Proof of the horrors local residents were subjected to during more than six months of occupation was revealed on Sept. 19 in a dark and dust-filled basement under the police station in Izium, a strategic city in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region that was liberated in its latest offensive. Among the instruments used to terrorize people were Soviet-era gas masks that had been modified to prevent the victim from being able to breathe once it was placed on the face.
For the likes of Habermas, a successful Ukraine still holds out hope for a post-heroic Europe with just enough military capacity to fend off wicked external actors like Putin (or Trump) while avoiding the dread nationalism of the 19th- and 20th-century nation in arms. In contrast, for American foreign policy elites in both parties, the war in Ukraine is not so much an opportunity for European utopianism but a post-Kabul vindication of American power where at little cost to itself, the United States can savagely bleed the military power of a traditional rival, warn Beijing of the potential costs of an incursion against Taiwan, and support a telegenic and social media savvy statesman all at the same time.
Being close to the facility had always been scary, but with Russian forces occupying the Zaporizhzhia Power Plant, the situation was unpredictable.
While neither side desperately needs an immediate military advance, both also deny the possibility of a negotiated peace any time soon. This will be a long, slow fight to the death until one side is exhausted.
“In Ukraine,” German soldier Anton Kellerhaus wrote in February 1943, “everything is really, totally different. … A completely different people that has nothing at all to do with the other Russians, appears to have settled in this place. It would be tragic if we could not put a stop to the Russians’ advance here, but what is one to do?”
Perhaps Sunday’s hysteria over the possibility of war breaking out in Kosovo was precisely what the debate around Ukraine’s future was missing. In terms of precedents, there is no country that bears more parallels to Ukraine’s current predicament than Kosovo.
Some of the Ukrainian survivors of World War II I spoke to are struggling to get through this present-day conflict — they are baffled, yet again, by the inhumanity of war. And while some of the people I talked to in June were OK with sharing their stories, like Virko, others were too overwhelmed to do so.