How Do We Commemorate One Year of Ukraine’s Defense Against the Russian Onslaught?

Friday, February 24th, marks one year since the horrific Russian attack against Ukraine began. Most observers gave Ukraine a week before the Russians would take over. (The Ukrainians don’t even think of this one-year marker: they point out that they’ve been battling for their sovereignty for nine years–since the Russians stole Crimea.)

Yet here we are. We know that Putin is preparing a massive assault very soon, and he is counting on the West’s tiring of the financial toll of its support. And we know that the Insurrectionist Caucus in the US House of Representatives has said “not a penny more for Ukraine.”

The photo above captures one somewhat whimsical effort by those who are firmly committed to Ukraine’s success.

You are looking at the Ukrainian flag emblazoned on the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC. The photo was taken on April 13, 2022, by Benjamin Wittes, a man with very serious credentials: he’s the editor-in-chief of Lawfare, a highly respected national security blog, and a scholar with the Brookings Institution.

He also has, it seems, a fertile imagination, a sense of the absurd, and profound indignation about what Russian aggression is doing to Ukraine and its people.

Wittes and his colleagues are preparing to commemorate this sad anniversary with a repetition and expansion of their demonstration last year. They created two images of the Ukrainian flag, which they spotlighted onto the Russian Embassy. For four hours, while a Russian inside tried to cover the image with a spotlight, they kept that flag in public sight.

NPR called it “a light beam battle against Russian diplomats.”

The rationale: to simultaneously awaken the American public, condemn the Russians, and express solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

At the time, Wittes told NPR:

“We wanted to be respectful of the rules and how we expect these properties to be treated. [We] also wanted to invade it and make it feel like they couldn’t get away from the world’s glare of judgment.”

The Washington Post reported last year that he’d said:

“It was the most invasive, obtrusive, obnoxious thing that I could do to Russian diplomats that does not molest or do violence to their prerogatives as diplomats in the United States…I don’t want to make it comfortable to be a Russian diplomat in the United States right now.”

For this year’s demonstration, Wittes is working with a special laser and a new spotlight that has a very sharp image. He also has a map of Ukraine that he can project more than 300 feet.

Speaking with Charlie Sykes on The Bulwark podcast, Wittes said his group plans to target multiple facilities this year, including the Russian Ambassador’s residence.

Another commemoration is from journalist and author Sebastian Junger, no stranger to war zones, who just wrote a Time essay to the Ukrainian people titled “Why the People of Ukraine Will Triumph” that I think is well worth reading.

Here’s part of Junger’s message–based on knowledge of history and personal experience, beginning in Sarajevo in 1993:

“Because of your success against Russian forces, China may hesitate to attack Taiwan, North Korea may think twice before declaring war on South Korea, and Russia may abandon claims to the Baltic countries. Western leaders clearly understand that the fight for Ukraine is a fight for peace and stability in all of Europe—if not the world. They have remained united in their commitment to providing advanced weapons and ammunition, as well as tactical training by some of the West’s most elite special forces. President Biden clearly wants to send Ukraine the maximum amount of military aid without triggering a catastrophic backlash by Putin. As the war continues to go in Ukraine’s favor, many Americans hope that he will choose a moment to provide enough arms for a decisive victory against Russia…

“Like Hitler, Putin will fail in his endeavor—not only will he fail, but it will eventually destroy him. As a result, other dictators around the world will take note of the fact that smaller countries often win wars against invaders, and that invading a supposedly weak neighbor will probably end in failure…

“Humans are the only species where a smaller individual or group can defeat a larger one—otherwise, the world would be dominated by fascist mega-states, and freedom would not be possible. But that is not what the world looks like. Smaller countries like Ukraine can stand up to the powerful dictatorships and fight them to a standstill—particularly when they have access to advanced weapons and tactics. If Ukraine remains free, other countries will remain free as well, because fascist leaders around the world will be forced to understand that power does not always triumph.

“In fact, as often as not, it fails.”

What can those of us who want to demonstrate our support for Ukraine do?

*Throughout the US and worldwide, there will be candlelight vigils and demonstrations. If you’re interested, you may be able to find one near you via the Internet.

*We must write to our legislators–especially if we live in states with Republican legislators–affirming our support and reminding them that Putin will not stop if he defeats Ukraine. Senate Majority Leader Schumer was joined by Senate Minority Leader McConnell at the Munich Security Council to show bipartisan support for Ukraine.

McConnell bluntly said that the Ukrainians aren’t asking for our soldiers, and if we don’t support them now, we’ll pay a much higher price later.

But how strong will House Speaker McCarthy be when Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene, et al, are determined to oppose ongoing governmental assistance to Ukraine? The more Americans publicly support Ukraine, the more isolated will be those taking Putin’s side.

