Some in the West hope for an end to hostilities, whatever the terms. Ukrainians know that only victory will bring long-lasting peace.
To those analysts abroad, notably in those European Union countries with a long-standing tolerance of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, such as Germany and Italy, who are calling on Ukraine to surrender because they can’t stand watching the horrors of war, here’s the message on behalf of Ukrainians: that’s not going to happen.
Russia wants to destroy Ukraine, in one way or another. Putin and his acolytes have made this crystal clear. What Western governments should do instead is to support Ukraine more — impose new sanctions on Russia, including on its oil and gas, stop the use of Russian ports, and disconnect all Russian banks from SWIFT. At the same time, send more weapons; first of all, aircraft and air defense systems Ukraine badly needs to protect its civilians, including pregnant women and children, from Russian bombs raining on their heads.
Ukrainians cannot surrender, because that would mean the end of their nationhood. In particular, they won’t do it to make anyone else happy. Russia’s invasion marked a fundamental change in the global security order. The post-Cold war world now no longer exists, despite desperate attempts by some to pretend a return to a sort of business as usual is possible.
Ukrainians cannot surrender because they know all too well what happened after Russia occupied territories in Donbas after its 2014 invasion, when pro-Ukraine citizens were executed, held in secret prisons, tortured, and raped. This will happen again on a huge scale, if Russia is allowed to take more land. It is already happening in Southern Ukraine, where Russian occupiers temporarily took control: in Berdyansk, Melitopol, and Kherson, where local mayors, journalists, and activists who opposed the Russian invasion were abducted in recent days. And on March 15, when Ukrainian authorities said Russian forces had taken hostage around 400 patients and medical staff in Mariupol.
Ukrainians have learned the lessons of history. In the 20th century, more than 3 million Ukrainians were starved to death by Stalin in an artificial famine, known as Holodomor. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, including the best and brightest — scientists, writers, poets, artists — were executed or sent to gulags in the USSR. In its new war on Ukraine, Russia is bombing food warehouses and bread factories, bringing back chilling memories of the Holodomor. It is going after prominent Ukrainians, and the reports of its plans to create camps for Ukrainians after the occupation, voiced before the war, do not sound detached from reality anymore.
Ukrainians fight so fiercely because they know that this war concerns their very existence. In a recent poll, 56% of respondents said they believed Russia wanted to fully destroy the Ukrainian people — and this opinion is prevalent in every region of the country.
Ukrainians value the freedom and independence they obtained 30 years ago, after long centuries of struggle. Democratic values that might sound shallow to those in the West, who take them for granted and are used to decades of peace, are genuinely cherished. The West should not feel it’s secure under the NATO umbrella, if Russia is allowed to continue slaughtering Ukrainians with impunity. On Russian state TV, propagandists openly state that Ukraine is only an intermediate step on a path to ensuring “the strategic security of the Russian Federation.”
This war is not just between Russia and Ukraine. It’s a war between tyranny and democracy. Between the past and the future. Between backwardness and innovation. Between cruelty and humanity.
For the sake of everything that is good in this world, for the sake of hope, Ukraine should win. Ukraine must win, but the world must help it do so.
Olga Tokariuk is an independent journalist and non-resident fellow at CEPA. She lives in Kyiv but has been forced to move elsewhere in the country by the Russian invasion.