While Russia lacks an effective long-range strike drone, Ukraine’s experimentation has produced an array of inexpensive, plastic aircraft, jury-rigged to drop grenades or other munitions.

By Andrew E. Kramer

Aug. 10, 2022

The New York Times

POKROVSKE, Ukraine — A private in the Ukrainian army unfolded the rotors of a common hobby drone and, with practiced calm, attached a grenade to a device that can drop objects and was designed for commercial drone deliveries.  After takeoff, the private, Bohdan Mazhulenko, who goes by the nickname Raccoon, sits casually on the rim of a trench, as green fields pocked with artillery craters scroll by on his tablet. “Now we will try to find them,” he said of the Russians.

For years, the United States has deployed drones in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Turkish drones played a decisive role in fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020.

But these were large, expensive weapons. Ukraine, in contrast, has adapted a wide array of small craft ranging from quadro-copters, with four rotors, to midsize fixed-wing drones, using them to drop bombs and spot artillery targets.

Ukraine still uses advanced military drones supplied by its allies for observation and attack, but along the front line the bulk of its drone fleet consists of off-the-shelf products or hand-built in workshops around Ukraine — myriad inexpensive, plastic units adapted to drop grenades or anti-tank munitions.

It’s part of a flourishing corner of innovation by Ukraine’s military, which has seized on drone warfare to counter Russia’s advantage in artillery and tanks. Makeshift workshops experiment with 3-D printed materials, and Ukrainian coders have made workarounds for electronic countermeasures the Russians use to track radio signals. The fixed-wing Punisher, a high-end military drone manufactured in Ukraine, can strike from more than 30 miles away.

Ukraine has long embraced drones to try to achieve a technological edge as it fought as an underdog against Russian-backed separatists in the war in the country’s east. Before Russia’s invasion in February, Ukraine’s military bought Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones, the most lethal pilotless craft in the country’s arsenal. In a sign of appreciation, one Ukrainian woman named her baby boy Bayraktar.

In a bit of innovative marketing that earns some money, too, the Ukrainian company that makes the Punisher drone allows people to pay about $30 to send a written message on the bombs it drops. The ploy taps into people’s anger at Russia, said Yevhen Bulatsev, a founder of the company, UA Dynamics, which donates the drones to the military.

Among the more popular messages, he said, are names of killed friends, hometowns lost to occupation, or people’s own names along with a note saying “hello from.”  “A lot of people want to express hard feelings,” he said. “It’s quite a good thing. It helps people psychologically.”

After Russia invaded, the United States and European allies donated strike and observation drones to Ukraine, including the Switchblade, an American munition that hovers over a battlefield until a tank or other target comes into view, then dives down to blow it up.

Out in the fields and tree lines of eastern Ukraine, drones have become ubiquitous on the Ukrainian side, outnumbering, soldiers say, Russia’s arsenal of pilotless craft. Drones have almost wholly replaced reconnaissance patrols and are used daily to drop ordnance.

The Ukrainians refer to the drones buzzing back and forth over no-man’s-land as “mosquitoes.” And on a recent, sweltering summer afternoon at a position dug into a tree line of oak and acacia, a drone strike was the only military action, other than distant artillery shelling.  “You don’t always find personnel, but you can hit trenches or equipment,” Private Mazhulenko said as he sent the drone off to find a target. The battery allows it to hover for about 10 minutes.

Private Mazhulenko’s controller beeped. Russian electronic countermeasures had jammed the drone’s signal. On autopilot, the drone tried to fly back to the Ukrainian position. The private regained control and sent it toward Russian lines again. “Come on, come on, Raccoon, drop it,” Private Mazhulenko’s comrades urged, watching the screen over his shoulder.

The radio crackled from another Ukrainian position that heard the buzzing, and Private Mazhulenko’s group radioed back not to worry — it is “our mosquito.”

A Russian trench came into view. But the signal went down again. Out of battery, he guided the drone back, catching it in the air with one hand, then pulling the detonator from the grenade. Such flights are repeated several times a day. “Only with technology we can win,” said Yuri Bereza, a commander of the Dnipro-1 unit in the Ukrainian National Guard, whose soldiers run a workshop building small bombs for drones at their frontline base.

Drones are a significant bright spot for the Ukrainian army. Russia has an effective observation drone, the Orlan-10, used to direct artillery fire at Ukrainian targets, but no effective, long-range strike drone akin to the Bayraktar — a notable shortcoming for a major military power. Russian troops also fly consumer drones but have fewer of them, Ukrainian soldiers say.

The Russian army instead leans on blunt force, deploying legacy heavy weaponry like artillery and tanks, and has been less nimble in adapting consumer technology to the battlefield. It also lacks the flow of small commercial drones donated by nongovernmental groups and even relatives and friends of soldiers that have poured to Ukrainian frontline units.

Private Mazhulenko’s steady hand notwithstanding, rigging a hobby drone to drop explosives is a nerve-racking task. Preparing the grenade to explode at its target requires dismantling safety features. On the most common type of grenade used by Ukrainian drone operators, three safety

devices, including a small metal plate protecting the firing pin from accidentally striking the primer, are taken out and thrown away. This is done with hacksaws and pliers in workshops.

Accidents have happened, said Taras Chyorny, a drone armorer working in Kyiv, recalling colleagues who had lost fingers while handling the grenades. He has experimented with various makeshift detonators and settled on a nail molded into Play-Doh kneaded into the shape of a nose cone. The downside: the grenade might explode if dropped while handling.  “It’s better to do it in an atmosphere that is calm,” he said of the tinkering.

The end result is a black tube, like a fat cigar. The Ukrainians glue on aerodynamic fins — sometimes made from a 3-D printer — to cause the grenade to drop straight down, improving accuracy. At the front, pilots such as Private Mazhulenko arm and rig the grenade before each flight.

The grenade is carried on a commercial accessory designed for dropping items, such as water balloons or small packages for drone deliveries. The drop is activated by pressing a button to turn on the drone’s landing light.

Small adaptations to tactics, designs of the explosive, flight patterns and launch and retrieval have all improved over the past five months, according to a commander in an Azov unit that flies drones. “There’s a boom in experimentation,” said the commander, who used the nickname Botsman. With the risk of drones buzzing over their positions at any time, he said, Russian soldiers “cannot eat and cannot sleep. The stress leads them to make mistakes.”

One of the larger workshops in Kyiv, called Dronarnia, takes orders online from military officers seeking customized drones, some large enough to drop 18-pound bombs. The group is financed by crowdsourced donations. Other workshops have raffled off kitchenware to raise money.

Ukrainian officials have been flaunting their drone advantage. The country’s deputy minister of digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, hosted a presentation in Kyiv last week of what he called the “army of drones,” showing off an array of donated craft.

It included the Fly Eye 3, a state-of-the-art reconnaissance drone donated by a Polish special operations team and hobby drones of various types donated by people around the world — including children — wanting to support Ukraine. All would be sent to the front to fight the Russians, Mr. Fedorov said.

A nongovernmental group, Frontline Care, came up with the idea of selling messages on the six-pound bombs dropped by the Punisher drone. A website allows clients to pay by credit card and enter a message. The project is called Boomboard.

Svitlana, an office manager who did not want to disclose her last name out of security concerns, heard about the website through a friend. Clients can donate as much as they like for a message, but a minimum is 1,000 hryvnia, or about $25. Svitlana paid with her Visa card to write “For the unborn children” on a bomb. She was angry, she said, about the war disrupting her plans to have children with her husband, who is now serving as a soldier. Also, Russian troops occupied her hometown in northern Ukraine. “For me it’s really personal,” she said. “I never thought I would

sponsor a weapon. I really believe that democracy and peace can give us a better life. But now I understand, without weapons we cannot defend our country.”


Yurii Shyvala contributed reporting from Pokrovske and Maria Varenikova and Natalia Yermak from Kyiv.

Andrew E. Kramer is a reporter covering the countries of the former Soviet Union. He was part of a team that won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting for a series on Russia’s covert projection of power. @AndrewKramerNYT



August 12, 2022

by Illia Ponomarenko

The Kyiv Independent


Russian heavy artillery — the Kremlin’s deadliest weapon against Ukraine — is still a superior force that has no mercy.  Almost six months into the full-scale invasion, Russian advances remain generally stalled. But despite much effort with Western-provided advanced weaponry, Russia’s artillery force is still inflicting heavy losses on Ukraine and goes unanswered much too often.

Counter-battery fire, the tactic of hunting for and firing at the enemy’s artillery pieces, remains a weak spot in Ukraine’s military.

The Russian military indeed enjoys very strong numerical superiority. But Ukraine, in turn, often lacks proper organization of counter-battery activities on the battlefield. It also falls short of qualified top-level specialists.

As a result, Russian artillery continues to devastate Ukrainian lines, causing Ukrainian infantry to pay an inflating price in blood.

New found power

A lot has changed since Ukraine ran out of its old Soviet-standard munitions stock as early as June. It had to essentially switch to NATO-standard munitions of foreign supplies and acquire dozens of Western-provided artillery pieces — and it had to do it fast.  Fortunately, this transitional period, one of the war’s most dramatic moments, was quick.  If it weren’t for scores of Western artillery pieces like U.S.-provided M777s and extensive munition supplies, Kyiv would have been beyond hopeless at this point.

