Let’s stop being afraid of the February tyrants and the destructive elites. We can be fierce, the good kind of fierce. Hell, how many Hollywood movies—from Marvel to Top Gun to gazillion hours of the Lord of the Rings—have we watched about good standing up to evil? Now we can join this battle, in real life.
KHARKIV, 30 miles from the Russian border—As the snow fell this morning in Kharkiv, I thought of other things falling: Russian rockets. As that reliable alarm clock, the air-raid siren, sounded early today, I began my day as a victim, angry at and tired from the Russian tyranny.
The feeling now is like a year ago, with increased warnings from Washington—publicly calm and in private dire— about something wicked this way coming. But we also have a new heaviness: Many of my Ukrainian friends are tired, wounded; some dead. I think of the teary, fierce eyes of the waitress at a café I frequent here: “Sometimes I can’t tell when the bombs are real or if they’re just my nightmares.” A whole year of this! Anger, frustration, moping, or as Herman Melville wrote in the opening lines of Moby Dick, “punching people’s hats” are justified.
In Ukrainian and Polish, February is called “лютий (lyutyy), meaning “fierce.” We can interpret “fierce” in two ways, as a victim or as a victor: something awful attacking you or something unstoppable with you.
And so on this snowy Saturday, after maybe the third or fourth air-raid alarm today, I chose to abandon the fierce grey blues and embrace the fiercely cold, fearful skies. I went for a run.
When I got to Kharkiv’s Central Park—with majestic trees, stately benches, little mushroom houses for kids, amusement rides, coffee huts, and, oh, patched-up missile craters—I saw a crew of twenty city workers, men and women, in green winter uniforms clearing the winding paths of snow. Mothers played with their kids on the playgrounds. A fellow runner passed by with a thumbs-up and a cheerful smile, signifying, “let’s keep going.”
In the face of evil, under skies from which missiles could fall at any moment, of course people here have moments of collapse. But together, like the runner giving me the thumbs up, like those city workers, like the soldiers at the front texting me jokes, we buck each other up. Insisting on being fiercely free, we face the fiercely scary and keep going.
On my Ukraine report on Chicago’s WGN Radio, host Bob Sirott, with whom I’ve spoken on-air every weekday since last February, asked “how long do people there think this is going to go on?”
“Time matters less than liberty,” I said to Bob and the radio audience. For Ukrainians and their allies, all that matters—despite everyone’s moments of temporary panic or despair—is standing up to destructive evil. Time is stopped. It’s the same as when I am climbing a mountain. I don’t consider the view until I reach the top. If you do—you might lose your wits.
My friend Brennan, an American veteran who spent many months volunteering in Ukraine, shares these words from the English poet Philip James Bailey: “We live in deeds, not years.”
What matters is the moment: how we live, how we keep going. It could be a small action: the worker clearing the sidewalk of snow amid missile threat, or something big: the Ukrainian soldier staying cool-headed in the fiercely freezing February trenches and firing upon the invading forces.
The victim mentality of Russia wants everyone else to be gloomy. Many might think Putin is not feeling so good about himself these days, but if you look at the timid actions of so many Western leaders, Putin is more feared than ever. Unable to create he is now doing what he does best: Destroying.
The only way to triumph against destruction is to keep building, living—and not surrendering. Otherwise, as victims, we become as February nasty as Putin.
I hear that people in Washington are afraid of a decisive Ukrainian victory. They are afraid of a world without a powerful Moscow. This is not fierce. In Washington and Brussels, they talk about supporting Ukraine, they wear the blue and yellow colors, but they are slow and timid in sending the tools Ukrainians need to push the invading evil out of Europe.
President Zelenksiy, with gratitude for the real support that has arrived, challenged this timidity in London February 8: “Victory will change the world and this will be a change the world has long needed.” This is not absent-minded beauty pageant talk. It’s a focused idea: Let’s top being afraid of the February tyrants and the destructive elites.
Just as in a small way, I faced the fear of rockets and ferocity winter today on my run, we, the free people, of the world, can pry ourselves away from a life lived in fear. Let’s get rid of the training wheels. We can be fierce, the good kind of fierce. Hell, how many Hollywood movies—from Marvel to that Will Smith alien invaders movie to Top Gun to gazillion hours of the Lord of the Rings—have we watched about good standing up to evil?
When the moment arrives, what do we do? Oh, it’s cold and scary outside. I’ll watch a movie or send some old weapons to those who are fighting?
Are we fiercely scared or fiercely free? So many faced that question in the pandemic, and now once again here we go, as we face, in the words of Winston Churchill, “the gathering storm.”
I write now, waiting for explosions , but, surrounded by fierce people, keep going.
Joe Lindsley, editor of UkrainianFreedomNews.com, is an American journalist in Ukraine since the pandemic. You can subscribe to his daily war reports on Chicago’s WGN Radio here.