Even amid murderous Russian raids, western apathy is Kyiv’s deadliest foe

Putin’s missiles are raining down on Ukrainians, but the biggest danger they face is weakening support from the US and Europe

A two-day-old baby is killed in an attack on a maternity ward in southern Ukraine. Officials say at least 437 children have died since Russia’s invasion began. More than 800 have been injured. How many kids are permanently traumatised is anybody’s guess.

Every day, Vladimir Putin gets away with murder.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station is shelled again, despite repeated UN warnings of Europe-wide catastrophe. In liberated Kherson, more grisly evidence of war crimes is uncovered. Wherever the Russians go, it’s the same horror story. Every day the killers go unpunished.

Relentless waves of indiscriminate missile strikes darken Ukrainian skies, pulverising apartment blocks, clinics, shopping centres and schools. Moscow no longer even pretends to target the military. Its aim: to terrorise civilians.

Destroying electricity, heat and water supplies to the main cities, already suffering food and medicine shortages, is key to Putin’s winter war. He strives to break Ukraine’s will, imperilling millions besieged by snow and ice. Every day, he perpetrates crimes against humanity.

Russia’s red-handed army of homicidal generals, incompetent field commanders, out-of-control soldiers and hapless conscripts is attempting genocide – annihilation of a nation and a people – in plain sight.

The European parliament voted last week to declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism. Good. Now order Putin’s arrest! Issue warrants for the president and all his gang. Expel his lying diplomats. Penalise his pals. Close the borders. Or is this feelgood Euro-posturing?

The question is rhetorical. You know the answer.

As blacked-out Moldova warned last week, another huge humanitarian and migrant crisis looms, akin to that of last spring. It will challenge every EU country. Yet as the strain of multiple Ukraine-related problems begins to tell, European support may be faltering at this critical juncture.

The war and its atrocities are being normalised and, increasingly, discounted. Where is the outrage now? Where the visceral fury? Nine months in, western public opinion is dulled, deadened and desensitised by a daily diet of remote, unceasing, almost routine carnage.

People are no longer shocked, nor even greatly surprised. They feel powerless. The majority still wants Ukraine to prevail. But victory is not expected soon. In the absence of peace talks or any relief, war fatigue teeters towards apathy.

In Italy and Germany, far-right voices complain they are “fed up” with the war’s costly knock-on effects. Protests against the stand-off with Moscow pockmark central Europe. Conflicted fellow travellers give Putin leave to carry on killing.

It’s only November. For everyone, the worst of winter is yet to come. And there are limits to how often Kyiv can repair damaged pylons, cables and power plants. As soon as they are fixed, missiles blow them apart. “Invincibility shelters” can only do so much.

“Today is just one day, but we have received 70 missiles. That’s the Russian formula of terror,” Volodymyr Zelenskiy said last Wednesday. “Hospitals, schools, transport, residential districts all suffered.” As usual, the “firm reaction” he demanded from the UN security council never came.

Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, says it’s obvious what Putin wants: “Ukraine without Ukrainians.”

More than 7.8 million people have fled as refugees since February, the UN estimates. Millions more are internally displaced. Concern grows about a second exodus. “Right now, across the country, people are facing a grim choice: flee or freeze,” said Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

With temperatures falling as low as -20C (-4F), Ukraine’s health system is “facing its darkest days so far”, the World Health Organization’s regional director, Hans Kluge, warned. “Put simply, this winter will be about survival.”

Nato countries have provided generous billions in financial aid and weapons systems to Ukraine. But the pace is slowing. The EU’s latest sanctions package has been repeatedly diluted and delayed. It is bickering over a Russian oil price cap.

The west is also struggling to meet Ukraine’s desperate need for anti-missile defences. Stocks of Stinger, S-300, Nasams, Hawk and Starstreak missiles are low. Supplies of more sophisticated systems, such as American Patriots and Germany’s Iris-T, are limited by production and training issues.

If the US, Britain and others had heeded Zelenskiy’s pleas last spring for Nato-guaranteed safe havens or some form of defensive no-fly or air exclusion zones, Ukrainians might have been spared today’s missile hell. It’s not too late to act.

As the war becomes a familiar fact of daily life, and negative fallout spreads, will public support soften further? Pro-Kyiv sentiment in Europe stands at about 57%, according to a Eupinions poll. But that figure is down on the summer – and the “peace camp” is advancing. For example, 60% of Germans favour diplomacy.

In the US, satisfaction over Ukraine’s military successes has led, paradoxically, to complacency – and reduced focus on continuing threats. When Republicans take control in Congress in January, aid may be cut.

In Ukraine itself, in contrast, public attitudes are hardening. Pride in the Ukrainian nation and pro-western, pro-EU sentiment have never been stronger – including among ethnic minority Russians. Overall, 89% of respondents in one survey accused Russia of genocide.

The Ukrainian people are a formidable force. They have shown they can beat their enemies. But should they fear their friends? A weakening of US and European support, leaving Ukraine out in the cold, is perhaps the most dismaying hazard they face. Putin is counting on it. Might the peoples of the west, for the sake of a quiet life, really get “fed up” with the war to the point where they are ready to ignore or even tolerate mass murder, war crimes and the evisceration of a sovereign nation as the new normal? It’s democracy’s biggest test.

Every day, it gets harder in Ukraine. One thing is certain: it’s going to be a long winter.


Simon Tisdall

The GuardianTramp

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