Russia’s numerical superiority, and its endless munitions stock, the result of decades of Soviet production, have had a devastating effect on the course of the war.  Russian tactics of rolling artillery barrage, simple but brutal and overwhelming, have paved the way for Russian infantry through charred Ukrainian ruins. It has left many cities in ashes. The disproportion between the number of Russian and Ukrainian pieces deployed to a particular front line area can go as far as 10 to 1.

But the acquisition of Western artillery, which is technologically superior to older Soviet pieces used by Russia, has saved Ukraine’s defensive campaign.  Of even more significant effect was the ongoing campaign to destroy dozens of Russian munition and fuel depots across the occupied territories of Ukraine with U.S.-provided HIMARS rocket systems.  The HIMARS campaign expectedly did not cause total munitions hunger in the Russian military. But it made Russia’s problematic logistics even more complicated and greatly reduced its ready-to-go munition stocks.

According to estimates by Ukrainian artillery commanders polled by the Kyiv Independent, daily Russian munition expenditure in Ukraine’s east has been reduced from nearly 12,000-15,000 rounds to nearly 5,000-6,000, quite a relief to Ukraine’s military. The fight between the two nations’ artillery forces has been beyond brutal.

According to Oryx, an investigation project documenting war losses in Ukraine, Russia has lost at least 75 towed artillery pieces (including 32 152-millimeter 2A65 Msta-B howitzers) and at least 152 self-propelled pieces (including 46 152-millimeter 2S3 Akatsiya and 58 152-millimeter 2S19 Msta-S heavy pieces).

Ukraine’s losses are also significant: Oryx has documented at least 50 towed and 51 self-propelled artillery pieces being destroyed, damaged, or abandoned. Oryx also knows of eight M777A2 pieces destroyed or damaged, formerly part of over 100 pieces sent to Ukraine by the U.S., Australia, and Canada.  However, it should be noted that on both sides, not all artillery pieces were lost to counter-battery fire.

According to estimates by Ukrainian experts, Russian numerical superiority has been somewhat reduced. Ukraine currently deploys nearly 500 artillery pieces against over 2,000 Russian systems. Some limited supplies of 152-millimeter rounds from former Warsaw Treaty nations re-enabled some of the older Soviet-standard Ukrainian pieces.

A weak spot

The progress was notable, but the introduction of superior Western systems has not brought radical changes in Russian superiority.  Russian artillery is still extremely overwhelming and deadly as it continues to shell its way through Ukrainian defenses with extreme power.  Yet another wake-up call occurred on Aug. 2, just days after the Russian-led militants launched a massive offensive in the town of Pisky, a ruined suburb just northwest of occupied Donetsk next to the city’s destroyed airport.

Amid fierce hostilities, Serhiy Gnezdilov, a squad leader with Ukraine’s 21st Motorized Infantry Battalion Sarmat, published a headline-making post on his Facebook page.

The soldier’s message, full of desperation and anger, describes the horrific situation in Pisky, attacked by Russians.

Within less than 24 hours, according to Gnezdilov, Russian artillery fired nearly 6,500 rounds upon Ukrainian defenses in the town.  “It’s beyond one’s understanding how some of our infantry manages to survive under this burst of enemy fire,” he wrote.

Russian artillery methodically destroyed Ukrainian concrete defenses without facing any resistance from the Ukrainian side. Ukrainian counter-battery was not working at all, according to the message.  “It’s a f*cking slaughter in which the battalion personnel is just deterring the offensive with their bodies,” the soldier wrote.

The Facebook post triggered a stir in Ukrainian media. Shortly after, the Ukrainian command sent reinforcements that gradually stabilized the situation in Pisky. Russian forces currently have nearly a third of the town under their control, following over two weeks of brutal combat.

Despite all the damage done by HIMARSs, Russia, especially in the Donbas, is still capable of concentrating its massive artillery power in certain front-line sections.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, serving Ukrainian artillery officers polled by the Kyiv Independent admitted that Ukrainian counter-battery activity remains largely problematic, mainly due to the lack of effective top-level organization.

From their perspective, all main components of counter-battery warfare, especially target acquisition via observation points, radar detection, drones, and sound ranging, need to be

improved. And target acquisition must be better synchronized with artillery pieces reacting fast to destroy revealed Russian weapons.

And all components need to work as a system and in cooperation with infantry units that should be holding the important local high ground points for artillery, which is often not the case, as artillerists said.

In many cases, Russian successes were ensured not by its overwhelming advantage but by a problematic Ukrainian counter-artillery reaction.  “The infantry has paid for those flaws with its blood,” a Ukrainian artillery officer told the Kyiv Independent.

Competent command

Today’s Ukrainian top command structure does not have a specific command and control body responsible exclusively for artillery.  Similarly to the General Staff, neither of the four Ukrainian main operational command  headquarters (“North,” “South,” “East,” “West”) have command in charge of artillery.  This is the result of decentralization in the military – the restructuring that was made in an attempt to step away from the over-centralized Soviet military system and towards Western practices.

Before decentralization, top-level structures like army corps command were directly responsible for organizing and running counter-battery warfare. Brigade-level artillery command, in the meantime, was responsible for supporting the infantry on battlefields rather than hunting hostile artillery. Now, due to lack of centralized command overseeing artillery, there’s inconsistency among the Ukrainian units and they have to fix it, says Oleh Zhdanov, a Kyiv-based retired senior artillery officer. “Each of the larger front line sectors — like Donbas, Zaporizhzhia, or Kherson — should have at least one or two artillery brigades, that’s four artillery battalions,” Zhdanov said.  “An artillery brigade would be responsible exclusively for counter-battery warfare within the front line’s 100-150-kilometer-long section. It would work as part of the general reconnaissance system. As its forces get fresh data — it immediately goes out to suppress a Russian battery.”

Zhdanov says that each of Ukraine’s operational command headquarters should have a competent artillery department responsible for counter-battery warfare within their sectors.

But this process also needs to be properly organized, with effective communication between the brain and the muscle, to be able to destroy Russia’s most significant advantage over Ukraine.  “The move towards Western methods of working is happening,” said Glen Grant, a retired British Army officer and former adviser to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense. “But it is hampered by lack of communications, poor organizational structures, and still the heavy hand of the old concepts. What is missing still for Ukraine is to complete the decentralization of control artillery by improving the radio links, creating, equipping, and training more front line observer teams for battalions,” he said.

Grant continued, saying that there is a vital need to create a separate trade of artillery intelligence and ensure that they operate in all brigades and have direct radio or Wi-Fi links to every possible source of data about enemy artillery.  “Finally, we need a high-flying drone flying back from the enemy lines 50-100 kilometers with sideways-looking sensors to identify artillery positions and movement. Some of this is in place, but a better system will save lives and help win the war.”




August 12, 2022

“On 9 August 2022, explosions occurred at the Russian-operated Saky military airfield in western Crimea,” the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in this morning’s situation report. Exactly how Ukraine carried out the attack remains unknown. The open-source imagery shows damage that looks consistent with either missile strikes or sabotage, and Ukrainian officials are content to leave that ambiguity in place. “The original cause of the blasts is unclear, but the large mushroom clouds visible in eyewitness video were almost certainly from the detonation of up to four uncovered munition storage areas. At least five Su-24 FENCER fighter-bombers and three Su-30 FLANKER H multi-role jets were almost certainly destroyed or seriously damaged in the blasts,” the MoD said. “Saky’s central dispersal area has suffered serious damage, but the airfield probably remains serviceable. The loss of eight combat jets represents a minor proportion of the overall fleet of aircraft Russia has available to support the war. However, Saky was primarily used as a base for the aircraft of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet. The fleet’s naval aviation capability is now significantly degraded. The incident will likely prompt the Russian military to revise its threat perception. Crimea has probably been seen as a secure rear-area.” The MoD cautiously estimates the number of aircraft destroyed at eight, but other assessments range as high as twenty, which the Telegraph calls the “biggest loss of aircraft in a single day since [the] Second World War.”

In addition to being regarded as a secure rear area, Crimea was also seen as a tourist destination. Russian civilians in occupied Crimea haven’t been targeted, but the explosions in the Saky strike were easily visible from the peninsula’s beaches. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has posted a video inviting Russian tourists to leave and vacation elsewhere. The Telegraph explains, “In the wake of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, the peninsula was promoted, by Kremlin propaganda, as the beach break destination of choice amongst aspirational Russians.” There are reports of traffic jams on highways leading from Crimea to Russia as Russian citizens leave what they now perceive as an active theater of operations.

Ukrainian promotion of tourism has long had an odd quality. One of our staffers spent some time in the country a few years ago and recalls seeing a television ad that went something like this: “Scythians…Mongols…Vikings…Russians…Turks…Germans…Everybody has always wanted to come to Ukraine!” The listed visitors are, of course, proverbially cruel invaders, with the possible exception of the Scythians. The text was displayed over pictures of attractive Ukrainian landscapes. The ad was either hopelessly clueless or some very clever irony indeed. It’s impossible to imagine the chamber of commerce of, say, Ocean City – Maryland or New Jersey – coming up with the post-modern likes of it.

