People put up plastic sheets to cover the broken windows of their apartments Thursday after parts of a Russian missile, shot down by Ukrainian air defense, landed on an apartment block, according to authorities, in Kyiv, Ukraine. Credit: Vadim Ghirda / AP

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Michael Lyons of Standish is an inventor and entrepreneur. He has traveled to more than 40 countries, including two communist ones.

We are witnessing in real time the completely unwarranted takeover and destruction of Ukraine, a sovereign country that treasures democracy and freedom. This is an affront not only to the people of Ukraine; it is an affront of the highest order to the entire free world.

I can understand the hyper hesitancy of the U.S. in not instituting a no-fly zone over Ukraine.  The implications are ominous and the risk is real. But the reality is that Russian President Vladimir Putin will likely not stop with Ukraine.

Our issue is not with the Russian people. It is with an autocrat who believes in only his own rule of law. And that his might is right.

We must realize and admit full stop that we are facing an international bully. And the reality is that you do not effectively fight a bully based upon your internal foundation of love, rules of conduct, honor or mutual respect. Bullies don’t see that — they see only the transactional outcome based upon a profound lack of genuine self-confidence.

Years ago when visiting a town where I knew almost no one, I remember being attacked one night. I was accosted simply because I was from away. There were four of them and after one of them struck me from behind they all started to move in. Suddenly a fifth guy came out of the shadows and stood next to me, faced them, and quietly said three of the most beautiful words I have ever heard: “I’m with him.”

That was enough to change everything that night.

I know all too well that this distant memory does not even remotely compare with the profound circumstance that Ukraine is facing. But throughout my lifetime I have learned one very hard lesson from a number of encounters with bullies: You stand up to them, even when you are scared, or they just keep at it. Otherwise, the bully will continuously feed their own needs without regard for any one else’s well being other than their own.

The Ukrainian battle is about democracy versus autocracy and whether we embrace and support nations striving toward this imperfect ideal of self-government or if we step aside and simply allow the slaughter to continue.  

It’s time for us to provide air support in one way or another. We managed to get aircraft into the hands of Great Britain during World War II. We can surely figure out a way to do this now for the Ukranians.

We should simultaneously encourage all free nations to ban Russian oil and natural gas throughout the world. Yes, it will hurt economies and cost the free world. But some measures, especially the most important ones, cannot be looked at through only the prism of an economic model. Innocent people are dying. And they’re not just dying, they are being killed for their territory. Oil is how the Russians are financing this maniacal endeavor. Follow the money and stop the flow. Now.

In our time of need as a young nation, France stepped up at great risk and leaned in to help us.  We’ve been there against a world power and came out on the other side as a free nation.

This is not the Holocaust where untold trauma unfolded beyond the awareness of most of the world. We are now seeing evil before our eyes in real time. Do we choose to look the other way and illogically only hope that things will get better, or does someone in the free  world lean in? Who will stand beside the Ukranians by providing aircraft and say to Russia “I’m with them.”

NATO should immediately accept Ukraine as a member in good standing and enforce a humanitarian no-fly zone. Anything less is a death sentence on two fronts: innocent citizens of Ukraine and the free world’s experiment known as democracy.

Ukrainians do not have the luxury of time nor the resources for this to be a theoretical intellectual fireside political debate. And neither does the rest of the world. It’s later than we think and democracy as we know it, even here in our homeland, is at peril.