Charles Dickens, in a Tale of Two Cities, started with:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
On December 15, 2013, in Independence Square, Kiev, then-Senator John McCain addressed everyday hardworking Ukrainians and said, “The world is with you. America is with you. And I am with you.” And with those three short sentences the die was cast: Ukraine, which was faltering, could either slip back into Russian Orbit, or embrace a full measure of destiny by being free and her own master.
Five years ago, end of February 2014, Russian “Green Men” invaded Crimea. Russia loudly and repeatedly denied the invasion, until they had captured Crimea – and then, it was theirs, and they said so. Ukrainians overthrew President Viktor Yanukovych, as he was perceived a Russian puppet, and elected Petro Poroshenko to stand up to the powerful president of Russia, Vladimir Putin. And stand up, and stand tall President Pororshenko did. He became – what I called him – the Lion of Ukraine.
With his nation at war, and economy squeezed by Russia and her friends, he tried to reform the economy, move the nation towards European Union, NATO and America. But domestically, despite Russian Meddling, his number one priority was to have a strong military and to keep his soldiers well supplied, fed and strong. Few nations-at-war end up with a better economy. As it is well established, the choice is always: “Guns or Butter.” He provided more guns to his soldiers. Like Winston Churchill, Petro Poroshenko, who succeeded in limiting Russia at war, was not wanted anymore by those seeking a better economy. By October 2018, Poroshenko was polling in single digits. Then Russia attacked three Ukrainian navy boats in the Ukrainian Waters on November 25, 2018 and captured 24 Sailors.
This forced Poroshenko to fight harder and redouble his efforts, and not walk away and let someone else deal with the headaches from allies and enemies. He came to United Nations on February 20, 2019 to speak in the General Assembly, and meet with Secretary General to get help in securing the freedom of 24 innocent sailors Russia had wrongfully captured to make them pawns. I met him, and got a bear hug from him; and I hugged him – and by so doing, hugged every Ukrainian yearning for freedom and a better life at-peace with their own American Dream.
In the recent presidential elections, Ukrainians honored Poroshenko by having him come second in the first round, and then in the second and final round with a roar, of almost 75% , voted to elect a comedian-actor Volodymyr Zelensky lead them with a simple-person’s honesty and hatred for corrupt government. In so doing, Ukrainians elected their version of a Ronald Reagan, a “B” actor, who will honor Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg recipe: a government “for” the people. An honest fiduciary who will help them get what they deserve from all their hard work and suffering.
With all eyes on Putin, the untrampled Czar of Russia, he didn’t send the president-elect Zelensky any flowers, as the German Ambassador Heusgen, as President of the UNSC, complained during the Security Council Meeting on April 25th, but issued a Presidential Decree to award Russian Passports to Ukraine’s Citizens – thereby weaponizing passports to steal citizens and pierce sovereignty. Amb. Volodymyr Yelchenko, unlike his predecessor Yuriy Sergeyev who was shocked at the Russian betrayal in 2014, strongly bemoaned Russia’s “creeping aggression.” While French Amb. Delattre reminded Amb. Nebenzia, who is always supported by Amb. Dmitry Polyansky, the meaning of international law and norms, and the need for Russia to honor them, it was United States Amb. Jonathan Cohen – who strongly and clearly woke up the Chamber, as it is perpetually tired by one crisis after another, to take note of passports becoming a tool of war and sovereignty-piercing.
Volodymyr Zelensky is a Jew, and so is Ukraine’s Prime Minister. I mention this, because just like in the United States, Nazis flourished everywhere, including, in Ukraine in the last Century. Ukraine is now cleansed. And this young man, untested in geopolitics, but who tested his comedic routine daily before a live audience, knows what his people want, and how they want it. He has a leg up on being an Abraham Lincoln. Professionally, he is closer to a Ronald Reagan – who famously told Gorbachev – “trust, but verify.” All of us must him – and the young Republic that he will soon lead – our best wishes and undivided support, even as John McCain’s words ring in my ear: America is with you!
I have no doubt that Donald J. Trump will fully support Ukraine, even as it may be to President Putin’s surprise, as he is now POTUS; and Dickens is watching.
(The author is a senior attorney. He is Legal & Humanitarian Advisor to Ukrainian Mission to United Nations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)