From Pastor Heero Hacquebord, L’viv:
“You shall not murder.”
Exodus 20:13 (ESV)
It has been 37 days since Russia began its unprovoked, full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The whole world now knows what was clear to only a few before this phase of Russia’s war against Ukraine began: invading Ukraine, the second largest country in Europe (after Russia), is a huge tactical mistake. Ukraine is a free country with a strong independent spirit, and Ukrainians will fight tooth and nail against the country which has – more than any other – tried to dominate them throughout the last few centuries. About 20% of the initial Russian invasion force has been killed, injured, or captured. This has, in part, been the result of condescending Russian over-confidence, which goes along with being poorly prepared, poorly motivated for a protracted war and lacking proper logistics. At the same time, Russian soldiers have been caught off guard by a professional Ukrainian army that is highly skilled and motivated and a populace that is, in general, decidedly anti-Russian. Ironically, the state of Ukraine’s military and the patriotism of its populace are – to a large extent – the result of Putin’s eight-year campaign of outright aggression against an independent Ukraine.
And so, in the face of severe losses against Ukraine’s soldiers, the Evil Empire’s army has directed its attention towards non-combatants: women, children, and the elderly. Russian artillery and airplanes have consistently bombed hospitals, schools and residential neighborhoods. In the major eastern city of Kharkiv alone more than a thousand large apartment complexes have been severely damaged or destroyed. In the encircled city of Mariupol in the South hundreds, if not thousands, of residents have died in a campaign of carpet bombing and total destruction. Russian forces have often fired on convoys of people trying to leave that city. One of our friends’ brother was shot and killed there as he was trying to drive a van full of people to relative safety in their church’s basement. Russian soldiers have also not allowed humanitarian aid to enter Mariupol. At the same time, they have forcefully taken thousands of people from Mariupol and other towns and villages in the east to the territory of Russia. It is not yet clear why.
The family of four that is currently living in our apartment with us is from a village by the southern city of Berdyansk (not far from Mariupol). Russian soldiers recently forced their way into one of their relatives’ home, physically threatening the single woman, an elected official of the local government. They also broke the locks on the front door of the neighboring house – that of the family staying with us. We don’t know how much of their belongings remain in the house, but we know that Russian soldiers are consistently marauding the towns and villages that come under their control. Pillaging is the order of the day.
The invaders of Putin’s godless regime are fighting against the Ukrainian population in other ways, as well: They place their tanks and artillery next to homes and apartment buildings, and even use children as human shields. They use phosphorous and cluster bombs in cities. They mine highly populated areas from which they retreat, often leaving behind anti-personnel mines that indiscriminately shoot shrapnel horizontally at a height of about four feet – killing or maiming not only Ukrainian soldiers, but also women and children. On many occasions they have attacked and killed humanitarian aid volunteers and even families traveling by car with signs on the windows that clearly read “children.”
Such actions should come as no surprise, though, since human life in Putin’s oppressive post-Soviet Russia is not regarded as highly as in many other countries. For many years it has continued to have the highest official abortion rate in the world. Those who oppose Putin are regularly arrested, beaten, imprisoned, poisoned or otherwise assassinated – including while living abroad. And even the Russian soldiers invading Ukraine are oftentimes poorly dressed, fed and equipped. They are treated as expendable means to the dictator’s imagined greater end. Some were sent into the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor (north of Kyiv), where the Russian military – until two days ago – had established a command base. Soldiers even slept in dug-outs in the radioactive soil of Chernobyl forests. Many of them were eventually taken to a specialized hospital in Belarus with symptoms of severe radiation poisoning. One has already died. Even so, on their way out of the Chernobyl zone Russian soldiers stole everything they could – even silverware – from the offices and nearby hotel of the defunct nuclear station’s small technical staff.
We know from bitter experience what happens to those parts of Ukraine that come under Russian control. For the past eight years people in Russian-controlled Crimea and parts of the East have been submitted to social, political and religious oppression. Putin’s vision for the “Russian World” is one where everybody follows the party line, where religious expression is strictly controlled, where citizens are carefully and forcefully told what to think. Being happy in such a tyrannical society is possible only when you believe the constant propaganda. If you are not happy and want to initiate change, you will be persecuted.
It is this “Russian World,” this godless, Evil Empire that Ukrainians are desperately fighting against. This war has not only a political, cultural and social dimension, but also a strong spiritual dimension. Much more than the existence of Ukraine is at stake. It is a fight against the atrocities of human evil in the modern world.