Elsewhere, Reuters reports that the Belarusian government has attributed the explosions heard yesterday at an airbase and Russian staging area near the Ukrainian border to a “technical incident.” The Belarusian Defense Ministry explained, “the engine of a vehicle caught fire after replacement. There were no casualties.” Given that there were several explosions heard, and heard at a

distance of several kilometers, one wonders what sort of engine they were working on. But the explanation is not much more plausible than the Russian attribution of the damage to the airfield at Saky to the careless disposition of a cigarette, as if a heedless troop happened to drop his lit Belomor Kanal into a fuel distribution point. Ukraine has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement in either incident, but this newly felt insecurity in the Russian communications zone did move Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak to tweet, “The epidemic of technical accidents at military airfields of Crimea and Belarus should be considered by the Russian military as a warning: forget about Ukraine, take off the uniform and leave. Neither in occupied Crimea nor in occupied Belarus will you feel safe. Karma finds you anywhere.”




Yet plenty of Western intellectuals and politicians still ignore what Moscow is saying loud and clear.

By Alexey Kovalev

August 12, 2022

Foreign Policy


One of my most revealing interviews covering Russia’s war on Ukraine was with Polina Kovalevskaya. Along with her parents and two sisters, she was a refugee from Mariupol, the Ukrainian city with a prewar population of almost 450,000 that was besieged by Russian forces for almost three months. After three horrific weeks of hiding in basements during incessant Russian shelling, the family managed to escape the city, which was already a mass grave and charred ruin by then. When I asked them for a photo of their former home, they sent me a video instead. In the clip, amid a vast expanse of smoldering rubble, a Russian tank fires point-blank at an apartment building that was somehow still standing. Part of the building implodes, adding to the total devastation for miles and miles around. “This was our home,” Kovalevskaya told me when describing the video.

What makes the video so chilling wasn’t just the fact that targeting civilians is a war crime. It’s that the clip bears the unmistakable logo of RT, the Russian channel that started off in 2005 as a mostly benign attempt to improve Russia’s international image and ended up as a domestic disinformation bullhorn. The video’s unequivocal message: This is what we’re doing in Ukraine, and we’re not even going to pretend anything else.

Yet six months into this brutal war, there are still plenty of Western intellectuals, politicians, journalists, and activists willfully ignoring what Russia itself is telling them again and again, loud and clear. As a Russian journalist now in exile, I find this willful ignorance of my country deeply disturbing. Some of these pundits insist that there is a “peaceful” solution—which usually translates to stopping weapons deliveries to Ukraine and leaving the country to Russian leader Vladimir Putin to pick apart—or that the conflict is about the Kremlin’s “interests” or “security concerns.” All the while, the evidence of Russia’s actual goals and war crimes in Ukraine has become ever more overwhelming.

A considerable part of this evidence comes from Russia’s own propaganda sources, including TASS news agency photographers in occupied areas where foreigners and Russian independent media are not allowed. A host of Russian state media outlets have been meticulously documenting their military’s atrocities, with the footage presented to Russians and the world as an achievement and underlined with an incessant stream of genocidal rhetoric. One has to be actively and systematically avoiding reality to claim that the invasion is anything other than a horrific crime bordering on genocide—and all of it committed by choice. The war will end when Putin chooses to end it—or is forced to do so. The alternative is the destruction of Ukraine, which Putin and countless Russian public figures have unequivocally said is not a real country and doesn’t deserve to exist.

Still, some Western advocates of appeasement will offer perfunctory condemnations before then spending many times more column inches on diverting the blame from Putin to the United States, the West, NATO, or all of the above. With that kind of argument, they would have enthusiastic allies in the Kremlin. On Russian airwaves, the story goes that it was the Ukrainians who forced the invasion on Russia by supposedly preparing to annihilate Ukraine’s Russian-speaking minority. In psychology, this is called projection.

If, like the political scientist John Mearsheimer, your arguments are being used by Russian state television to prop up the regime’s ridiculous claims that Kyiv and Washington are to blame for this war, you should probably reconsider the intellectual journey that led you to this point. If, like many of the Western leftists obsessed with the NATO war cause theory, you reject imperialism and colonialism as a matter of principle (rather than only its U.S. or British versions), you couldn’t have missed the Kremlin’s detailed public plans for dismantling Ukraine’s sovereignty, Russia’s plundering of faraway lands like Sudan to fund a war of conquest and annihilation, and the Kremlin’s use of ethnic minorities as cannon fodder for the war.

If you think Ukraine has a problem with a nationalist far right, then you might have noticed the unapologetic Hitler worshippers in the ranks of the Russian forces. If, like the British Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn, you promote peace through diplomacy—appeasement-speak for stopping military aid to Ukraine and giving Putin what he wants—you should be aware by now of the realities in the Russian-occupied areas and ask yourself if this is really the fate you are willing to condemn millions of Ukrainians to. You might take it as a sign that you’re on the wrong side of history—and just about anyone’s understanding of ethics, including the right to self-defense—when you have to say out loud that you’re not a Putin puppet.

Scholars can debate the exact definitions of what Russia is doing in Ukraine, but one thing is clear from the most immediate goal of its forces in the area they occupy: The aim is to erase not just Ukraine’s sovereignty as a state (including by annexing the occupied areas) but its very nationhood. Ukrainian place names are erased from maps and street signs, local media are replaced with Russian-language propaganda broadcasts, and students are reeducated under a Russian curriculum by teachers shipped in from Russia. The plan is not secret: It was announced on April 3 in an article in the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency—two days after the Kremlin’s forces retreated from the Kyiv region, leaving behind hundreds of dead civilians who had been raped, tortured, and executed during the monthlong occupation.

Everything in Yale University historian Timothy Snyder’s “genocide handbook” has already been perpetrated in one form or another, including forced Russification and the abduction of thousands of Ukrainian children to be raised as Russians in the motherland. Kremlin-loyalist media are not only cheering all of this on but demanding even more cruelty: A Komsomolskaya Pravda radio host demanded a gulag to be built for Ukrainian teachers who have been refusing to follow the Russia-supplied syllabus. In case anyone has forgotten, gulags were hard labor camps

where an estimated 1.6 million political and other prisoners perished during Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s brutal rule.

The footage my interviewee sent me of her destroyed house closely resembles that in RT’s war documentary Mariupol. The Russian City. If the film’s title is not transparent enough concerning the regime’s ambitions, members of the camera crew also filmed themselves planting the Russian tricolor on the roof of Mariupol’s city council building. Lost to most Russians is the irony that Mariupol, like similarly obliterated Severodonetsk, lies in that part of Ukraine that is supposedly dominated by Russian speakers yearning to be free from Kyiv—yet it has been subjected to the most systematic destruction and cruelty.

For Russians, the consequences of refusing to accept the Kremlin’s line on Ukraine are clear: Harsh censorship laws passed in the immediate aftermath of the Feb. 24 start of the invasion guarantee criminal prosecution for spreading “fake news,” “disparaging” the Russian military, and using the word “war” when describing Putin’s war. (I crossed the border out of Russia on foot with my wife the night before the law went into effect.) Criticizing the war has severe consequences: In July, Moscow City Councilor Alexei Gorinov was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for speaking out against the war. Ilya Yashin, another opposition politician, is currently on trial for anti-war campaigning. The judge demanded a closed hearing to prevent the defendant from gaining “a platform for promoting his anti-war ideas.”

Foreigners are under no such pressure when they align with the Kremlin’s goals in Ukraine. At the very heart of many Western progressives and old-style leftists’ worldview is a reflexive anti-American and anti-Western ideology, which operates from the core premise that no historical crime could ever be graver than those committed by the United States and the European powers. Hence, any anti-American leader has their natural sympathies, and any country supported by the United States—such as Ukraine—becomes deeply suspicious. Since the advent of populist parties in the West, there is also a conservative version of these anti-Western, pro-Russian sentiments—just ask former U.S. President Donald Trump.

But if you find yourself agreeing with Putin solely on the basis of agreeing with his anti-Western stance, it’s probably time to consider other factors, too. When calling for peace, an end to Western support for Ukraine, and meeting Russia’s demands for another country’s land, have you fleshed out what half a genocide might look like? It’s not as if Russia has been especially coy about its intentions in Ukraine. It has been advertising them practically 24/7 on national television. Have you asked actual Ukrainians if what you call a peace would be acceptable to them? In recent polls, more than 80 percent of Ukrainians have consistently rejected any territorial concessions to Russia. If you are a left-wing politician or activist, are you aware of your Ukrainian comrades’ opinions? When calling for peace with Putin, do you realize that displaying symbols of peace is now a prosecutable offense in Russia? Do you know what the occupied areas you’d like to trade for “peace” look like? Russia has made sure that you do.


Alexey Kovalev is an investigative editor at Meduza. Twitter: @Alexey__Kovalev





The Hill

The Putin regime has made it all the way down the rabbit hole. Nonsense is now the name of the game, as the Kremlin’s recently drafted media “recommendations” reveal.

