The ‘other’ heroes of Putin’s war

As outlined in my two previous articles for this magazine and in endless media reports around the world, the heroes of this war are, by far, the Ukrainian people. Their spirit of resistance, solidarity, and valour have been remarkable to behold. Every day we watch Putin’s hideous military aggression, our respect for them and their political leadership only grows. There are endless displays of bravery and patriotism. Just when we think that they could not possibly do more in a battle that is so grossly unfair, they do.

Our hearts break in the face of this colossal human tragedy. However, at the same time, our souls are revived by these acts of distinguished gallantry.

Against this backdrop, two other very different sets of heroes have emerged.

First up, the immediate Eastern European countries that border Ukraine – Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova, and Romania. Whatever the misgivings with the extreme right wing politics of some of these nations before the invasion, it must be said that they have stepped up with an impressive show of generosity and openness towards the millions of refugees that have collectively flooded their lands. They have not wavered. They have not barricaded their borders. They have not balked at the financial implications. Instead, they have acted with commendable honour, and empathy.

Granted, there is also a self interest for them doing this, as they may soon face a new border with an expanded Russia as their neighbour. They desire, therefore, to be on good terms with the NATO Alliance. God forbid, that they will need our protection soon. But let us not quibble. We should give credit where credit is due.

The citizens of these nations have been most welcoming. They have opened up their homes, hospitals, schools, sports stadiums, former resorts, and other community facilities to provide shelter to the fleeing masses. People have provided hot food, medical supplies, clothes, baby food, and free car rides. They have also participated in special missions in bringing vulnerable Ukrainians to their countries, such as bus loads of Ukraine children stricken with cancer.

Furthermore, some of the governments have introduced measures to permit Ukrainians to work legally, and access public health and social assistance programs.

I salute their compassion and kindness, as should the Western world.

Now, we in Canada, the US, and other developed democracies must contribute beyond our NATO obligations, and help them shoulder this considerable humanitarian responsibility. We should all commit, as our Canadian government has already signalled, to take our respective share of refugees. As well, we should be generous in sharing their financial burden. We must take their actions into account when it comes to future geo-political discussions and decisions. These countries have acted valiantly and we cannot afford to have short memories.

The second group of heroes to surface from this horror are the Russian protestors that have risked their lives for standing up in what they believe. Estimates indicate that upwards of 20,000 individuals have already been rounded up for publicly demonstrating against the invasion. They are now languishing in Russian jails. Remarkably, each day there are new volunteers prepared to take their place.

It is one thing for truckers to occupy Canadian communities with impunity. But it takes a totally different courage to openly contest a dictator like Putin in his own backyard. The protestors knew a repressive and brutal response would likely await their dissent. They also faced the threat of ‘high treason’ charges. Yet, they did not flinch. They took to the streets and squares in dozens of Russian cities in surprisingly high numbers.

They too warm our souls, and we must not forget them either.

In our own backyards, the cost of living is now climbing as a result of the global instability that has resulted from the invasion, and the corresponding sanctions. The price of gasoline at the pumps may be the most demonstrable. Oil has forever been a complex equation, for it also involves intentional spikes by the giant multinational oil companies. In fact, a number of these conglomerates have not been exercising all their drilling permits, preferring to bide their time for when the price of oil escalates. Today, the obscene profits they hoped for are being realized. Champagne corks are no doubt popping in their boardrooms. It’s price gauging, pure and simple. And their actions are revolting. But again, let us put this aside for the time being.

Let us not complain. Let us not lose our resolve. Not when we witness the immense suffering of the Ukrainian people. Not when see how Eastern Europe is standing tall. Not when individual Russians are losing their liberties. Together, they are defending human dignity and the rule of law. So must we.

Let us be inspired by these heroes to do our small part. To pay our price for defending the cause of democracy and freedom.

After all, it was another great wartime leader, Winston Churchill, who reminded us that:

“We sleep safely at night because men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.”

PHOTO: via @virtualzein, Al Jazeera English, March 8, 2022