Unfortunately, Displaced Ukrainians are Calling for World War III
Here in Poland, resources are in abundant supply for the huge numbers of displaced Ukrainians that have entered the country. If you go to make an ATM transaction, you are automatically presented with an option to deposit funds into one of the official aid organizations’ coffers:
Posters and flyers are everywhere advertising ways to give money from the comfort of your smartphone:
You can even purchase special “charity cocktails”:
Of course, this is all in response to a real need — Poland has taken an enormous influx of fleeing Ukrainians, mostly women and children, with the latest count being over two million. That’s something like a 6% increase in the country’s total population within just the span of a few weeks — a wild figure. But as with any sudden outpour of massive financial resources, especially during an emotionally-fraught period when accounting procedures may be less than scrupulous, there is an obvious potential for chicanery. (The $24 billion pumped into “racial equity” organizations post-George Floyd comes to mind.) In that vein, I just had a very interesting conversation with a very “interesting” American person currently operating in Poland, and I’ll write about that more in the coming days. For now though, the point is that NGOs and other outfits are flush with cash — such that, if I wanted to, I could easily approach one of them and ask to be provided with a pre-screened Ukrainian to interview.
But that’s not what I’ve done. In keeping with how I prefer to interview ordinary Americans, I’ve been trying to gauge the sentiments of these displaced Ukrainians by encountering them as randomly and organically as possible, without any intermediaries.
And what I can report thus far is that with the exception of just one person, every recently-arrived Ukrainian I’ve spoken to in Poland has expressed strong support for “Closing the Sky” when queried. (They’ve all been women, most with young children, who just fled the war.) For the record, I want to make clear that when I’m speaking to these people, I’m simply trying to ascertain their views — not challenge or debate them, especially given the sensitivity of their predicament. The growing number of trolls swarming Twitter lately seem to have this bizarre vision of me running around the Polish border, angrily lecturing war victims about how wrong they are — which of course is idiotic. Whatever my faults, I’m not a sociopath.
Still, it’s straight-forwardly the case that “Closing the Sky” — the synonym for “No Fly Zone” often used by Ukrainians — would constitute a seismic escalation by the US to open warfare against Russia. Hopefully this has been well established by now. Joe Biden himself says it would mean launching World War III.
So when newly-christened international folk hero Zelensky repeats his incessant No Fly Zone demand — as he implored Congress again this week — it should be instantly met with harsh criticism and rebuke. Because his demand is sheer insanity. But instead what’s happening is the frantic glorification of Zelensky, transforming him into a mythic savior figure. As such, his latest Congressional appearance received a rapturous bipartisan ovation, capped off by Nancy Pelosi bizarrely screaming “Slava Ukraini” — a phrase with some pretty questionable origins. While on the one hand Democrats frequently seem convinced that there’s a Nazi lurking behind every MAGA supporter, the actual historical Nazis appear to be less of a bother at the moment. But that’s neither here nor there.
After he got done invoking Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and for some reason Martin Luther King, Jr. — go figure — Zelensky marked the climax of his address by playing a mesmerizing video montage, complete with graphic war imagery and a dramatic orchestral score. This was the final frame:
So the policy intervention Zelensky is furiously lobbying for remains clear as day — and the mandatory adulation it is claimed he’s owed remains utterly insane. At least if you don’t find launching World War III to be an adulation-worthy proposition.
As the head of his country’s government, Zelensky must be aware of the ramifications of what he’s demanding. Unless he’s truly delusional. Either way, his position necessitates that he be rebuked, harshly, given the scale of the catastrophe that would unfold if his calls were heeded. But here’s a more complex quandary: what do you do when civilian victims of the war — ordinary women who have been displaced and forced to flee, for example — are making the same demand?
I met a Ukrainian woman named Katerina at a large processing center set up by the Polish government in a warehouse right across the Ukraine border. She was in her 30s and accompanied by her elderly mother, along with her two kids. (The vast, vast majority of the displaced Ukrainians I’ve observed are women — fighting age males are barred from leaving the country. I don’t think I’ve even seen a male child older than around 12.) Katerina lived in the suburbs of Kiev and waited till this week to flee, only after the sound of bombs dropping closer and closer caused enough alarm that she feared for the safety of her kids.