A few weeks ago, Vladimir Putin compared himself to Czar Peter the Great (1672-1725). This time, Putin and his propagandists have compared Czar Vladimir to Prince Alexander Nevsky (1221-1263). Readers may be forgiven for wondering just what the heck is going on with all these megalomaniacal comparisons; it’s as if France’s diminutive President Emmanuel Macron were likening himself to the Sun King, Louis XIV (1638-1715) and the man who defeated the Arab armies at Tours in 731, Charles Martel.

There is a method to Putin’s madness. He is hoping to persuade Russians that he is the latest in a long chain of strongman leaders who, like every czar, deserves the popular adulation due a divinely ordained autocrat placed on earth to protect and exalt Mother Russia. Putin is also drawing on the fact that Alexander defeated the Swedes and the Livonian knights in 1240 and 1242, while Peter crushed Charles XII of Sweden — and his Ukrainian allies — in 1709. The message is clear: Putin, like Alexander and Peter, is defending Russia from the imperialist West and its lackey, Ukraine.

So far, so good. But then, Russia’s propagandists lapse into nonsense by blithely ignoring the embarrassingly obvious contradictions in their overall narrative. Nevsky rejected the West and subordinated his principalities to the Golden Horde — that is, to Asia. In contrast, Peter admired the West and its military and technological innovations, traveled extensively in Europe, and purposely founded the city that bears his name in order to open a “window” to Europe.

Logically, Putin cannot both support and detest the West. Nor can he paint his alliance with China as resembling the “Mongol yoke” so lamented by Russians. But Putin and his propagandists know full well that they can get away with such historical nonsense precisely because their entire ideological message consists of crude contradictions, bald-faced lies, and painfully self-evident exaggerations. The Russian population that imbibes such heady brews resembles the zombified inhabitants of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” who are administered feel-good drugs to rid them of thoughts about their dreary lives.

Like Putin and his minions, these Russians inhabit a “Wonderland” within which things are what Putin says they are. Not surprisingly, polls show that most Russians prefer not to think about the genocidal war they are waging against Ukraine. Far better to swallow some “soma” and forget that you are complicit in a world-historical crime.

Equally preposterous is the Kremlin’s new media line regarding its genocidal war against Ukraine. Naturally, the “recommendations” insist that the war is purely defensive and intended

to stop the godless West from attacking holy Russia. But the truly bizarre part is that the Kremlin also compares the war to the baptism of the Kyivan Rus’ state in 988 and thereby paints itself as the defender of Orthodox Christianity and its values. Once again, readers may wonder what is going on.

As serious historians now recognize, Rus’ was a Kyivan polity centered on the Dnipro River that was only tangentially related to the principalities in the far north, Vladimir, Suzdal, Moscow and Novgorod. Historians may disagree over whether the Kyivan state was proto-Ukrainian or not, but there is no disputing that Kyivan Rus’s relationship to Nevsky, Peter, and their world is analogous to that of Rome to France. Yes, France’s precursor, Gaul, was part of the Roman Empire and no history of France would be complete without reference to Rome. And yet, it would be absurd to suggest that ancient Rome is more a part of French history then of Italian history. Is it any wonder that the grand prince who brought Christianity to Kyivan Rus’ spelled his name Volodymyr — as does Ukraine’s President Zelensky — and not Vladimir, as in Putin?

What really takes the cake is Putin’s desire to paint himself as a defender of Russian Orthodoxy. On the one hand, he’s absolutely correct to point out that the Putin state and the Russian Orthodox Church — and its apostate patriarch, Kirill — do indeed share the same values: the veneration of wanton death and destruction in Ukraine. On the other hand, some Russian believers must still hold dear the Ten Commandments and reject Putin’s and Kirill’s indifference to humanity and humility.

Of course, that contradiction doesn’t matter in Putin’s rabbit hole. The Kremlin’s propagandists don’t care whether what they say or write makes sense to thoughtful people, because they know that many Russians have ceased to think. One day, it’s possible that the capacity for critical thought will reappear in the Muscovite state. If and when it does, Russians will realize that they have been living a bloody lie for all of Putin’s unhappy reign. The moment of reckoning will be painful indeed, and no amount of soma will assuage it.


Alexander J. Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, as well as “Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires” and “Why Empires Reemerge: Imperial Collapse and Imperial Revival in Comparative Perspective.”



Michael Weiss and James Rushton

August 11, 2022

Yahoo News

How did Ukraine blow up Russia’s Saki Air Base in southwest Crimea on Tuesday? Was it with supersonic ballistic missiles, perhaps made in the United States? Or did it send a SEAL Team 6-style special ops, dropped deep behind enemy lines, to set explosions?

Whatever it was, Ukrainians on social media haven’t been this excited since their military sank the Moskva, the flagship cruiser of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, in April. As many as nine Russian warplanes were annihilated on Tuesday, according to Ukraine’s Air Force.

Russian soldiers, notoriously disguised as “little green men,” invaded Crimea in March 2014, weeks after protests in Kyiv erupted over Ukraine’s then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s about-face on further integrating the country with the European Union. Russian President Vladimir Putin later acknowledged in a Russian documentary the stealth takeover and annexation of Ukraine’s peninsula on the Black Sea, which is about the size of Massachusetts. Since then, Crimea has been promoted on Russian state media much as it was during the Soviet era, as a popular summer seaside destination — within Russia.

That is why the psychological impact of the attack on Saki Air Base may have packed the biggest bang.

Photographs have gone viral of discombobulated Russian holiday makers scrambling out of their cabana on the beach against the backdrop of a huge, dark plume of smoke, as have videos of a miles-long traffic jam of vacationers hurrying back to Russia along the only bridge system connecting the country to Crimea.

In one video, a Russian woman weeps from the back seat of her car: “I don’t want to leave Crimea. How cool it is here.”

Even more delightful to Ukrainians is how Russian state media quickly dismissed the event, claiming the explosions were a result of “poor fire safety,” an explanation that Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense mocked by reiterating the “prohibition of smoking in unspecified places.”

Moscow’s denials that any aircraft were damaged in the subsequent fire also collapsed as quickly as Crimea’s tourist season.

An Su-24 fighter bomber shown lying on a blackened tarmac on Tuesday was clearly destroyed. And satellite imagery now confirms the extent of the devastation, which may be even greater than what Ukraine’s Air Force assessed. The base is littered with the burned-out husks of 15 to 20 costly Russian aircraft.

Saki Air Base was constructed in typical Soviet style, with hardened ammunition bunkers and blast-protected parking for each aircraft. The purpose of such measures was to minimize the

effect of either an enemy attack or the kind of accident the Kremlin says just occurred. Yet satellite images of the base taken just days earlier show many of the blast-protected hardstands not being used. A number of Russian warplanes were simply parked next to one another on the airport’s apron.

A senior Ukrainian Ministry of Defense official confirmed Kyiv’s responsibility to Yahoo News within hours of the attack. “It’s just getting warmed up,” he said, indicating that more operations like this one are in the offing. But he wouldn’t say how. “I’m not ready to comment yet, sorry.” Which hasn’t stopped rampant speculation among analysts, journalists and casual war-watchers.

The attack took place at a considerable range from Ukrainian lines, about 180 miles. That fact alone would suggest that if a missile were to have been fired, it wasn’t something that was previously in the Ukrainian arsenal, or at any rate known to be. Defending forces have not demonstrated the capacity to strike at targets this far inside Russian-held positions before.

So maybe the Ukrainian military held onto its big ammo for six months. Or maybe the munition used was an indigenously developed weapons system that the Ukrainians have brought online since the start of the war. Or maybe it was something supplied by Western partners, unadvertised in public security assistance packages.

The most prominent outstanding request from Kyiv is the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), a highly accurate tactical ballistic missile, which can be fired from any of the Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) sent to Ukraine in the past months, including the much-celebrated U.S. M142 HIMARS. But at the Aspen Security Forum on July 22, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan ruled out providing ATACMS to Ukraine, citing a fear of escalation with Russia, which might lead the United States to be “heading down the road towards a third world war.”

Could ATACMS have been sent to Ukraine covertly?

It’s possible but unlikely, given that the Russians could identify wreckage of the missile, prompting some awkward press conferences at the White House. However, there is precedent for the United States to supply sophisticated matériel to the Ukrainians that hasn’t been announced in any of the itemized Pentagon packages.

On Aug. 8, the Pentagon revealed the provision of AGM-88 HARMs missiles to Ukraine, sophisticated radar-hunting munitions that home in on signals emitted by air defense systems, destroying them, or at least forcing them to stop operating. The revelation followed visual evidence of the Russians’ recovering debris from an expended AGM-88 in the field.

The Ukrainians have also given messages — possibly deceptive — about the attack as part of their psychological warfare program. One unnamed official told the New York Times that “a device exclusively of Ukrainian manufacture was used” to pound Saki.

The most likely candidate among these systems would be the Hrim-2, a short-range ballistic missile that has been known to be under development in Ukraine but was not known to have reached operational status. With an on-paper range of over 300 miles and a 1,100-pound

warhead, the missile has twice the destructive capability and a longer range than the most sophisticated ATACMS currently produced by the United States.

One issue, however: The Hrim-2 is not meant to be ready yet. That raises the intriguing possibility that the United States or another Western partner gave technical or financial assistance to get the project across the finish line. Thomas Theiner, a former artillery specialist in the Italian army, told Yahoo News that one major advantage the U.S. could provide to a domestic Ukrainian missile would be GPS guidance systems to improve its targeting accuracy.

