A week ago, they were programmers and teachers, baristas and farmers — and their elected leader was a former comedian. Their capital city, Kyiv, sparkled with cafes, fancy stores and night clubs.
To many, this soft existence set the conditions for fast capitulation to a military assault by Russian tanks. As the world now knows, the opposite happened. Rather than provide a fat easy target for Russia, Ukraine's city and country people alike rose up to defend their country with their bodies.
Herein lies a lesson for democracies that don't know their own strengths. The Ukrainians did not cave before the hardened Russian battalions because they didn't want to lose what they had.
The comic in charge emerged as one of modern history's great leaders. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky radiated confidence, determination and calm, in sharp contrast to the histrionic Russian President Vladimir Putin. He spoke from the streets, urging his people to, in effect, fight them on the beaches. And that's what they did.
That high morale changed everything. Suddenly, there was almost nothing most of the civilized world wouldn't do to help Ukraine fight off the Russian aggression.
In 2014, When Russia invaded Crimea and cut it off from Ukraine, the West employed sanctions that were weak and that took a year to go fully in effect. This time, Ukraine's friends activated their economic might in the course of a weekend.
The economic sanctions sent an immediate message. The value of the ruble plunged. The heralded "fortress" of Russia's $643 billion in foreign currency reserves has been breached. In a scramble for cash, nervous Russians are now lined up in front of ATMs.
Among other astounding developments, Germany boosted its defense budget and canceled the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that was to transport natural gas from Russia. Sweden of all places said it would ship 5,000 anti-tank rockets to Ukraine. (It hasn't sent arms to a country at war since 1939, when the Soviet Union marched into Finland.)
The oligarchs who were scooping up luxury real estate outside Russia now fear losing their French villas, London townhouses and Manhattan triplexes. Their panic is such that some have tip-toed into open criticism of the man who made their fortunes possible.
Putin's right-wing fan club, meanwhile, is looking more the fool. When Italian politician Matteo Salvini was asked some time ago whether he was in Putin's pay, he responded, "I esteem him for free, not for money." The oligarchs at least got rich off him.
A new CNN polls has 83 percent of Americans favoring increased economic sanctions against Russia. And there's almost no partisan divide, with 65 percent of those who lean Democratic and 62 percent of those who lean Republican on the same page. For all of Putin's efforts to sow political discord in the U.S., he's finally uniting us, at least for now.
We've heard so much about stresses plaguing our democracies — the COVID-19 restrictions, vaccines, immigration. They are real but are being put into perspective next to the sight of Russia violating an ethnically close neighbor who had done nothing to provoke it.
During World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously visited a working-class London neighborhood after a Nazi bomb killed 40 in an air-raid shelter. Someone in the crowd shouted: "Good old Winnie! We thought you'd come and see us. We can take it. Give it 'em back."
On Monday after a brutal weekend, folks in Kyiv were pushing grocery shopping carts out of supermarkets. They are carrying on, as Londoners did during the blitz.
Putin is stuck, humiliated and probably mentally ill. That makes for scary times ahead. Are Western democracies tough enough for the threats of 2022? So far, so good.
Reprinted with permission from Creators.com