Pentagon officials put the number at around 1,500, but exact figures are very difficult to come by during wartime.
Regardless of the exact numbers, Russia is failing to make the kind of progress they anticipated when the invasion began.
Despite the country’s resolve, the supply of foreign weapons, and a slew of Western sanctions against Russia, Ukraine ultimately stands alone when it comes to combat.
Neither the United States, NATO or any members of the European Union have committed to utilizing military force to counter the Russian invaders, or to establishing a no-fly zone as requested by the Ukrainian government. Ukrainians from around the world, including New Hampshire, are hoping for the West to do more.
First-generation Ukrainian-American Natalie Rudzinskyj has closely followed the war for more than eight years, receiving raw first-hand information from her contacts in the Ukrainian community. “It’s really very well documented,” Natalie said, citing the thousands of photographs and videos being shared online. Some experts say that the Ukrainian-Russo war is the most documented conflict in human history thanks to the advent of smartphones and location of the conflict.
For Natalie’s elderly mother, a Ukrainian immigrant, the experience of watching the invasion is a grim reminder of even darker times, when Natalie’s father fought in the Ukrainian Partisan Army during WWII. “It’s deja-vu all over again,” Natalie said.
Natalie and her husband, Bo, a veteran of the U.S. Army and also of Ukrainian descent, live in Sanbornton. They believe the West is in denial about the situation and has been since 2014, when pro-Russian separatists and Russian special forces seized and annexed the Crimean Peninsula.
“The soldiers in the Donbass area have been fighting since then,” Natalie said. “It hasn’t stopped.”
“They’ve literally lost thousands of people there in the last eight years,” Bo said, “but it was limited to that region.”
On Feb. 24, that limit was breached when Russia launched a full-scale invasion from three directions into Ukraine. After their initial invasion forces failed to make quick progress in the country, the Kremlin ramped up attacks on civilians, reportedly using missiles, cluster bombs and other weapons to decimate non-military targets. According to the Ukrainian government, approximately 2,000 civilians have been killed since the invasion.
“Putin’s appetite is insatiable,” Natalie said. “It is an abomination to him that the Soviet Union broke up. He has said that he wants to rebuild it.”
After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, multiple countries declared independence or in some cases even joined the North Atlantic Treaty Association. Ukraine has grown increasingly friendlier with the West, and began entertaining ideas of joining NATO.
For Putin, such an act was interpreted as a direct threat to Russia’s security. His response began with the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Although thousands were killed in the ensuing conflict, Western media outlets avoided labeling the event as a war, rather it was widely reported as “the crisis in Ukraine.”
For the Rudzinskyjs, this is all part of the pattern of Western denial in regard to Russia’s threats. The primary reason for the West’s hesitancy to engage with the Russian military is the threat of nuclear war. Ukraine surrendered its nuclear arsenal in the 1990s as part of the Budapest Memorandum.
“If they had not given up their nukes, would Russia have invaded a nuclear country?” Natalie questioned.
As the West hesitates, the Rudzinskyjs stressed, more and more people are going to be killed in Ukraine.
“It weighs heavy on our hearts that you’re watching this mass genocide going on, and it’s just starting,” Natalie said, describing Putin’s recent brutality. “I think the world-wide support we’re seeing is just making (Putin) more insane.”
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Bo said, quoting U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. “If you allow fear to dictate your national policies against Russia, if you allow fear to dominate, then it’s already a strike against us.”
Aside from a direct strike against a NATO or other officially allied Western state or asset, the Rudzinskyjs don’t see the West getting involved militarily, despite the growing body count.
“I just don’t know what would be the breaking point where the world would say ‘that’s enough,’” Natalie said. “Five million people killed?… Is it going to be bodies of women and children that they’re going to have to see?”
Putin has justified his invasion with false claims that the Ukrainian government is a Nazi-aligned regime (despite having a Jewish president), and that Russian forces are acting as liberators.
Putin has also asserted that Ukraine is not a real country and should be part of the Russian people.
“We’ve got our own culture, our own songs, language, traditions. Ukraine accepted Christianity in 988, Moscow didn’t exist yet. It wasn’t even on the map. We had cathedrals already built when Moscow was woods,” Natalie said. “Ukrainians don’t want to be part of Russia. They want to be part of the west and independent.”
Natalie wanted to be clear, that she is not against the Russian people, but Putin and his policies. “I’m always careful about when I attack what’s going on in this station, I’m not attacking like ‘let’s kill the Russians.’ It’s Putin. Let’s call a spade a spade,” Natalie said.
And so far, the war is not proving to be popular with the Russian people, both at home and in the trenches.
The Ukrainian resistance has been so fierce that there are reports of Russian conscripts sabotaging their own vehicles to keep themselves out of the fight. Back on the home front, thousands of Russians have been jailed for protesting the war, and one U.S.-based Russian businessman Alex Konanykhin placed a $1 million bounty for the arrest of Putin, according to multiple news outlets. But for now, Putin maintains an iron grip over the Russian government.
According to the Rudzinskyjs, until Putin and his inner circle are removed from power, or until the West steps in, the bloodshed in Ukraine will only get worse.
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