The Flag

People are saying that putting a Ukrainian flag in your social media avatar is an empty virtue signal that doesn’t help.

But that’s not true. It really helps. I’m not saying it helps everybody but it helps me. Other people I talked to say the same. I don’t care if people put it up unthinkingly or what their motives are. I’m not their psychoanalyst. What do I care about motives?

The thing is, we are attached to this flag like many people aren’t to theirs. Those of us who were born before 1991 didn’t grow up with it. I will forever remember the first time I saw it, and I was maybe 12 or 13. I’ve been attached to it deeply since then. My American kid knew the colors of the Ukrainian flag since the moment she learned to tell colors because I have it everywhere around the house, on two places on my car, in my office, my clothes, jewelry, my two medals. This isn’t connected to the war. I was always into it. Seeing it is a big pick-me-up at any time, and during a war, much more so.

I never even felt at home in America until I came to the Midwest and saw the familiar landscape of a corn field under a blue sky, which is what the flag symbolizes.

I’m not encouraging anybody to wrap themselves in Ukrainian flags to make me feel better but I do feel better when I see it. This flag was very hard-won. Today, people are dying for it. And it does feel comforting to see that others still hold it up even when our soldiers fall to the ground.

The Invasion of Kharkiv

A few years ago, Russia held one of its military parades in the Red Square. You know the kind I’m talking about. The Russian leadership watching from the top of the Mausoleum. Military technology rolling by, soldiers marching, people clapping.

This parade was particularly important because the Russian Army was going to present its extra-fancy brand-new rocket launcher. The rocket launcher was highly publicized as a hugely important breakthrough in Russian military technology. It was endlessly discussed on TV in the usual terms of “everybody should tremble in fear” and “once again we prove we are the best.”

Finally, the parade begins. The troops march across the Red Square. Putin observes benevolently from above.

Finally, the fabled rocket launcher enters the Red Square and begins to cross it. It’s a huge, scary-looking thing. And then, right in the middle of the Red Square . . . the fancy new rocket launcher starts falling into pieces. Literally, pieces fall off it. The launcher looks like it’s made of painted cardboard. Soldiers drag it out of the Red Square and everybody pretends this never happened.

I remembered this yesterday when at midnight my time I saw an alert that Russian troops were entering Kharkiv, the city I’m from. I almost had a heart attack right there and immediately went to look at the footage of what was going on.

And. . . it was weird. Really weird.

I don’t understand war. Its strategy and tactics are unclear to me. But what I saw in yesterday’s invasion of Kharkiv by the Russian troops was of such nature that I went to sleep without waiting to see how it would turn out. Because it was obvious how it would end. Here’s why.

The invasion looked as follows. A Russian military vehicle (I don’t know what they are called. Not a tank but a big scary dude on wheels) enters the city. It starts roaming around aimlessly and not very fast, like it’s lost. Somebody throws a grenade and sets it on fire.

Two minutes later, a Russian tank shows up. There’s more aimless, plodding wandering around. Somebody on the Ukrainian side picks it off.

Eight minutes later, a small colonnade of Russian vehicles enters. They all go at a different distance from each other. One of them slows down to almost a hault for no particular reason. Somebody on the Ukrainian side throws something at it and it explodes.

I only see the view from one stationary camera and can’t see what happens to the rest of the Russian colonnade. In the morning, I find out that the colonnade was destroyed in its entirety. I’m not surprised because they way it was coming in, they were total sitting ducks. Any citizen with a homemade Molotov cocktail could have picked them off one by one. (And probably did).

I’m hearing talk from Ukrainians on the ground that the Russian colonnade didn’t come as part of a planned military operation. People are saying these particular Russians came because they had run out of food and were almost out of fuel (which would explain the bizarre behavior of the vehicles). Kharkiv is minutes from the Russian border, so these people left their country to come get food in the country they have invaded.

We all knew that the Russian army is a mess (see the story I started with) but this was on a whole different level. Again, I know dick about urban warfare and if anybody has any knowledge that explains this, I welcome it. But sending isolated tiny groups of vehicles into a 1,500,000 city does not look like a way to conquer it. It looks like a way to lose vehicles and men. Which is exactly what happened. Kharkiv is completely under Ukrainian control.

Glory to Ukraine.

Humor in Ukraine

I wish more people read Ukrainian because out of desperation I subscribed to a bunch of Twitter accounts of regular Ukrainians with small followings who live in the war zone. The sense of humor on these people is amazing. They have the best jokes, the funniest memes, and an incredible amount of hutzpa. The humor is mostly dark but our humor is always like this. Nobody is asking for any mental health days. Instead, it’s a mental health day to read them.

By a long measure, the calmest, most collected and unhysterical writing online today comes from these Ukrainians. Quite a huge contrast with many people who haven’t spent the night under an air raid but are going off their nut.