When I brought up the possibility of a No Fly Zone, she was unequivocal in her support. “It will save those who can’t leave,” she said. I gently asked if she was aware what a No Fly Zone entails; that it would require direct US military intervention, and therefore war with Russia. “I am mother. I am not politician,” she said. “Issues with war should be decided by politicians.”
It’s a totally understandable sentiment. She believes that “Closing the Sky” will save the male relatives she left behind, end the war, and enable her to return home. But she had little concept of what a No Fly Zone really is, how it would be executed, or even that it would involve military action. And that’s not her fault at all. She’s just gone through a harrowing three weeks. Anyone who’s forced to flee their home and traverse a warzone would justifiably be more preoccupied with their own family’s welfare than the details of a theoretical military strategy. For many Ukrainians (as well as supportive Poles) the slogan “Close the Sky” — with its benign, humanitarian-sounding connotation — seems to function as a generic expression of desire to end the war. And no one can really argue with that desire.
But it’s clear that the implications of a No Fly Zone have not been adequately explained to these people. Perhaps that is a deliberate tactic on the part of Ukraine government officials, amidst their furious international lobbying campaign to cajole the US and other governments into launching World War III. The day before he addressed Congress this week, Zelensky repeated the same No Fly Zone demand to the Canadian Parliament (and received a three-minute standing ovation.)
The fervor being successfully stoked by Zelensky makes it all the more necessary to employ careful, but firm moral reasoning: displaced Ukrainians deserve sympathy, and help, but they are not owed the slightest bit of deference in their foreign policy demands. Because what they’re demanding would produce a catastrophe beyond belief. Similarly, the sympathy they’re owed cannot be allowed to obscure the extremism of what they’re calling for — nor should it preclude puncturing the sainthood bubble around Zelensky, who at this point is the most effective lobbyist for World War III that’s ever walked the Earth. And is therefore extremely dangerous.
At a makeshift bus stop in the Polish border city of Przemysl, I met another Ukrainian woman, Snežana, who was in her late 20s. She is from Kharkiv, where some of the worst destruction has taken place. Though she stuck out the first few weeks of the war, she decided to leave when a bomb went off just a few kilometers from her house. It took her three days to reach Poland; she said her uncle is currently fighting in the Ukraine military.
And she was ardently supportive of “Closing the Sky,” based in part on the belief that if this is not done immediately, “World War III will start in Ukraine.” So in other words, “Closing the Sky” is the only way to prevent World War III in her mind — although she also evinced little awareness that the “sky” would necessarily have to be “closed” by the US military. Her views were in keeping with the increasingly-prevalent theory that World War III has already begun on some level, and now it’s only a matter of accepting reality and deciding the right time to strike back.
While she seemed like a lovely person, the theory she presented was calamitously insane: that you’d somehow prevent World War III by outright initiating it. She was convinced that Putin will invade additional countries, and who knows — maybe she’s right. But that’s still just speculative. It’s not speculation that “Closing the Sky” would necessitate US warfare against Russia, because that would be the whole point of the operation — to forcibly eliminate Russian jets from Ukraine’s airspace.
Talking to the displaced Ukrainians can be quite affecting. I was particularly moved by an interaction I had with a young woman named Victoria outside the train station in Rzeszow. She was from the Kiev area and had just arrived with her baby, Igor, after a long journey through Moldova, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia. Only when she became intolerably scared for the baby did she decide it was finally time to flee. I got baby Igor to laugh and wiggle around in his stroller, which hopefully added a bit of momentary levity to Victoria’s situation.
All the same, one cannot allow the perfectly warranted sympathy for these people’s plight to confuse the issue: in calling for “Close the Sky,” they are calling for an action that would launch World War III, and therefore radically increase the risk of nuclear annihilation. Unfortunately.