Global outrage over Putin’s war

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez - The Philippine Star

Over 150 countries have joined the strong outrage over the unprovoked war in Ukraine. Untenable as it is, countries that have cordial relations with Putin are starting to distance themselves from him.

Last Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that Japan was revoking the “most favored nation” status of Russia. Calling the invasion of Ukraine a “historic atrocity,” he said Japan will collaborate with G7 nations to prevent Russia from obtaining loans from the International Monetary Fund. And while China had declared that its friendship with Russia has “no limits” and rejected the economic sanctions imposed, it is also treading carefully, saying that it is “not a party to the crisis and does not want the sanctions to affect China.”

In his strongest condemnation yet, US President Joe Biden described Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “war criminal” following reports that a theater that was being used as a shelter in the city of Mariupol was bombed, with hundreds of people – including many children – among the dead. Saying that the US would be sending more drones and anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine, President Biden promised to “make Putin pay the price.”

Also fueling the outrage is the death of award-winning American journalist and filmmaker Brent Renaud, who was shot by Russian forces as he was traveling outside Kyiv to film refugees. Renaud’s companion Juan Arredondo, a documentary filmmaker who was injured during the attack, narrated that they were crossing a checkpoint when Russian soldiers started firing at their car, and kept on shooting even when the driver turned the vehicle around. In a statement, the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the killing, saying that “Russian forces in Ukraine must stop all violence against journalists and other civilians at once.”

Even Russians themselves are denouncing the invasion of Ukraine and manifesting it not only through street protests and demonstrations but in other ways. A case in point is Russian businessman Alex Konanykhin, who has promised to pay $1 million to officers who would “arrest Putin as a war criminal under Russian and international laws.”

Russian state television employee Marina Ovsyannikova’s daring act of protest – running inside a TV studio to interrupt a live newscast by holding up an anti-war poster behind the presenter – has made her the face of defiance. Anticipating that she would be arrested, she had uploaded a video, urging people not to be afraid, saying “they can’t put us all in jail.”

Images showing the ravages of the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine are difficult to erase from one’s consciousness. People searching for survivors amid the debris from the bombed theater building that had “children” painted in huge Russian letters in hopes that it would be spared from the onslaught; old men and women hobbling as they flee from the fighting; a video of a woman in the midst of her wrecked home playing her piano for the last time before leaving; emergency medical workers putting the wounded on stretchers; thick smoke rising from bombed buildings including hospitals, schools and other civilian facilities.

Given the situation, people are no longer surprised why Americans, Canadians, British, Koreans, Thais and other nationalities – many of them experienced fighters – have signed up for Ukraine’s foreign legion to help in the defense of the beleaguered nation. In the words of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Ukraine is “being decimated before the eyes of the world. The impact on civilians is reaching terrifying proportions.”

I had three successive meetings in Washington this past week. A virtual meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, dinner with House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Gregory Meeks and ranking member Michael McCaul, and lunch with White House NSC Senior Director Edgard Kagan, with all of the meetings inevitably leading to discussions about the Ukrainian situation, its effect on us and where we can help on the humanitarian aspect. According to the UNICEF, more than three million people have been displaced since the war in Ukraine started, with children comprising over 1.5 million of the refugees in the past 20 days alone. And while there has been massive support from communities in neighboring countries like Poland, Hungary, Romania and others, there is danger from traffickers who are on the lookout for young prey.

Damage to infrastructure is estimated at $100 billion and counting, said the UN Development Program, warning that if the conflict drags on, it could wreck almost two decades of economic progress. “The war in Ukraine is causing unimaginable human suffering with a tragic loss of life and the displacement of millions… There is still time to halt this grim trajectory,” said UNDP administrator Achim Steiner.

No one really knows when this will end, but people are still hopeful that it will be sooner than later. As pointed out by UN Secretary-General Guterres, this war goes far beyond Ukraine. It is impacting the whole world, especially developing nations that are still suffering from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many Americans were touched when, after showing a heartbreaking video of the once-vibrant cities in Ukraine and the desolation brought by the invasion, the Ukrainian president told the US Congress: “Now, I am almost 45 years old. Today my age stopped when the hearts of more than 100 children stopped beating. I see no sense in life if it cannot stop the deaths.”

Whatever the outcome is, the people of Ukraine – and perhaps the world – will suffer. A quote from former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain aptly describes it: “In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers.”

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