And If It Had Been Zelensky? How The War Became Bigger Than Any One Person
Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs Denys Monastyrsky was killed Wednesday in a helicopter crash. The cause is still unknown, but the high-profile victim could just have well been President Zelensky instead. It raises the question of whether there are indispensable figures on either side in a war of this nature?
The news came at 8 a.m., local time: a helicopter had crashed in Brovary, near Kyiv, with all the top management of Ukraine's Ministry of Internal Affairs on board, including Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky. There were no survivors.
Having come just days after a Russian missile killed dozens in a Dnipro apartment, the first thought of most Ukrainians was about the senseless loss of innocent life in this brutal war inflicted on Ukraine. Indeed, it occurred near a kindergarten and at least one of the dozens killed was a small child.
But there was also another kind of reaction to this tragedy, since the victims this time included the country's top official for domestic security. For Ukrainians (and others) have been wondering — regardless of whether or not the crash was an accident — if instead of Interior Minister Monastyrsky, it had been President Volodymyr Zelensky in that helicopter. What then?
Indeed, the Ukrainian president was asked about it during his video appearance at the WEF summit in Davos on Wednesday. Without blinking, he said he is not afraid of being targeted, and is focused on getting Ukraine the military aid it needs from Western allies.
But posing this question, at this moment — imagining Ukraine without its now iconic war leader — offers a surprising moment of clarity.
What's in a name?
Sure, Volodymyr Zelensky is far more recognizable than Denys Monastyrsky, or even Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces. Both inside and outside of Ukraine. It is also undeniable that Zelensky's courage in the first days and weeks of the war were vital, even decisive, in rallying the armed forces and the nation — and the rest of the world — to repel the Russian onslaught.
The Ukrainian people have lost too much
Even six months ago, perhaps, we might imagine that the loss of Zelensky could have changed the course of the war, and our collective history.
But not now.
And it's not because the names and personalities don't matter. Quite the opposite: All the names have become far too important. The Ukrainian people have lost too much, have paid too high a price in taking on a bigger, better-armed enemy daily.
Yes, Zelensky's role continues to be critical, and he remains enormously popular. Yes, his premature death would be painful for the nation. But by now, both the war machine and mobilized national war effort have reached maturity. Ukrainians are driven by a love for their nation and hatred of the enemy that extends far beyond any one person.
If Putin was gone ...
But there is a seemingly paradoxical analogy on the other side of this war.
The situation in Russia also seems to be riding on one man: It is Vladimir Putin who decided to go to war, who is uniting the nation behind his false pretext for the invasion and brutal targeting of innocent lives, doubling down with a nationwide mobilization last fall.
And yet, here as well, a change of the leader will not change anything. Even if Putin suddenly died before dinner tonight, this war will be with us for many more meals to come. Russian soldiers will continue shooting at Ukrainian residential houses, not because of love for their homeland, but because a new set of superiors are driven by the same fear and thirst for power as Putin.
People paying tribute to the victims of the helicopter crash in Brovary
A nation that grew up fearful of NATO attacks, Western influence, LGBTQ rights, and a post-Christian soulless culture will continue to fight, will be ready for sacrifice.
The propaganda-washed brains of their so-called "deep people," that is, the tens of millions of people living outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, have long ago formed a picture of their reality, and will not give it up just because some other blue-ish corpse of the leader in the Kremlin casket will replace Lenin.
The conclusion suggests itself: This is not a war between Putin and Zelensky; it is a war between Russia and Ukraine, a war between two tectonic plates of time, where one has moved into the future, and the other is permanently stuck in the past.
Perhaps the only comfort for Ukrainians right now is about the very nature of time, which can only move forward.
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