For decades, world leaders bowed their heads at war memorials across Europe and solemnly proclaimed: “Never again.” The time has come to prove those were not empty words. Russia has unleashed war in Europe out of hateful expansionism. History will judge each one of us later on how we faced this evil. I am confident we will all pass this test, but at what price?
Comparisons to Hitler and Nazism have certainly been overused and devalued over the past decades. But there’s no question that, as Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to bomb our citizens and kill civilians, his invasion is following Hitler’s and Stalin’s playbooks. The last time Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities faced such a brutal military aggression was in the early hours of June 22, 1941, when Hitler launched his Soviet invasion, Operation Barbarossa.
In his speeches before and during the invasion, Putin cannot conceal his hatred toward Ukrainians and their right to exist in their own sovereign state. Russian citizens and troops have been poisoned with toxic propaganda for years labeling Ukrainians “neo-Nazis” — and we fear we haven’t seen the full scope of the horrors they might be capable of committing.
Just two days after the invasion began, an article appeared on Russian state media prematurely proclaiming the takeover of Ukraine by Russia and overtly called Putin’s “special operation” in Ukraine a “solution to the Ukrainian question.” The piece was later removed, but the Web has a lasting memory.
The words “solution to the Ukrainian question” should alarm us all. If this is not history repeating itself, then what is?
Of course, evil has always taken root under different circumstances. But we can’t push aside that we are witnessing a barbaric effort to redraw borders by brutal force and erase national identity and self-determination with no room for compromise.
Hitler’s rise and aggressions were enabled by the inability to confront him early on. The crocodile ate appeasers one by one. The price to put a stop to his global ambitions was devastating. We can’t afford to repeat the same mistakes that were made eight decades ago.
“Never again” means acting before it’s too late. “Never again” means stopping the aggressor before it can cause more death and destruction. “Never again” means not letting fear paralyze us.
The people of Ukraine, along with our military, are committed to this principle. They prove it with a heroism, stoicism and resilience not seen since the last conflict that engulfed the world. Ukraine will prevail — light will win over darkness, as President Volodymyr Zelensky said. Ukraine has already foiled Putin’s blitzkrieg, inflicted disastrous losses on the invaders and prevented Russia from achieving the strategic goals of its invasion. We are holding our ground.
But we need more support. Russia needs to face more severe sanctions to stop it from bankrolling its invasion; Ukraine will need commitments to maintain a steady flow of necessary weapons; and our people will require financial assistance for civilians affected by Russian aggression — and later to rebuild our nation.
We do see, feel and appreciate the world’s solidarity. The admiration for our people, armed forces and president fills us with pride. But stopping Putin will require resolute and immediate steps. We need aircraft. We need effective air defense and missile defense systems. We need to protect our skies to stop Russian aircraft and missiles from killing more civilians.
On the sanctions front, Russian state-owned Sberbank needs to be banned from SWIFT, countries must stop buying Russian oil, which is now tainted with Ukrainian blood, and ban Russian ships from ports; and the hard currency of Russian financial institutions in the United States, Switzerland, Japan, Britain and the European Union must be frozen.
Russia and Putin must be completely isolated. Russian ambassadors and representatives must be expelled from international organizations. Boycotts and bans on cultural and sporting events must be expanded.
I know some of these actions have taken place. As Ukraine’s emissary to the world, I have been deeply moved by the millions who have protested Russia’s invasion in the streets of their capitals, increasing the pressure on their governments to act.
But a lot more can and must be done to stop Russia. There is no time to wait or hesitate. The time to pass this collective test of our humanity is now. “Never again” must become a rallying cry, a call to action, not a solemn but empty promise. The time to prove the 21st century will be different from the 20th century is now.
Dmytro Kuleba, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine for The Washington Post