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Heroism takes many forms. The response to Russia’s sickening invasion of Ukraine has proven that.
The most visible face of this inspiring response has been Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Targeted by the Russians and offered evacuation by the U.S., he responded with a quote that seems destined for the history books: “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reckless land grab is reportedly proceeding slower and meeting more resistance than he planned. The response from Zelenskyy and his country has surprised many around the world as well.
As the horrifying events unfold, the future remains uncertain. But for now, Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine have left little doubt about their resolve. Perhaps we all underestimated the 2006 winner of Ukraine’s version of Dancing with the Stars. Comedians, it turns out, can make good wartime leaders. Putin certainly isn’t laughing right now.
In years past, Zelenskyy has deflected some of the adoration typically directed at heads of state, and cautioned about putting leaders up on a pedestal.
“The president is not an icon. I really want you not to hang my image in your offices,” Zelenskyy said to members of parliament during his May 2019 inaugural address. “Hang photos of your children there, and before every decision, look them in the eye.”
In this moment, like it or not, Zelenskyy has become an icon. But he is just one of many among his fellow Ukrainians.
Heroism has defined the Ukrainian response. From the everyday women and men who have picked up arms to fight for their besieged homes and families, to people standing in the way of Russian tanks, all of these heroes are demonstrating that free people are stronger than a strongman.
It is not just those engaged in combat, and not just the Ukrainians, who have acted in inspiring ways. A brave woman confronted Russian soldiers last week, asking them why they were in her country.
“You should put sunflower seeds in your pockets so that they will grow on Ukrainian land after you die,” she told them. This is doubly heart-wrenching because some of the Russian soldiers appear to be poorly equipped teenagers, according to a Ukrainian general.
Russian protestors have taken to the streets, emphasizing that it is Putin, not the Russian people, launching this invasion. That is no small gesture in a country where dissent is met with heavy penalties.
“It is a crime both against Ukraine and Russia. I think it is killing both Ukraine and Russia,” protestor Olga Mikheeva said in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, as reported by the Associated Press. “I am outraged, I haven’t slept for three nights, and I think we must now declare very loudly that we don’t want to be killed and don’t want Ukraine to be killed,”
All of this is inspiring, but it is also tragic. The violence and death shouldn’t be happening. These individual examples of heroism shouldn’t be necessary. But Putin’s actions have made them so.
There has been heroism from journalists who are helping to keep the world informed amid a swirl of disinformation campaigns and government propaganda. There has been heroism from humanitarian workers putting their own safety on the line to help more refugees get to safety. There has even been action taken by corporations and billionaires like Elon Musk, demonstrating how the world is rallying around Ukraine and against Putin.
There has also been remarkable heroism from Ukrainian parents who have comforted and stood up for their families in the face of Putin’s aggression.
“This is my powerful weapon,” a Ukrainian mother told Fox News on Sunday morning as she held up her baby daughter.
Throughout this crisis, we’ve seen Ukrainians who still dare to hope. Hope for democracy and self-determination. Hope for de-escalation. Hope for peace. In the face of such an onslaught and such odds, hope itself is a heroic act.