How naive we were to think he’d never do it. As Russian troops amassed at the border of Ukraine last month and the world looked on with unease, we were wrong to think he wouldn’t go through with it – that the hordes of Russian tanks were just another example of Putin posturing. Until it happened, and suddenly there was a return to war in Europe – an event the world hoped it would never see again.
At the time of writing, just eight days on from Russia’s full-scale invasion in Ukraine, the loss of life is already colossal. Ukrainian children, parents, students and teachers, and thousands of Russian soldiers, have reportedly died in a war nobody wants.
Cities have been ripped open by shelling. Hundreds of civilians have been injured. More than one million refugees have made treacherous journeys across the border to safety in neighbouring countries, with more expected to follow in their footsteps in the coming days and weeks.
As the dictator Vladimir Putin commits war crimes from the comfort of the Kremlin, thousands of innocent people on the receiving end of his missiles in besieged cities such as Kyiv, Mariupol and Kharkiv have been forced to learn how to live underground. In Kherson, the first city to fall, the mayor has told residents they should obey a curfew imposed by their “armed visitors”.
The war is still young, and many fear the worst is still to come. Last week aid organisations working on the ground in Ukraine warned essential services like water, food and healthcare are under threat.
Images and videos posted on social media are already telling the story of a brutal, senseless conflict. We have seen fathers saying goodbye to their children as they are evacuated for their safety. We have seen teachers delivering lessons underground in a desperate attempt to give children some form of normality as Putin’s missiles rain down on their homes and their fathers fight in the streets.
We have listened to reports of Russian prisoners of war, many of them teenagers, phoning their mothers and weeping. One of them described himself and his fellow soldiers as “cannon fodder”. They know they have been sent by an old man to die.
As Putin’s war ramps up to its next phase, one of destruction and the slaughter of civilians, the world cannot look away.
These are dark days for a country that simply wants its freedom. But while Putin’s paranoia, weakness and insecurity force him to desperately remind the world of his nuclear arsenal, Ukraine is showing a collective strength that cannot be eclipsed by a regime founded on misery, silence and oppression.
In the past two weeks tens of thousands of Ukrainians have enrolled in the country’s territorial defence forces. Civilians have learned how to make Molotov cocktails. Queues have formed in cities across the country as Ukrainians wait to give blood.
As Ukraine fights Putin’s troops with a resistance that has surprised the world, perhaps the old dictator is learning that freedom is worth fighting for after all.