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August 24 is typically the day Ukrainians celebrate their independence from the Soviet Union that was declared in 1991. This year, obviously, is different.
A normally celebratory time is overlapping with a much more somber milestone: The six month mark of Russia’s brutal invasion. Large Independence Day gatherings have been banned due to fears of Russian strikes.
There perhaps is no better (read: worse) example of Vladimir Putin’s Orwellian invasion of neighboring Ukraine, supposedly in the name of protecting Ukrainians. On a day when Ukrainians should be celebrating their independence from the Soviet Union, a dictator who seems to want to reboot the Soviet Union has ensured a time of violence instead.
After six months of Russian aggression, neither side has won. But as with all wars, plenty of people have lost.
According to a recent update from the United Nations, 5,587 civilians have been killed since Russia invaded in February and 7,890 have been injured. Families have been separated. Millions of refugees have fled. Cities and towns have been reduced to rubble.
“Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects, including shelling from heavy artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, missiles and air strikes,” the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in its Aug. 22 update. “OHCHR believes that the actual figures are considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration.”
A Ukrainian official recently indicated that approximately 9,000 of their soldiers have died. A U.S. Department of Defense official has speculated that Russian military deaths have exceeded 70,000.
“At this stage, both countries, both Ukraine and Russia, seem to be losing,” retired Col. Steve Ganyard told ABC news recently. “And now the fight is obviously who can lose first and who will have to lose last.”
While we are not military tacticians, we feel confident in saying that Putin has been a big loser in these sixth months. He failed to quickly achieve his goals, while unifying much of the international community against him. He has managed to help strengthen the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and inspire a potential expansion of that important alliance. The U.S. and others have responded with financial assistance, weapons and a shared resolve. President Joe Biden announced a nearly $3 billion weapons and equipment package on Wednesday.
The Ukrainian people and government have won, at least so far, simply by not losing. For six months they have defied initial expectations that Russia would roll over them quickly. There have been tremendous and heartbreaking costs, to be sure, but there has also been inspiring heroism and perseverance. The world must help Ukraine hold on to that resolve heading into what will surely be a trying winter.
In the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, the government has lined what would normally be an independence parade route with burnt-out Russian military equipment. It is an unfortunate, if accurate, reflection of the realities on the ground.
“We hope that we can celebrate independence without weapons in the future. Maybe with flowers and dances instead,” a Ukrainian woman told NPR this week.
We hope so too. Everyone deserves such a peaceful celebration. After six months of a reckless invasion, don’t forget that it is Putin who is preventing this type of celebration from happening.