Nearly one week into Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, very few of Putin’s assumptions are proving true. Far from dropping their weapons and surrendering, Ukrainians are fighting fiercely. Their comic-turned President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has proven to be an inspirational and determined leader. International opinion has turned decidedly anti-Russian. Even China has placed sanctions on Russian financial institutions.
In the short term, however, Russian military still might overwhelm Ukrainian capabilities. In just three days the Russians advanced into the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, and recently were seen in Kharkiv.
Outmanned and outgunned, the Ukrainians are likely to resort to tactics used by the Soviet army against the Nazis in Stalingrad. They called in “Hugging the Enemy.” By staying in close contact, the Soviets negated much of the German heavy weaponry. It couldn’t be used lest it kill as many German soldiers as Soviets.
Unlike the USSR is World War II, however, Ukraine has little capability to manufacture its own weapons. While in recent days Germany has done a complete about-face and begun providing Ukraine with substantial weaponry, and the US and other countries also have stepped up its supply, the Ukrainians remain and will be badly outgunned. In a sense, they will be reminiscent of the brave Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto, who had little with which to face the Nazis except pistols and Molotov Cocktails.
No matter, the Jews were determined to fight, and did so to the bitter end. Back in 1943 however there was no social media or instant communication. Few outside of the combatants and the locals knew or were told about the brutality of the fighting until the Ghetto had been liquidated.
Unlike during World War II, this time there is hope for the foolishly brave, utterly determined yet badly outgunned Ukrainians. News reports indicate how stunned the Russians are by the ferocity of the resistance. With the world united against Putin, social media providing instant footage of the wanton destruction, the upcoming urban fighting in Kyiv and other cities likely to be a close-quarter slug fest and the Ukrainians making their own Molotov Cocktails and any other primitive weapons they can produce, the situation looks increasingly difficult for the typical Russian conscript. He likely has no idea why he’s fighting other Slavs and seeing his own friends and comrades die in a foreign country that he likely cares little about.
For Jews mindful of the Holocaust and watching this from afar, there is a certain sense of melancholy. A large amount of the killing of Jews during the Holocaust was done by Ukrainians and other collaborators with the Nazis. It was the Soviet Red Army that liberated Auschwitz and many of the other concentration camps. Still, that was eighty years ago, and the situation now looks very different. Hopefully this is a new generation, who after all elected a Jew to be Ukraine’s president.
Underneath the jumble of emotions pertaining to Russians fighting Ukrainians, there is an overwhelming sense of hope and pride that the Ukrainian people, so long immersed in anti-Semitism, should elect a Jew as President of the country, and that in Ukraine’s time of greatest peril since World War II that Jewish President should rise to his greatest heights, becoming the symbol around which the Ukrainian people express their national identity and fight the barbarism of Vladimir Putin. Further, by adopting tactics both of the doomed Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto and of the Red Army in Stalingrad, these brave Ukrainians of all religions have given themselves a chance to shock the world in what is becoming their finest hour.