“U.S. GPS guidance systems are so top-secret, the U.S. has sold them to no one,” Theiner said. “You can only get the missiles with the guidance kit installed.”

He added that Italy incorporated American GPS technology in its TESEO anti-ship missiles, but that this entailed U.S. engineers coming to Italy to install the guidance systems without allowing their Italian counterparts to look inside. “They only got the handbooks for the software. If the U.S. did the same with the Ukrainian Hrim-2, they’d ensure that any American tech would be destroyed upon impact and therefore unrecoverable by the Russians.”

Then again, maybe this attack wasn’t so high-tech after all.

The Washington Post cited an unnamed Ukrainian official it had interviewed who stated that Ukrainian special forces were responsible for the Saki sortie. If that’s true, then not only are Ukrainian commandos able to infiltrate Crimea by land, sea or air, but they can do so undetected and employ some form of loitering munition to carry out a major explosion. There was no audible gunfire or any reports of a firefight in the vicinity of Saki Air Base, nor any reports of casualties or POWs hinted at from either side. So that indicates that any Ukrainian special forces made it out all right, too.

Regardless of the weapon or tactic used by the Ukrainians to strike Saki Air Base, the very fact that they were able to do so considerably elevates Russia’s vulnerability on the battlefield. Ukraine hasn’t conducted any known military operations in Crimea since the unmarked Russian soldiers seized it in March 2014. That means that territory previously deemed safe for the occupiers is now demonstrably not so.

The Russians will not know how many munitions of similar capability the Ukrainians possess, and will therefore probably be compelled to adapt their force posture accordingly. At the very least, it seems probable that surviving high-value Russian fixed-wing assets, such as the Su-30SMs (price tag: $50 million), would be withdrawn to air bases farther away.

That will hinder Russia’s defensive capability in the forthcoming Ukrainian counteroffensive to recapture the port city of Kherson, the district directly north of Crimea.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his military commanders have indicated that retaking Kherson, the first major city Russia occupied, in late February, is a top priority. Kyiv is said to be amassing a large army for that looming battle, which may begin by the end of the summer and last until winter. Not only is Kherson an important industrial hub, but taking the city and driving the Russians back across the Dnipro River would consolidate Ukrainian control of all

the territory on the west bank, considerably shortening their defensive lines in the southern part of the country.

Whatever happens next, the last 48 hours have been embarrassing for Putin’s regime. Russian casualties are now estimated at between 70,000 and 80,000, with the military emptying jails and recruiting retirement-age soldiers for added manpower. Meanwhile, sanctions have taken a significant bite out of the Russian economy, so much so that the defense sector has started stripping commercial jets for parts, just to keep its air force in Ukraine aloft. Now comes a hastily canceled Russian summer at the beach, as memes of “Crimea river” and “National Lampoon’s Crimean Vacation” multiply on Twitter.





David Axe


August 10, 2022

The Ukrainian attack on a Russian airfield in occupied Crimea on Tuesday apparently destroyed a lot of aircraft. It easily was the biggest single-day loss for Russian air power since Russia widened its war on Ukraine in late February. And it could shape Russian air operations moving forward.

The daylight attack, which triggered 10 or more explosions at Saki air base, home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s 43rd Independent Naval Attack Aviation Regiment, burned to the ground as many as eight Su-27 fighters, four Su-30 fighter-bombers, five Su-24 bombers, six Mi-8 helicopters and a unique Il-20 telemetry aircraft, according to a Russian source.

A video from the tarmac in the hours following the attack depicts one destroyed Su-24. Commercial satellite imagery from Wednesday seems to confirm eight Su-24 losses plus five Su-27/30 losses. The Ukrainian defense ministry for its part claimed its destroyed nine Russian planes on Tuesday.

It’s likely none of these sources is comprehensive. Combining them, it’s possible the Russian navy wrote off as few as nine aircraft and as many as 27. It’s possible, even likely, the 43rd Regiment now is ineffective. The Black Sea Fleet will need to rebuild the unit.

We still don’t know exactly how the Ukrainians struck Saki, which lies 120 miles from the front line in southern Ukraine. Craters that are visible in satellite imagery point to ballistic missiles. It’s also possible the Ukrainians fired Neptune cruise missiles at the base or attacked with explosives-laden “suicide” drones. Officials in Kyiv were coy, saying only that the weapons that wrecked the Russian airfield were “exclusively of Ukrainian manufacture.”

After Tuesday’s strike, the Ukrainians have had much more success destroying Russian aircraft on the ground than the Russians have had striking Ukrainian aircraft. In the early hours of the wider war on Feb. 23, Russian rockets and missiles pummeled Ukrainian air bases. But Ukrainian commanders dispersed their planes and helicopters prior to the attacks–a practice they continued as the war ground on.

In five months of bitter fighting, the Russians have destroyed just three active Ukrainian aircraft at their bases–an Su-24, a MiG-29 fighter and an Il-76 airlifter. Most of the manned aircraft Ukraine has lost–47 planes and helicopters that outside analysts can confirm–were shot down by Russian air-defenses.

Most of Russia’s 85 confirmed manned aircraft losses–not counting Tuesday’s losses–also have been in the air. But between the Saki raid and a February missile strike on Millerovo air base in

Russia near the Ukrainian border, the Russians have lost potentially dozens of aircraft on the ground.

That Ukraine so easily can destroy Russian aircraft at their bases while Russia struggles to return the favor speaks volumes about the discipline of Ukrainian squadrons and the lack of discipline on the Russian side. The Ukrainian air force and navy move their planes, helicopters and TB-2 drones constantly–often counting on intelligence the Americans provide to plan their moves.

The Russian air force and navy despite their losses continue to park their aircraft in the same revetments at the same airfields, day after day. It’s an open question whether the Saki raid will change any minds in the Kremlin.

In the hours following the air base attack, thousands of Russian tourists who had been enjoying Crimea’s beaches packed into their cars and fled the peninsula, causing a days-long traffic jam along the bridge to Russia. It’s unclear whether that Black Sea Fleet’s air arm will follow the civilians out of Crimea.

It’s increasingly clear that Ukraine possesses the means–and the will–to strike any Russian facility within range of its expanding arsenal of deep-strike weapons, including cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and drones. Add in the danger from Ukrainian partisans and special operations forces and the Russian position appears even more perilous.

Russian squadrons would need to be hundreds of miles from Ukrainian territory in order to be reasonably safe from attack. While Russia isn’t hurting for air base infrastructure in this zone of relative safety, the added distance would weigh on the Kremlin’s air operations over Ukraine.

The farther a bomber has to fly to reach the front, the less time it can spend at the front–and the fewer sorties that single plane can fly in a day. By blasting a Russian airfield, the Ukrainians not only took out a significant number of Russia’s aircraft–it could make the surviving aircraft less effective.



by Anne Applebaum

August 10, 2022

The Atlantic

History has turning points, moments when events shift and the future seems suddenly clear. But history also has in-between points, days and weeks when everything seems impermanent and nobody knows what will happen next. Odesa in the summer of 2022 is like that—a city suspended between great events. The panic that swept the city in February, when it seemed the Russian invaders might win quickly, already feels like a long time ago. Now the city is hot, half empty, and bracing itself for what comes next.

Some are preparing for the worst.

Odesa endured a 10-week German and Romanian siege during the Second World War, then a three-year occupation; the current mayor, Gennadiy Trukhanov, told me that the city is now filling warehouses with food and medicine, in case history repeats itself. On July 11, Ukrainian security services caught a Russian spy scouting potential targets in the city. On July 23, Russian bombs hit the Odesa docks, despite an agreement reached just the previous day to restart grain exports. The beautiful waterfront, where the Potemkin Stairs lead down to the Black Sea, remains blocked by a maze of concrete barriers and barbed wire. Russian-occupied Kherson, where you can be interrogated just for speaking Ukrainian, is just a few hours’ drive away.

In the meantime, pedestrians stroll past the Italian facades in Odesa’s historic center and drink coffee beneath umbrellas. The Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov recently wrote that “I used to pay a lot of attention to time, using it as effectively as possible.” Now, instead, “I pay attention to the war.” In Odesa, people also pay attention to the war, obsessive attention; some of those I met have installed apps on their phones that echo the air-raid sirens. But then they switch off the sound when their phones start to howl. Fear becomes normalized, until eventually it becomes another part of the background noise. My hotel had an air-raid shelter, a windowless room, but no one went there during air raids. “You’ll be lucky or unlucky,” the porter told me. No point in trying to escape fate.

Those who can’t endure life in suspended animation are abroad, wondering if they should come back; some who remain wonder if they should leave. Companies have shut down—I was told about one that closed in the first week of the invasion; the owners fired everyone and moved to Spain—and investments are on hold. None of this is accidental. The Russian strategy toward Ukraine is designed to demoralize and demotivate.

It works. Except when it doesn’t.

