History is unfolding in Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of the country is a voluntary war of aggression the likes of which Europe hasn’t seen since World War II, and the way the world chooses to respond is profoundly significant.
The heroes and villains of this story are already emerging. Tragic and impossible situations reveal one’s character. And Russia’s unprovoked—and to most Ukrainians, completely unexpected—attack on Ukraine’s very right to exist as a country has prompted Ukrainians to respond with remarkable strength and determination.
A survey of recent reporting offers a glimpse of the heroics on display from everyday people: Ukrainians in small rural communities are patrolling their villages and constructing checkpoints, trenches, and underground shelters. A Ukrainian woman named Julia cried as she waited to be deployed to fight Russian troops, telling The New York Times, “I just want to live in our country, and that’s all.” Julia is a teacher, not wanting and hardly expecting a fight, but she volunteered to take up arms for her country anyway. The government is arming anyone able to hold a gun and willing to fight. Many are taking them up on the offer, even a former Miss Ukraine.
Elsewhere, a Ukrainian woman was entrusted with bringing a stranger’s children across the border to safety while their father stayed to fight. A young boy demonstrating maturity beyond his years teared up while telling a journalist how his father stayed behind to support the fight against the Russian forces while he flees to the border. Although over 500,000 Ukrainians have fled to other European countries, some Ukrainians who were living in Poland are returning to Ukraine to join the fight.
“The Russian leadership does not understand that it is at war not only with the armed forces of Ukraine, but with the entire Ukrainian people,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Sunday. This seems to be exactly the case. A senior defense official at the Pentagon stated openly over the weekend that Ukraine’s “resistance is greater than what the Russians expected.”
The courage of everyday Ukrainians is inspiring people around the world. Thousands throughout the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Japan, Brazil, the United States, and many other countries are rallying in support of Ukraine.
The world is also noticing the rise of a Churchill-like figure in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He first became famous as a comedic actor in a TV series in which he played an average character who almost accidentally became president. In real life, he campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, likely not suspecting to be targeted by a sophisticated full-scale Russian invasion. Zelenskyy’s presidency is now anything but comedic, yet he has risen to the challenge of being a “wartime president” with remarkable resolve and grace under fire.
Last Thursday, Zelenskyy addressed the Russian people in a heartfelt plea. He said:
It is not about peace at any cost. It is about peace and principles, of justice, of international law. It is about the right to self-determination, that every person might determine their own future. It is the right of every society, and of every person, to security, to a life without threats. I am certain that these rights are important to you, as well.
The truth is that this needs to end before it is too late. If Russia’s leadership does not want to meet us across the table for the sake of peace, perhaps it will sit at that table with you. Do you Russians want a war? I would very much like to know the answer, but that answer depends only on you, on the citizens of the Russian Federation.
Some Russians seem to have responded to Zelenskyy’s appeal, making it clear to Russian leaders they do not want to see an attack on Ukraine. It’s one thing to protest in a free country, but it’s quite another for Russians to protest the government they know might brutally crack down on them. By some estimates, Russian authorities have arrested more than 5,000 Russian protestors.
Experts believe that Russian forces want to assassinate Zelenskyy and replace him with a Russian-backed leader—and Zelenskyy believes it too. The United States offered to help Zelenskyy leave. Yet, his reply showed unwavering resolve: “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”
This strength of will has earned admiration across the globe and fostered hope both inside and outside of Ukraine. One Ukrainian American journalist wrote on Sunday, “Can Ukraine withstand the third largest army in the world? If you asked me Thursday, I’d think the chances were low. Now I am sure they will.”
Images and videos of Ukrainians praying and singing hymns are stirring hearts around the world. Join them in praying for the preservation of their country and the sound defeat of Russia’s brutal attack on their freedom and independence. If Ukrainians manage to keep their land and freedom, it will be due in large part to the courage of the Ukrainian people and their gutsy leader. God bless them.