[ Editor’s Note: Dr. Rey Pagtakhan was one of the three Members of Parliament on the Canadian Parliamentary delegation that observed in Kiev the 1991-referendum-vote on Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union and was, subsequently, a preceptor (1992-1999) to successive Ukrainian parliamentary interns under the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Program.
He served as Canada’s Secretary of State for Asia Pacific and Minister of Veterans Affairs from January 2001 to December 2003. He had earlier written on the topic: Putin’s War in Ukraine: A Crime Against the Ukrainian People, A Crime Against World Peace; The Genocide of Ukrainians Is Taking Place; For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.]
March 1, 2023 - On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Putin-induced full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed to its war-torn capital and streets under alert air-raid siren American President Joe Biden, instead of Russian President Putin who, a year ago, claimed arrogantly he could conquer the country in three short days.
Biden’s visit to the war zone – extremely risky – 1) reflects staunch American support “for as long as it takes” Ukraine to defend its freedom and liberate its homeland, a consistent talking message by the leader of the Free World; 2) is a strong morale boost for the beleaguered people; and 3) serves as a vivid reassurance that they shall always be remembered and their terms for peace shall prevail. It additionally sends the unmistakable message to Putin that US and NATO see the situation as a vital threat to their own national interests, values and security. Justly, a painful reminder to Putin that he has failed to achieve the objectives of his so-called ‘special military operations,’ notwithstanding 365 days of significant losses.
Because we are Ukraine!
Equally, this one-year anniversary of Putin’s war of conquest reflects the resilience and invincibility of the Ukrainian people against Russian aggression. Began President Zelenskyy when he addressed his nation on February 24the:
“A year ago, on this day, from this very place, at about seven in the morning, I addressed you with a short statement. It lasted only 67 seconds. It contained the two most important things, then and now. That Russia started a full-scale war against us. And that we are strong. We are ready for anything. We will defeat everyone. Because we are Ukraine!”
He ended his address by capturing the essence of “Because we are Ukraine!”- the resolve to win against the year-long fire and fury of Putin’s imperial madness:
“We withstand all threats, shelling, cluster bombs, cruise missiles, kamikaze drones, blackouts, and cold. We are stronger than that. It was a year of resilience. A year of care. A year of bravery. A year of pain. A year of hope. A year of endurance. A year of unity. The year of invincibility. The furious year of invincibility. Its main result is that we endured. We were not defeated. And we will do everything to gain victory this year!
Glory to Ukraine!”
Stand with Ukraine – a nationwide commemorative event
To commemorate Ukraine’s resistance and invincibility, Canadians in more than 40 communities across the country held on February 24, via the leadership of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, candle-lit vigils, fundraising supper, and solidarity events – collectively dubbed Stand with Ukraine – to show “support for the Ukrainian peoples’ right to live free and in peace in their own homeland.” What a privilege to be a part of the huge Winnipeg event held at the Canada Museum of Human Rights: at the rally outdoor calling on all levels of government to sustain their assistance and at the patriotic musical performance indoor to convey gratitude to supporters and to have them experience the existential struggle of the Ukrainian people against Putin’s full-scale aggression.
Putin’s war machine still raging – a year of shame
Indeed, Putin’s war machine in Ukraine is still on a year later today from its onset – a shame in a civilized world. For it has been a year of aggression, brutality, and cruelty to Ukrainians: to thousands of the dead and maimed, the unarmed civilians tortured and killed, the women and mothers raped, and the children kidnapped and “re-educated” against their will; to the millions of seniors, children, mothers, and women displaced from their homes, villages, cities and country; and to the countless more trapped in the country and traumatized daily.
Truly, the severity and scale of family dislocation/separation and human depravity caused by Putin’s war is unfathomable. His imperial madness has known no limits. His cruelty has fired missiles across the country, and artillery bombarded homes, apartment buildings, schools, children’s theatre, maternity hospital, and energy facilities, not to mention the fertile agricultural lands he has turned into killing fields.
Salute to bravery and value-laden leadership
We salute the men and women who have decided to stay to defend their collective freedom, honor and homeland, and President Zelenskyy for his inspiring leadership rooted in human values. And we salute, too, the leaders of the Free World for being with the Ukrainian people at their time of greatest need.
How the war might end
Into its second year, no peace is on sight. Indeed, it is awfully difficult to predict the end nor can anyone foretell with precision. Nonetheless, we have faith in Ukraine’s cause and in the ultimate salutary outcome.
Three weeks into the war on March 13th a year ago, many will recall Pope Francis’ plea and prayer: “With pain in my heart, I join my voice to that of the common people, who implore an end to the war! Let the cries of those who suffer be heard and let the bombings and attacks cease! Let there be a real and decisive focus on negotiation.” Sadly, the war went on.
Most recently, the United Nations has once more condemned Putin’s genocidal war on Ukraine and has sought urgent peace. Sadly, Putin’s response was to announce his suspension of the New Start nuclear weapons treaty with the United States. Purportedly to intimidate Ukrainians! I never imagined I would actually come to learn in my lifetime of a man with a heart of stone.
President Volodymryr Zelenskyy, in contrast, has put forward his peace formula. May the nations of the world take heed and lend support.
Scholars of peace share: Difficult as it is to anticipate the future of this war, scholars of peace and conflict, military analysts, and political scientists have shared their opinions on how this war might end. While consideration of space does not allow for a more exhaustive discussion of their viewpoints, I will share abridged segments of their insights to give us a better handle of the potential eventuality of Putin’s War in Ukraine.