For the languor of Odesa is the backdrop, not the story: Not everyone there is afflicted with apathy, anxiety, or the fear of losing. On the contrary, even in this strange moment, when time doesn’t seem worth measuring, some people are intensely busy. Across the city, students, accountants, hairdressers, and every other conceivable profession have joined what can only be described as an unprecedented social movement. They call themselves volonteri, and their organizations, their crowdfunding campaigns, and their activism help explain why the Ukrainian army has fought so hard and so well, why a decade-long Russian attempt to co-opt the Ukrainian state mostly failed, even (or maybe especially) in Russian-speaking Odesa.

In a paralyzed landscape, in a stalled economy, in a city where no one can plan anything, the volonteri are creating the future. They aren’t afraid of loss, siege, or occupation, because they think they are going to win.

Out of almost nothing—out of a beat-up apartment building at the back of an empty courtyard—Anna Bondarenko has already created a community, a refuge from the war. The offices of her Ukrainian Volunteer Service (UVS) are in old rooms with high ceilings; the largest, lined with desks, has the words A good deed has great power painted on one of the walls. Other rooms contain a kitchen—often, the team eats meals together—and some bunk beds for those who need them. Bondarenko told me that at age 15, she spent a year as an exchange student at an American high school, where she found herself for the first time having to explain where Ukraine is, and what it is, and, though she came from a Russian-speaking family, she discovered that she liked the idea of being Ukrainian. She also encountered the concept of community service. She volunteered at her host family’s local church, at a national park, at an animal shelter. She remembers entering a contest, trying to accumulate 150 hours of community service in order to get a certificate signed by Barack Obama. (Hers, alas, was signed by someone else.)

She came home wanting to continue volunteering and signed up to work on a couple of festivals, including one marking Ukraine’s independence day. But in between festivals, she and her friends couldn’t find organizations that inspired them. Eventually, she set up the UVS, an organization designed to solve that problem, matching people who want to volunteer with other people who need help.The team created a clever website, made contact with a few like-minded people around the country, and organized training weekends for people who wanted to be volunteers or promote volunteering. They raised a little bit of money (including a small grant from the National Endowment for Democracy, whose board I serve on).

Then the war started. Demand exploded.

No one on Bondarenko’s UVS team is over the age of 30, and some are under 20. Bondarenko, at 26, is one of the oldest people in the room. Nevertheless, since the early hours of the morning of February 24, UVS has fielded thousands of requests, creating a set of websites, chat sites, and chatbots that eventually matched more than 100,000 people—accountants, drivers, medics—with more than 900 organizations across the country. Ukrainians find UVS via Instagram, Facebook, Telegram, TikTok; when you type I want to volunteer into a Ukrainian Google search, UVS is the first organization to come up. Bondarenko’s team has sent volunteers to help distribute food packages to people who lost their homes, clean up rubble after bombing raids, and, for those willing to take real risks, to drive cars or buses into war zones and pull people out. People wrote to them for advice: How should we make Molotov cocktails? How should we evacuate? And the volunteers tried to find experts who could give them answers.

Sometimes they rescue their own colleagues. Lisa is a UVS team member from Melitopol, a Ukrainian city occupied during the first part of the war. I am withholding Lisa’s surname because her parents remain in a Russian-controlled village in southern Ukraine, but I can tell you that Lisa has long reddish hair, white fingernail polish, and a sheaf of wheat, a Ukrainian patriotic symbol, tattooed on her forearm. When she was still in occupied Melitopol, Russian patrols would stop her and ask her, as they ask everyone, to show them her tattoos. She kept the wheat sheaf hidden beneath long-sleeved shirts, but every time this happened, she was terrified. Still, she was responsible for distributing food in a part of the city cut off from the center, and so she stayed until someone from a partner organization called Bondarenko to warn her that Lisa was on a list to be arrested or kidnapped. UVS helped Lisa leave within hours.

Lisa now coordinates volunteers in the occupied territories using encrypted-messaging apps and Telegram channels. So does Stefan Vorontsov, a UVS coordinator from Nova Kakhovka, another town behind Russian lines. He, like Lisa, remained for more than a month after the invasion, trying to be useful. He and his colleagues scraped together some funds, bought food and medicine, and distributed it to people who had lost houses and jobs. The volunteers in the town tried to protect themselves by wearing red crosses on their arms, but doing so had the opposite effect: The symbols attracted the attention of Russian soldiers, who stopped anyone wearing them for questioning and sometimes arrest. By the time Vorontsov escaped Nova Kakhovka, volunteers had learned to wipe their phones clean every day before leaving the house and to have carefully prepared answers for the Russian soldiers who stopped them constantly. I spoke with Vorontsov by video link; he is now living in Georgia. “People are leaving all the time,” he told me. “Pretty soon there will be no one left to help.”

In one sense, the Russian suspicion of people like Vorontsov and Lisa is well founded. Although most of the volunteers on the ground are engaged in purely humanitarian work, there really is a link between participation in public life—any kind of participation in public life—and Ukrainian patriotism. This link is not new. Whatever it was that motivated people to contribute their time to their communities before the war, whether in the name of music, art, or animal shelters, the same impulse pushes them toward an idea, perhaps an ideal, of democratic Ukraine, and makes them want to help the war effort now. Serhiy Lukachko, who also works out of the UVS office, runs a website called My City, which was once dedicated to supporting cultural events and other projects in Odesa. Now he and a colleague have put their fundraising talents to the aid of a Ukrainian army brigade. Through crowdfunding, they purchase body armor, extra uniforms, and the four-wheel-drive SUVs that are in such high demand at the front. “We talk once a week,” Lukachko told me. “They give me a checklist.”

It could be a gloomy place, this building full of very young people, some of whom are still going through the trauma of displacement and all of whom have friends or relatives in grave danger. Lisa has an arranged time to speak for a few seconds with her parents every day, just to make sure they are okay. Bondarenko has a boyfriend in the army. Later, over dinner at a Crimean Tartar restaurant, Bondarenko told me that she has already lost friends to the war. The first time she learned of such a death, she spent the evening weeping. The second time it happened, she resolved to mourn everybody at the end, when the war is over, “after we have won.”

Right now, she is busy. So is everyone else in her immediate vicinity, and that energy creates its own momentum, becomes its own inspiration. Nobody in the world of Odesa community organizations is competing for funding anymore. Nobody is jockeying for position or worrying about prestige. “Everybody just kind of tries to help each other,” Bondarenko said, “and it feels really different.” And that is what she wants Odesa, and Ukraine, to be like in the future.

Bondarenko and her team were inspired by American practices of community service—well-designed websites, clever social-media posts—but other cultural influences are at work in Odesa too. One of them is toloka, an old word used in Ukrainian, Russian, and certain Baltic languages to describe spontaneous community projects. When someone’s house burns down, the village gets together to rebuild it. That’s toloka. When a man dies, the village helps the widow harvest her crops. That’s toloka too. Kurkov, the Ukrainian novelist, has defined toloka as “community work for the common good,” and it helps explain why so many people have given up so much to pitch in.

Dmytro Milyutin, for example, lives in a world that bears no resemblance to an old-fashioned Ukrainian village. He runs a parfumerie, a shop in central Odesa where he sells famous perfumes as well as oddities, bottles containing the scent of smoke or of apple pie. He designs fragrances for individuals and says he considers himself a connoisseur “not just of scents but of emotions.” But since the war began, he has sold a fifth of his perfume collection and taken out a loan to provide sophisticated military clothing to Ukrainian soldiers fighting near Odesa. The Ukrainian army distributes basic uniforms, but not the pocketed vests specially designed to carry guns and first-aid kits, or the light backpacks that American soldiers take for granted. Milyutin got a local fashion designer to put aside his dressmaking business and start sewing together canvas and velcro strips to make things easier for soldiers on the move. He, too, keeps in touch directly with commanders.

While Milyutin and I speak, two women in heels and full makeup come in to buy perfume. They spray different scents onto little sticks and wave them in front of their nose as Milyutin keeps talking about the design of the backpacks that are gathered on the floor beneath the bottles. The ladies don’t mind the backpacks, because that kind of thing, like the air-raid sirens, is normal now too.

Around the corner from Milyutin’s shop, Olexander Babich’s office also now contains piles of sleeping bags, ground mats, binoculars, and night-vision goggles, bought using donations, now being sorted for distribution. Babich is a well-known historian and the author of Odessa 1941–1944, a book about daily life under the fascist occupation, about how people survived, and, he writes, about “how people befriended the enemy, or opposed them.” When the war began, he drove his family across the border, came home, and began to prepare to oppose the new enemy. He and some historians from Kherson, now living in his apartment, track down, import, and distribute the equipment that is now stacked up against the bookshelves. They go to shooting ranges themselves, too, just to keep in practice. In a very real sense, they are already supporting Ukrainian soldiers the way an old-fashioned resistance movement would, except tha they use the internet to raise money and purchase equipment.

Nor are they alone. In a half-abandoned building in a different part of town, Natalia Topolova introduced me to a group of women that, funded by a patriotic florist, weave special camouflage blankets and suits for snipers. These “spider ladies,” as they call themselves, come when they can—after work, when children are in school—to sew strips of multicolored cloth onto fabric and nets. At a street café, two Odesa engineers explained to me how they had worked, again, with officers they know, in order to identify exactly the right optical technology that Ukrainian soldiers needed to make their weapons work better. Then they raised money and started importing it from America and Japan.

