I'm a huge fan of Volodymyr Zelensky and the Ukrainian people. They've fought against Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine with amazing skill, valor, and determination.
Since the war began on February 24, Zelensky has led his country almost perfectly. He inspires both Ukrainians and the entire freedom-loving world with his words and actions. And yet...
A special report in the May 9 issue of TIME magazine, "Inside Zelensky's World," describes how close a bad decision by Zelensky came to imperiling Ukraine in the first few days of the war.
The error was ignoring the obvious evidence that Russia was planning to invade Ukraine. The story says about the morning of the invasion:
For months Zelensky had downplayed warnings from Washington that Russia was about to invade. Now he registered the fact that an all-out war had broken out, but could not yet grasp the totality of what it meant. "Maybe these words sound vague or pompous," says Stefanchuk. "But we sensed the order of the world collapsing."
Until I read the TIME story, I wasn't aware of the disaster that almost befell Zelensky and Ukraine in those first few days of the war, since Ukraine hadn't prepared for the invasion.
Beyond the checkpoints is the government district [in Kyiv], known as the Triangle, which Russian forces tried to seize at the start of the invasion.
...It soon became clear the presidential offices were not the safest place to be. The military informed Zelensky that Russian strike teams had parachuted into Kyiv to kill or capture him and his family.
...As Ukrainian troops fought the Russians back in the streets, the presidential guard tried to seal the compound with whatever they could find. A gate at the rear entrance was blocked with a pile of police barricades and plywood boards, resembling a mound of junkyard scrap more than a fortification.
...As night fell that first evening, gunfights broke out around the government quarter. Guards inside the compound shut the lights and brought bulletproof vests and assault rifles for Zelensky and about a dozen of his aides. Only a few knew how to handle the weapons.
One was Oleksiy Arestovych, a veteran of Ukraine's military intelligence service. "It was an absolute madhouse," he told me. "Automatics for everyone." Russian troops, he says, made two attempts to storm the compound. Zelensky later told me that his wife and children were still there at the time.
Reading this got me to thinking about the parallel between Zelensky denying the evidence that Russia was about to invade his country, which left Ukraine worse off than if preparations to repel an invasion had been taking place during those months of denial, and how people in the United States are failing to grasp the evidence that Republicans are busily working to undermine our democracy.
So far the pitiful response of Congressional Democrats and President Biden to GOP efforts to take away voting rights, set the stage for overturning the 2024 presidential election if a Democrat wins, and stack the Supreme Court with highly partisan right-wing justices willing to stand by and allow our democracy to be trashed is painfully like the frantic efforts to protect Zelensky's compound.
Piles of barricades and boards wouldn't have been enough to stop Russian troops without a combination of Russian incompetence and Ukrainian fortitude. Yet too many people in the United States are hoping, as Zelensky did, that the worst isn't going to happen, even though there's lots of evidence that it will.
Two of those people, sadly, are Democratic Senators Manchin and Sinema, who are standing in the way of doing away with the archaic Senate filibuster that's preventing Democrats from taking steps to protect our democracy in the short time remaining when this can occur, since Republicans likely will take back at least the House in November of this year, and perhaps the Senate also.
For months Zelensky looked at Russian troops massing on the border of Ukraine and thought, there's no way Putin would order a full-scale invasion of my country.
For years too many Democrats have been looking at Republican efforts to undermine our elections and thinking, there's no way Trump and his GOP cronies would order a dismantling of our democracy.
The next thing Zelensky knew, his guards were fighting Russian paratroopers at the gates of his compound. What I fear is that the American people are going to discount warnings of a Republican assault on democracy until that battle has gone too far to stop it from succeeding.