As Ukrainians, we believe we will defeat Putin – this is how

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Before the war started a month ago, few Ukrainians truly believed we could ever defeat our neighbor Russia. TO chicken conducted in 2020, by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, showed that only half of Ukrainian citizens believed in a possible victory over Russia in the theoretical case of war.

But now the situation is radically different. Data from polling taken 10 March this year shows that 92 per cent of respondents believe that Ukraine will be able to repel Russia’s attack. This is what has changed:

Men and women are actively enlisted in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Volunteers and information troops are working 24/7. The longest queues during the war are not at the shops, banks or pharmacies – as is currently the case in Russia – but at the military registration and enlistment offices. Men and women are actively enrolling in both the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the recently-formed Territorial Defense, whose main task is to protect their communities from Russian aggression. After four weeks of war, the ranks of the Territorial Defense now number more than 100,000 people, equipped with weapons and all necessary military equipment.

In the first days of the war, when much was still unclear, the Ministry of Defense took a risk and approved the conditions for joining the Territorial Defence. To do this, you only had to have a passport – in other words, weapons were given to everyone.

It was a risk, but the government clearly understood that weapons would be used by the people solely to defend the country. Despite the fact that some were holding weapons for the first time in their lives, the flow of people was overwhelming – no riots or mass looting were officially recorded in four weeks, and there were reports of Ukrainians punishing attempts to loot, themselves. People seem to sincerely want to protect their homes and fellow citizens, and not take advantage of the situation.

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This is not even taking into account the people who have remained in the reserves. The Kyiv leadership of the Territorial Defense stated that it had recruited the maximum number of people by day seven of the war. The longest queues were recorded in Zaporizhzhya. Well-known singers, opinion leaders, journalists and athletes all signed up.

The team I work with – people who have been involved in environmental protection all their lives, fighting against garbage, air pollution and climate change – are now protecting Kyiv from the occupiers. We are in touch every day.

When I spoke to someone a few days ago, the situation was particularly unsettled – yet my colleague said in a calm voice: “They are shooting, they are bombing – everything is the same as always.”

It is true what they say that you can get used to everything. We will doubtlessly have to treat the mental health of every Ukrainian after this nightmare. But, for now, they are holding up well.

So, where does this desire to fight for their country come from? In my mind, as a Ukrainian, it is now shaped by three factors: the influence of Ukraine’s celebrities, the resolve of civilians – and the president himself.

In normal times, we might scoff at the power of celebrities. Why should we follow them? But the influence of the famous people who joined the territorial defense has been very important.

Before the invasion, world-famous boxers Oleksandr Usyk and Vasyl Lomachenko had been cautious about the idea that Russia was an aggressor. They did not recognize the annexation of Crimea; supported the thesis of a “fraternal nations”, for which they had great support from the Russian audience. Now, both have joined the ranks and instead of boxing gloves, have weapons in their hands. Usyk defends Kyiv. Lomachenko defends his native Odessa region in the south.

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The second factor is the local population. The Russian leadership wanted to quickly capture Ukrainian cities – and hoped for the support of the eastern Russian-speaking population; similar to 2014, when – in the Donetsk region – both people and mayors greeted Russia as liberators.

Instead, the situation has now been reversed. Mayors and officials in eastern cities near Russia (Odessa and Kharkiv), who had been criticized for loyalty to Russia before the war, have now taken a hard line against the enemy. Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov continues to repeat that “no one will ever surrender the city of Kharkiv”.

The mayor of Chernihiv, Vladislav Atroshenko, a city 130 kilometers from Russia, with a predominantly Russian-speaking population, announced a reward for hostile vehicles and killed Russians.

The population is blocking enemy vehicles without weapons, organizing pro-Ukrainian rallies of many thousands in almost occupied cities. In Mykolaiv, civilians seized the Russian armored personnel carriers – they were already nicknamed “tractor troops”. The chairman of military administration of the Mykolaiv region, Vitaly Kim, regularly speaks about it on his Telegram channel. And the Territorial Defense of the city of Sumy managed to repel the attack of the Russians on their own.

(061 Website of Zaporizhzhya city)

In Energodar, Zaporizhzhya Oblast, hundreds of local residents blocked the passage of enemy vehicles

Then there is our president, of course. Perhaps this is a key factor in the country’s continued beating of the enemy in the fourth week of the war. It was Zelensky who inspired so many to defend the country – he didn’t leave Kyiv to hide in a bunker.

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Some people in Ukraine were skeptical of Zelensky’s seriousness, calling him a “comedian” for his past in show business. Some people before the war criticized him for his pro-Russian views of him. But now, Zelensky’s fiercest critics have turned into his greatest admirers.

Zelensky is different: during the war he moves around Kyiv, records video appeals in the streets, visits military hospitals and communicates freely with the press. He is fundamentally different from Putin, who even keeps a distance of ten meters from his minister of defence.

Putin appears to have sincerely believed in the propaganda he imposed on the Russians for so many years; he was convinced Ukrainians would meet him wearing kokoshniks and carrying bread and salt. But I miscalculated.

The Armed Forces of Ukraine – together with its people – are now showing a level of resistance not seen in European modern history. We are freedom-loving people. But our nation is ready to defend our values ​​for as long as it takes.

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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