I had never seen a mass grave before

I had never seen a mass grave before

On the grounds of the St. Andrews Orthodox Church in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, the bodies of 116 Ukrainian civilians murdered by Russian troops, were dumped.  The church itself sustained minor damage during the month-long Russian occupation of the town. 

By the time I arrived in Bucha on Monday, March 27, the bodies had been exhumed for examination and proper reburial.  The church itself, incomplete and devoid of furniture, houses a series of vivid photos mounted on easels, telling the story of what happened to the people of Bucha.

Russia’s illegal invasion – it violates countless treaties and charters Russia has signed – brings the horror of the second World War not seen on the continent since the wars which followed Yugoslavia’s breakup in the 1990’s. 

Make no mistake: Russia’s full-scale invasion has nothing to do with “NATO expansion” or “denazifying” Ukraine.  These are cover stories intended to mask Russian President Vladimir Putin’s real intention: to resurrect the Soviet Union and communist bloc with the help of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), North Korea, and Iran.

While Russia feigns strength and confidence, such displays are intended to distract from the country’s deep weaknesses and failings.  Just as the Soviet Union exaggerated its economic and military might, so Russia has exaggerated its ability to project soft and hard power.

Despite all the bluster, Russia remains a very poor country – particularly outside of the Moscow and St. Petersburg metropolitan areas.  Roughly 20% of Russians have no indoor plumbing.  Early footage of the war saw countless Russian troops hauling washing machines out of Ukrainians’ homes to bring back to Russia.

As Ukraine reforms and looks west, it is bound to accelerate well ahead of Russians in terms of economic growth, and quality of life for its citizens.  While Russians are saddled with an aging dictatorship, Putin has been in power for 24 years, Ukrainians openly debate their country’s future, and vote in serious, contested elections. 

At some point, as Ukraine moves forward, the Russians next door will begin to ask, why can’t we?  As Ukraine reforms and links its economy with the rest of Europe, the same capitalist system, combined with free markets and individual liberty, will have the same results for its people that it has had everywhere else these principles have been tried.

A modern, successful, and prosperous Ukraine is a threat to Russian crony capitalism and dictatorship, and one which Vladimir Putin cannot tolerate. 

Putin’s war is going badly – originally intended to be wrapped up in 72 hours, Russian forces are bogged down, sacrificing in recent weeks over 30,000 lives to gain a few square kilometers around the obscure town of Bakhmut.  Ukraine’s people, and its men and women in uniform, armed with western military support, have stopped and rolled back the Russian advance, regaining over 20% of the lands Russia seized since the invasion last February.

Military support from the United States and our allies gives Ukraine’s military the ability to leverage its smaller number of troops to roll back the larger Russian army.  The choice before us as Americans is whether we continue to provide that military equipment – and more – to end this war through victory, and save lives in the process, or if we, through silence, consent to more Buchas.

Then there is reconstruction.

We must not blunder, yet again, on the international stage.  Our enemies fill our leadership-devoid power vacuums.  The Islamic Republic of Iran usurped American blood, sweat, and treasure expended in Iraq.  When the fall of Afghanistan began, China was making deals with the Taliban.  As the world increasingly looks east, Beijing is eyeing another coup: to broker a peace deal between Ukraine and Russia and lead its post-war economic reconstruction.  Though the CCP’s ‘12 Point Peace Plan’ is vague, its aim is not.

China has already amassed a wealth of worldwide construction knowledge and expertise through its trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).  Ukraine joined the BRI in 2014 and opened a trade and investment center in Kyiv in 2018.  In destroyed Mariupol, COFCO, China’s state-owned agribusiness giant, invested $50 million to add to its agricultural shipping capacity and Chinese companies also have been involved in projects to dredge Ukrainian ports north and south of Odessa.  In 2021, Ukrainian and Chinese trade revenue doubled the next closest nation.  Despite the war, China remains Ukraine’s largest economic trading partner.

A Beijing-brokered peace would fortify its global standing and its foothold on the continent.  The United States would be further weakened, particularly after the West has spent hundreds of billions of dollars repelling Russia’s full-scale military invasion.

Communism is a vile scourge on humanity.  President Ronald Reagan saw that and helped lead the free world against it.  We, too, have a chance to lead the free world against Putin’s attempt to resurrect the Soviet Union and communist bloc and Xi’s aim to supplant the United States as the leading superpower. 

Will our political leaders display the steadfast courage and leadership necessary to see this through?  Just as Ronald Reagan did, so too, shall we.

6 April 2023