Just before dawn on Thursday morning, Ukraine was awoken by explosions in Kyiv and Kharkiv and Kramatorsk and Dnipro and Mariupol and Odessa and Zaporizhzia. Horrifying videos of newscasters reporting on the turmoil, rife with bangs and pops in the background, made the rounds on social media as sociopathic pundits like Laura Ingraham and former president Donald Trump blamed the deadly attacks—carried out by Russia at the direction of dictator Vladimir Putin—on President Joe Biden and the Democrats.
Our history teachers often taught us about the tragedies of pandemics and wars, but we were once naive enough to think these things wouldn’t happen in our lifetimes. And somehow we’ve borne witness to wars with Boko Haram, in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and beyond, all in very recent memory. We were even more naive to think they almost certainly would not happen simultaneously. Yet here we are, on the precipice of a massive war, scrolling through our phones for updates. Perhaps the only difference between what we’ve already seen and what’s happening now is that it’s occurring in a predominantly white, Western country.
Shortly before explosions were heard all across Ukraine early Thursday morning, Putin told his people on that he’d be carrying out a “special military operation” in the country, claiming skirmishes between Russia’s forces and Ukraine’s were “inevitable” and “only a question of time.” He claimed Russia does “not intend to occupy Ukraine,” before offering a chilling warning to anyone who may come to the aid of the Ukrainian people: “To anyone who would consider interfering from the outside: If you do, you will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history. All relevant decisions have been taken. I hope you hear me.”
In response, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded in his own late-night address on Thursday. “The Ukrainian people want peace,” he said. “The government in Ukraine wants peace and is doing everything it can to build it.” In his country, Zelensky appealed to the Russian people directly: “Any spark could burn everything down. You are told that this flame will liberate the people of Ukraine, but the Ukrainian people are free.”
Mere hours later, Ukraine’s interior ministry reported that there had already been hundreds of casualties.
These attacks are nothing but an egregious display of hubris. Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN Sergiy Kyslytsya said it most succinctly at an emergency UN Security Council meeting in the very midst of this crisis: “There is no purgatory for war criminals. They go straight to hell.”
American concern for this war has already surged—not to excess, but decidedly more so than it did for many other wars fought on soil occupied primarily by people of color. Much of that attention likely stems from the influx of journalists sent to Ukraine ahead of these attacks, as it’s considered an otherwise “safe” country; the same cannot be said for non-white countries like Afghanistan or Syria, where images and video to circulate on social media were always much fewer and far between. While access surely has a part to play in how we mourn for a war, it remains baffling that conservatives are hellbent on blaming this attack on Biden, the media, and progressives for having investigated Trump’s potential collusion with Russia during his 2016 election. Some are even cheering Russia to victory.
“This is genius,” lauded Trump on a radio program on Thursday. “So Putin is now saying it’s independent — a large section of Ukraine. I said, how smart is that? And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper.”
We’ve been living through unprecedented times for a long time. It seems like the loudest voices are attempting to make Ukraine look different, new, when it’s more of the same. It’s terrifying and exhausting.
Despite our history books being littered with examples of imperialism and the catastrophic damage it leaves behind, innocent people are being dragged into violence and suffering yet again because of a single man’s ego. Greed just may end us all, so perhaps we stop making those books anyway. They’re about as useful to the men in charge as firewood.