The Ukrainian army took Sloviansk this week. It may seem like an insignificant achievement but it is. It really, really is. It’s sort of like the Battle of Stalingrad – no real tactic or even strategic importance but a powerful blow to the Germans nonetheless: it was a psychological victory since the Germans couldn’t win Stalin’s city. Sloviansk is the terrorist’s Stalingrad – it was their epicenter, maybe not their strategic headquarters but certainly their moral one. And now it’s free and the people there are getting the humanitarian supplies (basics like food, water and electricity) back.
The Ukrainian military now has a bigger objective: the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk and for that they’ve actually managed quite well. We’ve seen a resurgence of the Ukrainian military from what it was (somehow it became the ugly step-sister of the internal forces – dilapidated, underfunded and bankrupt) to what it can be. You can even see the difference in the photos: today’s Ukrainian military is looking very professional! And I must admit, it’s a good thing to see since we Ukrainians have a lot of military history behind us to let us stand out against the crowd!
But overall, the encirclement of Donetsk is a great idea – it’s probably the best plan that can be made in order to minimize the cost of lives. But Rinat Akhmetov stated earlier this week: ‘Donetsk must not be bombed; Donbas must not be bombed’. He doesn’t want the Ukrainian military bombing the Donbas area since it would create a terrible loss of life and destroy the infrastructure and factories of the area. But should it be avoided? Yes, I agree – the loss of life would be horrible and no one wants any more Ukrainian lives lost in this war (a war that Russia started). But what about the infrastructure and buildings of the region? Would bombing be that bad for the roads? Cause, if they’re like all the other roads in Ukraine – it probably won’t make a bid difference. Bombing might actually help stimulate the economy afterwards: with the infrastructure impartially working, they will need to build it up and create something new and, hopefully, better than what it was. The standard of efficiency in most of the factories in the Donbas isn’t that high – if you had to re-create them however, would (or could) the richest man in Ukraine not wants to make it modern and well-functioning again? Again, that’s not to say that the lives of these people are worth the cost of re-building – they’re not. But if the lives can be spared and the infrastructure destroyed, is it really a bad thing? Can the Donbas come out of the ashes of the war into a modern, sophisticated, Ukrainian ‘Silicon-Valley’ type – where modernity is valued above the old Soviet way of doing business in the old Soviet looking buildings on the old Soviet infrastructure? It’s a question that should be asked and is probably being asking by the Ukrainian tacticians of this war (both the military and economic ones).
This however, leads to another question: what are the feelings of the Ukrainians over this. I didn’t ask but I did think back to an argument I had in the London Ukrainian Club years ago when a Ukrainian gentleman (he wasn’t gentle in the very least) argued with me over the loss of the Soviet Union. Did he support the Maidan Revolution? Would he go off to the front and fight in the east? I doubt it but I’ll never know.
I do know that I never expected to be writing those words, ‘go off to the front’, ever again – at least not for the real time (in history, yes, but not now!). And yet, that’s what I’m doing. And everyday I hear stories of Ukrainian men and women being killed to fight for the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine. It’s terrifying but it did make many Ukrainians finally realize how horrible Russia and its president are! But I also get stories like these: my friend Marichka going off to sing to the troops (the Kyiv Rus Battalion) before they head off to the eastern front or how her friend Dima Vinychenko was shot by a sniper in the knee and now needs a metal plate inserted in order to walk properly. He is in a military hospital and we’re trying to help raise enough funds for him to get his surgery (if you wish to help and donate, please visit: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ukr-soldier-vinychenko-emergency).
These are the stories that we shall remember and I hope will get more air time than Akhmetov’s words. I hope the Ukrainian military will win this war and finally become what it should have been years ago – one of the finest examples of military discipline, intelligence and reconnaissance in the world. We have the willing people, we now have the experience but we now have to take the initiative to never go back to where we were!