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The Ukrainians and their president have shown the world the true meaning of heroism and valor

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Wednesday, 16 March 2022

The mounting resistance of Ukrainian men, women, and teenagers to repel the brutal Russian invasion of their country has demonstrated to the whole world the true meaning of courage and determination in the face of a savage aggressor waging an unprovoked war on a peaceful neighbor, for which Russia will pay dearly.

Righting the Wrong

The Russian invasion of Ukraine should have surprised no one, as President Biden repeatedly and clearly stated weeks before the invasion that Putin was amassing his military troops and putting them in a state of readiness to attack without any provocation or justification a peaceful neighboring state. What was surprising though is Putin's misassessment of the Ukrainians' and their president's determination to defend their country with every drop of blood and to do so with extraordinary courage and valor. The immense devastation, destruction, and ultimate death toll should torment the conscience of every Western leader who has become complacent to Putin's naked design to change the world order by resurrecting the Russian Empire through the use of brutal force while counting on the lack of resolve of the Western alliance to deter him.

While it is true that Ukraine is unlikely to prevail over the invader and that civilians will die so long as they refuse to surrender to Russian aggression, to go down fighting is by no means the same thing as ceding defeat, even if the outcome in either case may superficially seem the same. As Winston Churchill observed, "Nations that went down fighting rose again, but those who surrendered tamely were finished." And as the ancient Greeks put it, "Better to die on one's feet than to live on one's knees." The Ukrainians are giving the world a lesson in determination, courage, solidarity, and true patriotism.


It has been suggested by some that President Zelensky should not be encouraging the people of Ukraine to continue fighting when defeat is a foregone conclusion; that if civilians hurl Molotov cocktails at the invading force there will be unnecessary loss of life; that the Ukrainian government should not give up on negotiating an end to the conflict as long as Putin is willing to talk.

Anyone who makes these suggestions has not only underestimated the unity and resolve of the Ukrainians to fight to the bitter end, but has also utterly failed to comprehend what Putin is pursuing – namely, the complete overthrow of Ukraine's independence, the decapitation of its leadership, and the decimation of its will to resist his authoritarian rule.

The philosopher Adorno once said, "The need to lend a voice to suffering is a condition of all truth." I am reminded of this when I see what is unfolding day by day in Ukraine. Thousands of Ukrainians have been killed by indiscriminate bombing and nearly a million refugees have already fled into neighboring countries, and that number will likely grow into the millions before we see an end to this conflict.

Now is the time when we must all lend a voice to suffering. Putin and his generals seemed to have imagined that Ukraine would fall swiftly into their hands – they did not count on a unified nation rising up and resisting them with every ounce of their strength. They did not foresee that citizens with no military experience whatsoever would take up arms, Molotov cocktails, and whatever they could find to drive out the invader.

And Putin – this "genius" as Trump referred to him at the outset of the conflict – how has he responded? Just as one might expect – he has not only escalated his rhetoric and placed his nuclear armaments on high alert, he has intensified the brutality of this unconscionable war; he has begun openly targeting civilians, killing children and other noncombatants.

As Putin watches his country becomes increasingly isolated, civil unrest is intensifying among ordinary Russians who reject this war of aggression against a peaceful sovereign nation. A nation which only claims the right of every free and independent country – the right to exist, the right to self-determination, the right to stand tall among the community of nations.


Putin's suggestion that Ukraine is led by "neo-Nazis" is not merely absurd but just shows that he will say anything that suits him, even if it is plainly and demonstrably false. The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky – who has proven himself to be a genuinely courageous and effective wartime leader – is in fact himself Jewish. But not only was Zelensky born to Jewish parents, his grandfather, Semyon Zelensky, who served in the Red Army during World War II, lost his father and three brothers, all of whom were murdered in the Holocaust.

None of this of course matters to Putin, who in this case deliberately fashioned his lies to be as vicious and malicious as they are outrageous. Putin is causing untold harm not only to Ukrainians, who are bravely bearing the brunt of his cruel and short-sighted invasion, he is also harming millions of innocent Russians. Ordinary Russians, who clearly oppose this horrific invasion and did not wish their country to start a war against a peaceful neighbor, are being led by a cruel and dishonest thug. Sadly, they will suffer for years to come because of his disastrous war, which will serve only to further isolate Russia and bring upon its people massive suffering and economic hardship.

Moreover, the Russian autocrat has sidelined his own advisors to pursue this futile war of aggression and ignored the economic fallout, which was always the inevitable result. The ruble is cratering, and this is just the beginning of the economic hardship that will befall the unfortunate people of Russia who placed their trust in a despot, a modern-day Tsar, who has presided over a global resurgence of authoritarianism.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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