Ukraine flag. Credit: Susan Bigelow
Susan Bigelow

A month ago, I hoisted the Ukrainian flag on the pole outside my house. It’s still there, fluttering in the breeze below a clear blue sky. It’s still flying over Kyiv, too, because of the courage and determination of the Ukrainian people. We should all hope it remains there for a long, long time.

Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war on Ukraine – a peaceful, sovereign, democratic nation – shattered the long European peace and sent shock waves around the world. The Ukrainian resistance, though, has given us those all-too-rare things: hope and heroes. 

This is a story about a small nation standing up to a huge one that is used to having its way, and it’s a story of defying a bully who wants to turn back the clock to the 1980s. But it’s also the story of ordinary people risking everything to fight for their own freedom and their democracy.

It’s strange that Putin underestimated the will of the Ukrainians to stand up for their flawed but vibrant democracy. They had already done so during the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005, and the Maiden protests of 2014. Both of those events threw pro-Russian autocrats out of power. What did Putin think would happen this third time? Did he really think the Ukrainians would just stay home and be silent?

Global events are messy, and we’ve become used to a fog of contradiction, cynicism, hypocrisy, and competing interests surrounding, well, pretty much everything. But every once in a great while, there is clarity. Sometimes an event so obviously opposed to peace, democracy, and human decency happens that we all stand united in shock and horror.

In those moments, we find out who we are, and we find out who everybody else is, too. Are you online engaging in whataboutism? Are you blaming U.S. aggression for starting this conflict? Are you busy calling the Ukrainian regime “Nazis” and accusing them of everything Vladimir Putin wants you to think they are?

Or do you believe your own eyes and ears, and know that this is a cruel, unprovoked assault on liberty and democracy?

Whatever happens in the next few weeks and months, please don’t forget what you’re feeling now. I say that because we are too good at wrapping these kinds of existential shocks up in bubble wrap and carefully placing them in a closet, never to be seen again.

Our own democracy here in the United States, like democracies all over the world, has been under threat in the past few years. What was the January 6th storming of the U.S. Capitol but an attack on peace and democracy? How can anyone claim that it was not?

And if we follow that chain of events back, we find Donald Trump, the loser of a free and fair election, inciting a crowd to march down Pennsylvania Avenue. We find efforts by that man and the people who supported him to undermine that election and reverse its results. We find a U.S. president who never met an autocrat he didn’t like, and who just this week called Vladimir Putin “pretty smart” for invading Ukraine.

Me pointing out these events isn’t just some kind of partisan complaining. They were real threats to democracy, much as we all wish they weren’t. But we’ve let ourselves become fuddled and complacent. We let the horror of that day in January 2021, fade from our memory.

Maybe Ukraine will remind us. Maybe this moment of clarity will finally hammer the lesson home. Authoritarianism is always a danger. Bullies exist, and they’ll do anything to get what they want.

Send money to Ukraine if you can – here’s a fundraiser for the Kyiv Independent, a news outlet doing the impossibly hard work of covering a war on their own soil. There are other worthwhile charities out there. Support sanctions against the Russian government and its oligarch toadies. Stay united; together, we really are strong.

And remember: Democracy is fragile and so is freedom.

But it’s always worth fighting for.

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Susan Bigelow

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.