Our voice: words fail to describe the Russian siege of Ukrainian cities – by Jan Wondra


“Barbaric.” “Appalling.” “Cruel.” “Incredible.”

Words fail us here in the West, as we witness in real time the destruction of Ukrainian cities, the annihilation in the 21st century of a people, a culture, a democracy. Some 23 days into an unprovoked war that threatens the carefully constructed post-WWII world order, we are all waiting, whether in Ukraine or thousands of miles away in the safety of our own Colorado community. , to see what happens next.

We are witnessing a siege war. This is a military tactic popularized in medieval times; surround a castle or town, block exits, keep food and water out, and wait for them to come out. If they wanted to speed up the process, throw in a few corpses riddled with plague or smallpox for good measure. It is designed to crush a civilian population through violence, disease, starvation and despair.

As one news anchor put it in a shocked voice, “God forbid – this is genocide.”

We agree.

In the past, armies met armies. Since the Second World War, most of the victims of war have not been soldiers – they have been civilians – women and children. Time and terror do the work of the invading soldiers, and it is the civilians who die. In this case, Putin wants to eliminate the Ukrainian people.

Mariupol’s child dies before his father’s eyes. Photo taken by Associated Press photographer.

The beautiful port city of Mariupol is under siege. Mariupol Deputy Mayor Serhiy Orlov predicts that there is worse to come. Most of the city’s population remains trapped. “People are dying without water or food, and I think in the next few days we will see hundreds and thousands of deaths.”

The photos of Mariupol accompanying this article are all provided by Associated Press photographers, who are risking their lives to tell the truth.

Journalism is the first draft of history. This history will be written in the blood of children and in the heroic efforts of ordinary Ukrainians to defend their country.

Mass graves, bodies in the streets, tiny children torn apart by shrapnel. Targeting residential areas, schools, hospitals, food depots, shelter areas clearly identified as a sanctuary for children bombed to the rubble. It’s intentional.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in a speech to the US Congress this week, called for more weapons. His speech (transcript provided by The New York Times) implored President Biden to be the “leader of peace.”

Mariupol Theater with the words children painted on the ground around the building. More than 1,000 people were inside when it was bombed. There is still no estimate of the number of killed. Photo by The Associated Press.

So many people are wringing their hands, with some saying none of us could imagine this happening. It’s not true. Given what we know about Russia, President Vladimir Putin and his distorted ambitions, it wasn’t a question of if, but when. He hates everything about the democracy we hold dear.

The current US administration has clearly seen it approaching and has begun preparing for broad NATO and European Union alliance efforts to support Ukraine.

As Voice of the Valley of the Ark Editor-in-Chief I really hate what I predicted based on my 27+ years of experience with Russia; including eight years as national chairman of the non-profit organization Families for Russian and Ukrainian adoption, including neighboring countries (frua.org).

Specifically, Putin’s policies and decisions since 2008 have revealed an unquenchable thirst for territory and subjugation that satisfies an alternate reality of empire; the one who recreates the tsarist or soviet empire. In 2008, Russia invaded the Republic of Georgia and took the region of South Ossetia.

I witnessed the cruelty in 2012 while representing international adoptive families when Putin ended international adoption in Russia. The children have become pawns. Hundreds of families were in Russia and their adoptions were canceled. Most of these children remained in Russian orphanages, never adopted.

In 2014, I was invited to attend a meeting at the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC to discuss reopening international adoptions. They called it off and the next day Russia invaded Crimea.

I witnessed hypocrisy for several years as a delegate to the US-Russia Forum in Washington, DC, and Moscow. In Moscow, a member of the Russian Duma yelled at me and accused me of lying about the welfare of Russian-American adoptees and America’s intentions; as if the government were anything more than a facilitator of what are in effect private adoptions.

The truth didn’t matter; they saw the adoption as a subversive plot. Somehow, they couldn’t believe in the human right of every child to grow up in a family that loves them, protects them, and gives them the support they need to fulfill their potential. It was a side effect of the powerful Russian propaganda machine spewing out the Kremlin’s agenda.

At the request of the State Department over the past 25 years, I have hosted dozens of Russian officials here to inspect the American adoption system. In 2015, following the Russian invasion of Crimea, I walked through the Moscow metros with a friend, who works with disabled Russian orphans, who wore prominent blue and yellow Ukrainian colors. I was nervous. She was provocative. His attire earned us suspicious looks from our traveling companions. I worry about her now.

I hosted several members of the Russian media, showing them how a free news media reports on government actions; how we support transparency and demand accountability. Unfortunately, at least a few of them have been sucked into the state-controlled media (one has become a fairly prominent RT presenter) and others believe their own lies.

Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime. On Wednesday, President Joe Biden called Putin a war criminal. We also call Putin a war criminal.

Biden went on to say that Putin was “a murderous dictator.” It’s not a difficult point to make right now, as Russian soldiers continue to indiscriminately bombard Ukrainian towns full of civilians.

After Ukraine, Putin could go through the Republic of Georgia, Moldova, which are not NATO countries, then he will eye the Baltic countries, which are NATO countries. The question becomes: if Putin has nothing to lose and he is not arrested, what comes next?

Feature Image: With near-constant shelling and mounting civilian casualties, residents of Mariupol decided to leave bodies in the streets and parks until they could bury them in mass graves in Mariupol. Photo AP.


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