In his elegant gallery in the city center, Mikhail Reva, a renowned Ukrainian sculptor who designed several notable monuments around Odesa, has also been seized by the spirit of toloka. His Reva Foundation, originally created to fund artistic education and urban design in Ukraine, has been redirected to purchase first-aid kits for soldiers. The various international contacts Reva has accumulated over years—a friend in San Diego who used to live in Odesa, other artists and designers around the world—have also helped him pay for a training program designed to teach soldiers how to use the first-aid kits, especially the tourniquets that can stop someone from dying in the field. He has drawn not just on Ukrainian civil society to support the Ukrainian army, but civil society in many countries.


The scale of these efforts surprises outsiders, but it shouldn’t. Too often, in America and Europe, our definition of civil society is cramped and narrow. We use the term to mean “human-rights groups,” or confuse it with nonprofits, as if civil society consists solely of organizations with HR departments and neat mission statements. But civil society can also have an anarchic, spontaneous character, coming into being in response to an emergency or a crisis. It can look like the Odesa schoolroom temporarily packed to the ceiling with canned food, paper towels, childrens’ diapers, bags of pasta, where Natalia Bogachenko, a former businesswoman, runs a distribution point for humanitarian aid (“controlled chaos,” she calls it). It can look like the two chic Kyiv restaurants from which Slava Balbek started a food kitchen for the territorial army during the first days of the war, eventually organizing 25 restaurants and two bakeries into a cooperative that cooked thousands of meals every day.

Balbek is best known as an architect, the founder of the most successful design company in Ukraine; he has motifs from a Kazimir Malevich painting tattooed on his arm, adding a different twist to the Ukrainian tattoo. But although Balbek is normally surrounded by artists and architects, although he has designed hotels and offices in China and California, he told me that the cooks, bakers, and volunteers in those strange, panicky days produced a special kind of creative energy, pulling together something from nothing, innovating and adjusting. “Oh, we only have eggs to cook with, they would say: ‘Let’s make breakfast all day today!'” In the end, he said, “your fellow volunteers become like a second family.” And you never forget them.

There is a darker side to this story. If the Ukrainian army were better equipped, after all, or if Ukraine were a wealthier or better-run country, or if so many Ukrainians had not wasted so much time over the past 30 years creating corrupt schemes or battling them, then maybe this enormous social movement would not be necessary. The volunteers emerged precisely because Ukrainian soldiers don’t have first-aid kits, Ukrainian snipers don’t have the right uniforms and the Ukrainian state doesn’t have the capability to distribute these things either. Many of the volunteers succeed because prominent or entrepreneurial people can break bureaucratic import rules, can raise money more nimbly than the state, and can then deliver equipment directly to officers in the field or to refugees in a war zone. “Without volunteers, it would be impossible to continue this war,” says Milyutin, the connoisseur of exotic scents. But that, too, is worrying, since the adrenalin required to sustain this level of activity is now running low. Even volunteers need to pay their rent.

But even if it was inspired by the deficits of the Ukrainian state, many hope this wave of activism will wind up reshaping that state, just as popular activism during the Orange Revolution in 2004–05 and the Euromaidan protests in 2013–14 also changed Ukraine. Precisely because Odesa is a Russian-speaking city with a cosmopolitan history, precisely because Odesa has a living memory of occupation, the volunteer movement here will jolt many of the city’s inhabitants abruptly in the direction of “Ukrainianness,” as well as in the direction of the things that term now represents: democracy, openness, and European identity.

In Odesa, this process has begun. Bogachenko, the activist who runs the refugee-aid center, told me that she speaks Russian but has no doubt about who she is: “Greek, Jewish, Russian, Ukrainian—if you have a Ukrainian passport, you are Ukrainian.” Reva, the sculptor, went to art school in Russia (in what was then Soviet Leningrad) but describes today’s war as a contest between good and evil, in which choosing sides is not remotely hard. The Russians, he says, among them many former friends and colleagues, “want to destroy everything and make us slaves.” Trukhanov, the mayor, who has been accused of secretly holding a Russian passport and maintaining deep Russian connections, spent a good part of our conversation denying vociferously that this is the case, even though I didn’t ask him about it. He has now made a clear choice, for Ukraine and against Russia, and he wants everyone to know it.


The life experiences of these Ukrainians have already created a wide gap between them and their Russian neighbors. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, likes to talk about how Russians and Ukrainians are the same nation, the same people. But Ukraine’s civic and military mobilization around the war is the best possible illustration of how much and how quickly nations and people can diverge. For although a few online efforts to raise money for the military in Russia are under way, there is nothing on the scale of what is happening in Ukraine, no mass civic mobilization, no teams of volunteers, no equivalent to the Kalush Orchestra—the Ukrainian band that won the Eurovision Song Contest this year, auctioned off its trophy for $900,000, and used the money to buy three PD-2 drones for the army.

And no wonder: Following in the steps of the Soviet leaders who preceded him, Putin has systematically destroyed whatever civic spirit emerged after the Soviet Union’s collapse, squeezing everything spontaneous and everything self-organized out of Russian society, silencing not just independent newspapers and television but also historical societies, environmentalists, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Lenin was deeply suspicious of any group or organization, however apolitical or mundane, that was not directly dependent on the Communist Party. Putin has inherited a similar paranoia.

In order to prevent people from organizing themselves—in order to convince people that there is no point in doing anything, or changing anything—the Russian state and its propaganda machine have for two decades promoted fear, apathy, and cynicism. Every night, television news mocks the West and regularly threatens nuclear war, even promising the “annihilation” of Britain or New York. The result is that Russians don’t protest in large numbers against the war, but they also don’t spontaneously organize huge campaigns in support of it either. The somewhat mysterious “Z” campaign (Why Z? No one has really explained) is visible on social media and television, but not much pro-war fervor or Z activism is evident in the streets.

On the contrary, the only real grassroots activists in Russia right now are the anonymous teams of brave people, all around the country, who are quietly helping the Ukrainian refugees forcibly deported to distant parts of Russia return home. A few weeks ago, I met an exiled Russian activist who described the chain of connections she had used to help a Ukrainian woman with a small baby and no passports or visas—they had been lost in the chaos—escape the far east of Russia and cross the country’s western border into Estonia. But the activist’s efforts put her in the dissident minority. She had left Russia even before the invasion; her colleagues on this modern underground railroad work in secret.

In Ukraine, she would be a leader of an established and respected organization. In Russia, she risks arrest as an enemy of the people. That paradox alone explains how the two countries have become so different.

I began this article with the ambivalence that hangs in the sultry air of Odesa, and I should end with a reminder that this sentiment has not gone away. Participation in the volunteer movement, though widespread, is not universal. Ukraine is not a nation of saints. Not everyone with a Ukrainian passport is fighting for the country, or even planning to remain in the country. Not everyone is active, brave, or optimistic. A New York acquaintance describes a Ukrainian working on Wall Street whose reaction to the war was: I need to get my family out, and then I am never going back there again. On the train from Warsaw to Kyiv, I met a woman returning home from exile whose skepticism about Ukraine’s leaders led her in the direction of various conspiracy theories: How come my apartment was damaged but the houses of the rich were spared?

But what matters is what comes next, and voices like those will not be the decisive ones in postwar Ukraine. That role will go to those who stayed, those who volunteered, those who built the ad hoc organizations that became real ones, who made the effort to link bakers and taxi drivers and medics to the war effort. The volonteri will create Ukraine’s postwar culture, rebuild the cities and run the country in the future. They will resist Russian influence, Russian corruption, and Russian occupation because the modern Russian state threatens not just their lives and property but their very identity. They have defined themselves against a Russian autocracy that suppresses spontaneity and creativity, and they will go on doing so long after the war is over.


Odesa remains a city suspended between great events. As I write this, I don’t know what will happen next. All I can tell is that the activists and the volunteers, in Odesa and across the country, believe that the next great event will be not another calamity, but a Ukrainian victory.






The Hill

For those who dismiss aid to Ukraine as pivotal to our security, at home and abroad, perhaps 9/11 will resonate. Here’s the backstory to the backstory of our July 31 drone strike that killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of al Qaeda, and the apparent connection.

In the 1970s, Ion Pacepa, head of Romanian foreign intelligence, visited General Alexander Sakharovsky, head of the KGB’s First Chief Directorate (foreign operations). “Terrorism has to become our main weapon,” he reportedly told Pacepa. Pointing to a world map bristling with red pins, each representing a hijacked airplane, Sakharosvky continued: “Airplane hijacking is my own invention.”

In 1987, GRU (the military counterpart of the KGB) defector Vladimir Rezun (aka, Viktor Suvorov), laid out a scenario: two successive plane crashes into the White House, the second one timed to obliterate the first responders and command structure who arrived at the scene after the first crash.

In 1997, having spent six months in Russia, al-Zawahiri decamped to Afghanistan, becoming Osama bin Laden’s lieutenant and mastermind of 9/11. There promptly followed the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, the 2005 London bombings, and more.