Professor Andrew Blum of the Institute for Peace at the University of San Diego in the US recently wrote:
“All wars eventually end: almost half end in some type of agreement to stop the fighting; the others end in victory for one side, or, for a variety of reasons, the fighting simply peters out.” He has offered three key points to help explain his statement, namely: 1) what is Russia’s and Ukraine’s shared idea of the future outcome of the war; 2) how would they balance the costs of war against the costs of peace; and c) whether there exists a guarantee on how a peace accord achieved could be enforced.”
The latter would be the most difficult to contemplate since Russia has nuclear weapons and has a veto power at the U.N. Security Council. Thus, I see the need for the Free World to ensure Ukraine has the strength of a victor, not the weakness of the vanquished, when the two sides sit at the negotiating table. Democracy must negotiate from a position of strength, not appeasement.
Another viewpoint offered comes from Matthew Sussex, a Fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University. He wrote:
“Wars are world-shaping. Beyond their immediate human and physical tolls, wars: 1) alter the fates of societies and states; of clans, cultures and leaders; 2) establish new lines of access to resources and influence, determining who has what – and who doesn’t; 3) set precedents for how future wars are justified and, 4) in the case of attempted conquest, can ultimately redraw the map of world politics.
“Russia’s war against Ukraine encompasses all these dangers. With Ukraine waging an existential battle for its very survival, and Russia seemingly happy to settle for destroying Ukraine if it fails to conquer it, neither side has any incentive to stop fighting. Absent the complete collapse of either the Ukrainian or Russian armed forces, the grim reality is that the war will likely drag on throughout 2023 – and potentially beyond it.”
Yet a third lens from Ukrainian American Lena Surzhko Harned, an Associate Teaching Professor of Political Science at Penn State.
Democracy-Editor Naomi Schalit of The Conversation Newsletter, who felt Harned’s “studies on the political views and attitudes of different generations of people in Ukraine and Russia could offer an even greater understanding of the war,” invited the political scientist to do an essay on the subject. Here it is: an essay (abridged due to space limitation) “that’s both analytical and goes straight to the heart:”
“I am a Ukrainian American political scientist…I have evaluated this war over the past year from my professional perspective. Yet this war is also deeply personal… one assured outcome to the war’s devastation is strengthened national unity and pride…Russian President Vladimir Putin had expected that Ukrainian leadership would run away… When Ukraine’s leaders stood their ground, Putin addressed Ukraine’s soldiers, urging them not to obey Ukraine’s government…
Ukrainians had other ideas. Ukrainians overwhelmed military recruitment centers, organized territorial defense units and prepared to defend their country and neighborhoods with Molotov cocktails and jars of pickles.
“Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, when asked by the U.S. if he wanted to evacuate from the capital city, Kyiv, to a more secure location, famously declared, “I want ammunition, not a ride.”…
“I’ve analyzed the legacy of the Soviet Union, a communist totalitarian state that included Russia and Ukraine, which existed from 1922 to 1991…I see a war between two very different world views: one stuck in the authoritarian past, one belonging to the future and democracy…Putin has attempted to create a new ideology that glorified the autocratic Soviet past – including the genocidal rule of dictator Josef Stalin …Putin’s ideology denies Ukrainian sovereignty.
“In Ukraine, the story is different. Over the past 30 years, Ukraine has embraced democracy. …
Ukraine’s new generations have a distinct Ukrainian identity, forged by years of independence and the revolutions of 2004 and 2014. In 2004’s Orange Revolution, Ukrainians refused to accept the results of a rigged election that would have delivered a pro-Kremlin candidate. In 2013-14, the Revolution of Dignity ousted the pro-Russian corrupt President Viktor Yanukovich – a fight against … Russian meddling in Ukrainian internal affairs. I see this drive for democracy and sovereignty reflected in my sister and her generation. Born after Ukraine regained its independence from the Soviet Union, she is unencumbered by the Soviet worldview of Ukraine as a Russian colony. She is a free Ukrainian….Public opinion points to Ukrainians’ overwhelming support for their armed forces and President Zelenskyy, as well as their faith in victory.
“In three days, my aunt, who came from Ukraine for the holidays, would be traveling back to Warsaw by air and from there to Kyiv by train…I often hear people ask why Ukrainians stay, why do they not get out. …. Some simply cannot. Others, like many of my family, colleagues and friends, are determined and defiant. ‘Ukraine is home,’ my sister told me. ‘We have to rebuild it’…As a political scientist, I harbor no illusions that this war will end soon…
“Like so many Ukrainians, we brace for the future – and trust in victory.”
A year ago, today at the beginning of this war I wrote about it in Pilipino Express and Canadian Filipino Net. At its year-end anniversary, I see hope. Ukraine stood its ground, thanks to the resolve of the Free World that at once saw Putin’s War for what it is – autocracy versus democracy and freedom – and promptly gave multi-pronged assistance: military, humanitarian, economic, including severe sanctions against Putin’s Russia.
The year 2023 will be tough and crucial. My optimism and study of the events tell me peace will eventually emerge and prevail. Ukraine will recover from the ruins of war, will once more be a free and sovereign country, and will harvest the fruits of peace for the greater good of all.
Putin’s Russian aggression is no match to Ukraine’s and her people’s indomitable invincibility committed as it is to truth, humanity, and peace.