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Photographs and videos of recent Russian atrocities in Ukraine reaffirmed the notion that pictures, as the saying goes, are often worth a thousand words.
Many people around the world already knew that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has displaced millions of people and that many had been killed. Despite this knowledge, support for Ukraine and outrage about Russia’s invasion has at times been somewhat vague.
The images shared recently by media outlets and others on social media raised the horror to a whole new level. Warning: what we describe from these photos and videos may be disturbing to some. So proceed with caution, but understand that many people living in Ukraine cannot turn away from the murder, torture, destruction and suffering even as Russia appears to be withdrawing from some areas of Ukraine, likely to focus its military attention in other parts of the country.
Nor could the people of Yemen, Syria, Somalia and many other countries where atrocities have occurred turn away from the devastation of their lives, families and countries, even if most of the rest of the world did look away.
It is hard to always confirm precisely what is happening in Ukraine, but the images and testimony from those who are there paint a horrifying picture. People, with their arms and legs bound, appear to have been shot, their bodies left in the streets. Women were raped. There is evidence of mass graves. Russian officials have said that these deaths are staged.
Associated Press journalists saw dozens of bodies in Bucha, a town where Russian troops had recently departed, the news agency reported on Monday. “Many victims seen by AP appeared to have been shot at close range,” it said. “Some were shot in the head. At least two had their hands tied. A bag of spilled groceries lay near one victim.”
Many bodies were burned. Some were wrapped in black plastic at the edge of a mass grave, the AP reported.
Tanya Nedashkivs’ka told the AP she buried her husband in a garden outside their apartment building in Bucha after he was detained by Russian troops, who had left his body in a stairwell.
“Please, I am begging you, do something!” she told journalists working for the AP. “It’s me talking, a Ukrainian woman, a Ukrainian woman, a mother of two kids and one grandchild. For all the wives and mothers, make peace on Earth so no one ever grieves again.”
The UN’s former chief prosecutor for war crimes has called for Vladimir Putin’s arrest on war crimes charges. It was a charge Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy repeated in an impassioned speech to the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday. He addressed the council virtually from Kyiv.
“Now the world can see what the Russian military did in Bucha, but the world has yet to see what they have done in other occupied cities and regions of our country,” Zelenskyy said.
He said Russian forces are killing civilians who are trying to escape and blocking aid from reaching cities, leading to mass starvation, an eerie echo of the Holodomor, a time in the early 1930s when millions of Ukrainians were starved to death – intentionally, many scholars believe – by the policies of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. In recent weeks, thousands of Ukrainians, including children, have been abducted, Zelenskyy said. Some have been taken to camps, another horrifying echo of past atrocities.
All the world’s horror and outrage, however, are no match for the weapons and brutality of the Russians who are in Ukraine, and we, like Zelenskyy, fear for what is next.
The calculus remains the same: Will doing more to counter the Russian aggression broaden the conflict? Perhaps launch a world war, one where nuclear weapons are used?
At the University of Maine on Monday, both former Maine senator William Cohen and Gen. Jim Mattis called Putin a war criminal. Both men served as secretaries of defense, Cohen under President Bill Clinton and Mattis under President Donald Trump.
While Cohen called on allies to send airplanes and other supplies to Ukraine, Mattis emphasized a need for the U.S. to prevent the military conflict from growing into a global one.
“Strategically, we are in a tough position. It’s morally offensive, repugnant, insulting to us, to watch what is happening to the Ukrainian people,” Mattis said. “But right now President Biden, I believe, must do everything he can to keep this war from spreading.”
We don’t pretend to be foreign policy experts, but we, like so many others, struggle to continue to accept the “go-slow, tighten the sanctions and be wary of Putin” approach as the vile nature of Russia’s actions in Ukraine becomes more evident.