Alexander Litvinenko was the defecting FSB officer in London who Vladimir Putin incinerated from the inside out with Polonium 210, nuclear terrorism in the Magna Carta’s backyard. A year before his 2006 assassination, and then again on his hospital deathbed, Litvinenko revealed that while in Russia-controlled Dagestan in the Caucasus, al-Zawahiri had undergone training by the FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service and successor to the KGB. Dagestan was also the springboard for the subsequent two Boston Marathon bombers.

The Russia connection was raised earlier by others, and Litvinenko’s disclosures are consistent with other information. Konstantin Preobrazhensky, a former lieutenant colonel in the KGB, confirmed and also wrote about the connection, via an Iraqi intelligence agent, between Mohammed Atta, the pilot of the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center, and Russian intelligence.

We also know that former KGB head Yurij Andropov, Putin’s pedagogue, reportedly saw the Islamic world “as a petri dish in which Moscow could nurture a virulent strain of America-hatred.” Moscow encouraged Arab nationalism in the 1970s and 1980s as the genome for Islamic terrorism, and helped train, finance, arm and direct the terrorist assault against us and our allies. Generic terrorism evidently was fine, too. Remember Paris, Athens, Vienna, London, West Berlin? The bomb attack in Brussels on Gen. Alexander Haig, commander of NATO? The

murders of U.S. Ambassador Cleo Noel and his deputy, George Moore, in Sudan? The assassination of U.S. Ambassador J. “Chris” Stevens in Libya?

Yasser Arafat reportedly received a KGB makeover, and yet won the Nobel Peace Prize. Home-grown, non-Arab terrorists and agents were even better. Among those with alleged KGB involvement: Venezuelan Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, known as Carlos the Jackal, Germans Ulrike Meinhoff and Hans-Joachim Klein, Frenchman Regis Debray, adviser to President Mitterrand, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, and Irish Republican Army luminary Sean Garland.

Western intelligence evidently knew perfectly well about Moscow’s role but was muzzled by the politicians for fear of “provoking” Moscow. Sounds familiar. Three British prime ministers bravely remained mum after Litvinenko’s murder.

The German Stasi reportedly was a key player in Moscow’s terror network. There are plenty of reasons to conclude that in Dresden, Putin had a connection to the terror networks established by his mentors. Promptly after President Bush declared Iraq, Iran and North Korea the “axis of evil,” Putin reinstituted weapons sales and nuclear assistance to Iran. Iraq received a $40 billion trade deal. And North Korea’s despot, Kim Jung Il, was celebrated in Moscow. In 2003, Putin declared at a meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) that Russia was Islam’s historical defender, and Russia received associate status. The USSR was the first state to recognize Saudi Arabia in 1926 and initiated the World Muslim Congress in Mecca, the prototype of the OIC. And Russian operatives, in an apparent false flag operation, posed as ISIS and threatened to kill U.S. military families.

No surprise here. The rejection, subversion and destruction of Western values and its social fabric overlaps Russian fundamentalism with radical Islamic fundamentalism. Both market a vitriolic anti-Western, anti-American ideology, a faux morality playing the “America is immoral” card. Both are propelled to kill, to savage, to destroy. For both, it’s more than a duty; it’s an entitlement.

Demonstrative affirmation of anniversary dates is a KGB passion. Putin critic Anna Politkovskaya was murdered on his birthday. And 9/11 saw Putin’s celebration of the birthday of the notorious Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka, precursor to the KGB/FSB. Dzerzhisnky had enthused: “We stand for organized terror — this should be frankly admitted. Terror is an absolute necessity.” The smoke hadn’t cleared before Putin was on the line to the American president with his professed condolences. Ditto after the Boston Marathon bombing.

Where are we today? 1997 also saw the appearance of Russia’s blueprint calling for, among other measures, an Islamic/Russian alliance against America. It specifically highlighted a  Russian/Iranian joint venture. The destruction of Ukraine was pivotal.

Fifty-one NATO and allied nations, including Ukraine, aided the U.S. in Afghanistan. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, 141 nations signed the UN resolution condemning Russia. But for more than eight years, since the 2014 Russian invasion, Ukraine was alone in battling against the terrorist state that launched Islamic terrorism against the West. To add to the irony, for a generation Ukraine has contributed “boots on the ground” to our war on

terror and peacekeeping missions. During our shambolic exit at Kabul airport last August, it was the Ukrainians who, in a special ops, rescued refugees the U.S. or NATO would not or could not rescue.

Our post-9/11 war on terror cost $8 trillion and 22,000 casualties. Our aid to Ukraine, so far, is less than 1 percent of that, with no American casualties. Ukraine’s losses are staggering. One estimate placed Ukraine’s losses, in 2 ½ months, equal to America’s losses in Iraq and Afghanistan in over 20 years.

Now, following renewed shelling of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, Ukraine’s Energoatom nuclear agency reports the threat by Major General Valery Vasiliev. He’s in charge of Russia’s radiation, chemical and biological troops and has occupied the plant. “There will be either Russian land or a scorched desert. As you know, we mined all the important objects of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. And we do not hide this from the enemy. We warned them. The enemy knows that the plant will be either Russian or nobody’s. We are ready for the consequences of this step. And you, liberating soldiers, must understand that we have no other. And if there is the toughest order — we must fulfill it with honor!”

We remain bulletproof against reality. Russia is not simply a state sponsor of terrorism. It was and remains the quintessential terrorist state. After eight years, we’re still rolling out sanctions? We must match Ukraine’s will and share its purpose. Strategic aphasia won’t cut it.


Victor Rud has practiced international law in New York and New Jersey for 35 years. He is the past chairman of the Ukrainian American Bar Association and now chairs its Committee on Foreign Affairs. He is a senior adviser to Open Ukraine, a nongovernmental organization in Ukraine, and the senior adviser to the Centre for Eastern European Democracy in Toronto.



American Communist and later chief witness for the prosecution, Whitaker Chambers, explained his disillusionment with communism and remorse by comparing Russian communism with German fascism. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the Soviet-Nazi alliance of 1939 was the breaking point. Hitler entered into the pact for tactical reason, to undermine the alliance. Stalin entered because of clear ideological similarities which he stated on more than one occasion. Lenin had often remarked that terror was necessary for the implementation of communism. In fact Hitler borrowed much from the Russians including concentration camps.


Russian warfare (modus operandi) during World War 2 consisted largely of war crimes. In fact when the Russian invaded Western Ukraine (then occupied by Poland) in 1939 they executed indiscriminately. As they were compelled to withdraw in 1941 as the Nazis invaded, the Russians murdered their prisoners of war,  employing a scorched earth policy. Since they were the victors and allies of the United Sates and the  United Kingdom,  no indictments were filed and no Russians were accused, tried or executed for war crimes even though Russia perpetrated war crimes throughout the war.


War crimes as recognised today have been the mantra of the Russian soldier dating back to, at least, the XVI century and the war ravaging of the notorious Czar of Moscow Ivan the Terrible. In the XVIII century when the Ukrainian Cossacks revolted against  the rule of Moscow,  Czar Peter who later declared himself a Russian emperor razed the Ukrainian capital Baturyn killing anyone he could. This, in fact, was Moscow’s first attempted genocide against the Ukrainian people.


All of this had been ignored by the civilized world until now. Thanks to technological advances everything is becoming transparent. More and more  articles are appearing in the West about Russian crimes. They were glaring in Chechnya, outrageous in Syria and now exposed to the world in Ukraine. Are the war crimes of Russian soldiers in Bucha and Irpin, executions of civilians with hands tied behind their backs, an aberration? Rockets fired on prisoners of war in Donetsk, mothers in Mariopil and the kidnapping of children have been added to the list of crimes and proven that Bucha and Irpin were merely the beginning. Many have concluded that this is Russian warfare.


There is no justification for this Russian acquired psychosis. Putin and Lavrov are clearly war criminals. So is the Russian soldier, and even his mother and the purported  church of Moscow. The Russians are well aware that their style of warfare constitutes criminality and much more than simply the crime of aggression.  Russian troops seem to believe that killing children or any one else is the way that war should be.


Almost immediately with the formation of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Russia withdrew its signature. Recently it withdrew its membership in the Council of Europe and its signature from the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg. Russia has more judgements against it in the European Court than any other state. Ukraine remains  a signatory to the ICC and any aggression,  crime against humanity, war crime or genocide perpetrated on its territory remain within the Court’s jurisdiction.


Early on, Ukraine, recognizing the fecklessness and ineffectiveness of international institutions such as the United Nations, the Council of Europe and international criminal judicial tribunals, established its own separate unit at the General Procurators office charged with investigating, indicting, trying and punishing Russian war crimes. To date one such proceeding against a Russian sergeant for the blatant murder of a sixty-two year old man pushing a bicycle has been completed with an admission and a life sentence. However, this is one case among thousands.


Russian warfare of perpetrating crimes will not be stopped by an international institution or court. This Russian psychotic cancer has to be eliminated on the battlefield. Frankly, concern for Russian behavior has gone well beyond Ukraine. The world (not only other countries surrounding Ukraine) itself is threatened by this Russian psychosis which has become almost innately a part of Russian culture,  its egregious behavior and arrogant scorn for the international community.  Russia exemplifies the most heinous crimes: aggression, crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. There is ample evidence of all four in the current war, but simply securing the evidence will not prevent the crimes.


10 August 2022                                                                         Askold Lozynskyj