*If you can contribute, any financial support for Ukraine is sorely needed. President Zelensky’s fund, United24, enables you to direct your donation to: defence and demining; medical aid; and/or rebuild Ukraine.

Here is a major reason I remain on Twitter. Please watch this brief video of President Zelensky and President Biden together in Kyiv–an astonishing event that I think President Zelensky accurately termed “Historic. Timely. Brave.”

And after this extraordinary visit to war-torn Ukraine, President Biden will deliver a major speech in Poland today.

I have the strong feeling that the national and international stories of this moment will not be driven by the petty, small-minded, extremist American politicians who are criticizing this President for being in Kyiv now instead of at the Mexican border.

Rather, those stories are being written by the two men who just walked the streets of Kyiv side by side as air raid sirens blared. Both men have been grossly underestimated, but they share profound convictions about democracy and remarkable determination and bravery that are making the impossible seem possible.


14 thoughts on “How Do We Commemorate One Year of Ukraine’s Defense Against the Russian Onslaught?

  1. We must write to our legislators — especially if we live in states with Republican legislators — affirming our support and reminding them that Putin will not stop if he defeats Ukraine

    This strikes me as the best option, especially for those who have Republican Congresscritters who are relatively moderate (there’d be little point in writing to the Taylor-Greenes and Gosars about anything). Not only about Ukraine but on most issues, it’s soon going to become obvious that the only way to get even the most essential things done in the House is for those Republicans who are willing to do so to work together with Democrats to get issue-by-issue majorities, and sideline the flaming nutballs and those who are too scared to break with them. As a leader, McCarthy is going to be useless, as you say. It will have to be a matter of dealing with appropriate individuals. That’s where pressure from constituents will help.

    The Senate won’t be a problem, since McConnell supports aid to Ukraine and the Democrats have a majority there anyway.

    I honestly don’t see much point in vigils or demonstrations about an issue happening in a different country. Putin is not worried about whether people in Oregon or New Jersey will vote for him. At most, if such events are truly gargantuan in size, they might persuade him of the depth of support here, and erode his hopes that that support will waver. It’s a marginal possibility, though.

    Biden’s visit to Kyiv the very day before Putin’s much-ballyhooed speech on the war was a good move. When he launched the invasion, Putin doubtless pictured himself strutting about in Kyiv after a quick victory, just as Hitler toured Paris in 1940. The fact that he still cannot go there, while Biden can, highlights his failure and weakness — something which will not be lost on the Russian people who are being forced to make ever-growing sacrifices for the sake of this military fiasco.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Infidel: I see the value of vigils/demonstrations not to persuade Putin of anything. I’m thinking of showing support in the US and, importantly, to the Ukrainian people.

      I hope the Russian people have access to the stark contrast between Biden’s being in Kyiv and Putin’s inability to do so. I was most impressed by both his traveling to join Zelensky in Kyiv and his use of key aspects of that visit in his strong speech in Poland today.

      Biden is playing a central role as what one commentator called “a cheerleader for democracy”—worldwide.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A vigil is about self not others. It is sacrifice. There are two sources of power , money and time. My valuable time is given to you in support which doubles when I stand in opposition to your oppressors.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. We need to continue to send advanced weapons and ammunition to the Ukrainians. It is easily replaced and much of it would be replaced in a few years anyway. It does nothing to diminish our own military capacity.
    Evidently Putin watched Fox too much. He must have believed that Biden was “weak” and “senile”. He must have also believed that Trump had effectively destroyed the NATO alliance. He is wrong on both counts.
    Seems to me there is only one ending to this war. As long as Putin is in power he has reached the point of no return. Like Trump, he must do whatever he can to stay in power. So it always is with dictators or dictator wannabes. Putin will be assassinated or driven from power by a group of oligarchs supported by elements of the military.
    Only then will Russia withdraw. The results will be massive turmoil within Russia as the forces of authoritarianism will battle with the forces of reform and democracy. Time will tell.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I know the strong men on Putin’s right are not happy with his performance, Joseph. While I’d love to see him gone—and I hope that happens—we may be confronted by someone even more vile, hard though that is to imagine.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I see no end to Putin’s madness other than Russia’s complete and utter defeat in Ukraine. He doesn’t care how many casualties Ukraine civilians OR Russian troops suffer — they’re all expendable in furtherance of his ambitions. If we should have learned anything from history, it’s that you can’t appease bullies — they will keep bullyin’ until thrown out with whatever it takes.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I see no end to Putin’s madness other than Russia’s complete and utter defeat in Ukraine. He doesn’t care how many casualties Ukraine civilians OR Russian troops suffer — they’re all expendable


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