Fragments from a War Diary, Part #72
Some people ask me whether I have come to Ukraine as a journalist or writer, to promote my literary career. Nothing could be further from the truth. These diary entries serve not as a record of my adventures, but as my chronicle of the problems I discover in Ukraine as I have been working in the country to help the Ukrainian people maintain their energy and national pride in the face of a horrible and relentless war. In studying the problems in Ukraine and the ways in which the international community has come to interact with the country at war, I hope to offer routes to a new dawn for Ukraine. My goal is to bring hope in what appears to be a bleak situation, and to bring light where there is darkness.
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine unfolded from late February 2022, there was an outpouring of international sympathy for Ukraine and revulsion at what the Russians had done. Hundreds or even thousands of foreign volunteers, the vast majority of whom knew very little about Ukraine, rushed to the country’s borders to try to help; people from all around the world donated money to alleviate the civilian suffering they saw on the television and read about in the newspapers. Western governments, although outraged by Russia’s wanton disregard for international law, acted too slowly. They were horrified by scenes of the world’s largest ever column of armour heading towards Kyiv, apparently ready for a lightning strike invasion of Ukraine’s capital and a coup d’état against her government. Nevertheless they were frozen in their response, unwilling to contemplate providing military assistance in opposition to the world’s largest nuclear armed state.
There was a sense in the early days of the war that all this would be over quickly and that matters would be resolved, one way or another, within weeks or a few months at most. Alas, those with so optimistic a disposition have not studied the history of Russian wars. Russia has almost never fought a short war, and that is because her military machine is not designed in this way. Russia’s military-industrial complex is gargantuan, sprawling, and resilient over the longer term. The quality of her armed forces is patchy to put things mildly. For the most part her conscript army is poorly trained and thoroughly demoralised. Nevertheless her production capacity for cheap munitions is significant, dotted across Russia in enormous factories that can ship arms to the front line in huge quantities by train. These production facilities, for the most part deep inside the territory of the largest country in the world, are impervious to attack and therefore it is exceptionally hard to slow down the production of Russian munitions. Likewise, killing Russian soldiers is of limited value because the Russian political establishment has demonstrated time and again that in times of war it does not care how many people die. Therefore we are facing a machine that can self-replenish on a virtually endless cycle.
A lot of the enthusiastic foreigners and other volunteers who came here in the early days of the war did not understand this feature of engaging with the ugly colossus that is the modern Russian Federation. After a while they lost heart and the donor funds dried up. Then they pulled out or stripped their operations in Ukraine down to a minimum, and now they may be planning on exiting altogether from a crisis with no end in sight. Those people can go, and we wish them well. We are grateful for their contributions, and for the infrastructure for the distribution of aid and assistance that they have put in place. Those initial enthusiasts are now being replaced by a new breed of international assistance, and my purpose in writing these diaries and the associated essays on how to win the war in Ukraine is to serve as a guide to the new round of international assistance that is gradually cranking up. A new regime of international support is gradually enveloping Ukraine, with less short-term enthusiasm but more gritty determination to see the job through to the end, and with a greater understanding of the sort of relentless commitment shown by the Ukrainian people so far in this conflict that is necessary to prevail over Russia’s territorial aggression.
Western governments have gradually come to realise that the provision of lethal assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces is essential just to keep the Russians from extending their territorial advances any further; the Russian military has been stopped in its tracks and although progress on the Ukrainian counter-offensive is painfully slow, the Russians are no longer able to threaten Ukrainian cities in the way they once did with constant shelling and missiles. Nor does Russia have any prospect of territorial advancement; she has been in gradual retreat since November 2022 when she abandoned her occupation of Kherson. Nevertheless pontooning the River Dnieper - essential if Ukraine is to make progress in reclaiming the occupied territories - is a major military endeavour that the Ukrainian Armed Forces cannot hope to achieve without much increased international military assistance. I believe that this assistance will come.
Likewise, I believe that the West has gradually come to understand the scale of the ongoing humanitarian crisis, in particular in the east near the front line, that has not so far been addressed by the comparatively small number of NGO’s working in that part of free Ukraine. Because the war may last several more years - all wars with Russia tend to last several years - a more comprehensive system for assisting civilians in proximity to the front line, particularly those living in rural areas, must be developed. This is the job of government and international institutions; the NGO community alone cannot do it. The NGO community has highlighted the nature of this ongoing problem; but some NGO’s have run out of steam in eastern Ukraine and now they should move on and other methods for crisis relief should be engaged to address the huge problems facing millions of Ukrainians in that part of the country.
The new dawn for Ukraine consists in this: a new round of foreigners, who fully understand the complexities of engaging in hot and cold war with Russia and the constant efforts required over years to keep Russian aggression at bay, are now engaging with the problems in Ukraine and they are bringing a new form of expertise and interest in the country that the early volunteers lacked. This is a calmer, more reflective and more determined form of engagement that acknowledges and faces head on the enormity of the task we are facing.
The first Cold War was not won in six months. It took over 40 years to win. This conflict between Russia and the West will not be as bad, because at the current time it is in substantially driven by the personal and political ambitions of a single man, Vladimir Putin; and he will not remain in office forever. Nevertheless we must be ready for the long haul, and gird our loins for the struggle ahead. Ukraine has a new dawn ahead of it, as she is rebuilt and rearmed with the support of a newly engaged international community with an ever increasing maturity as to the tasks ahead.