I have written before that I am a man of conflicted faith. Yet even though I lecture as a professor of political geography, I cannot but bear witness to Ukraine's agony through the lens of my religion, the faith of my Ukrainian Catholic ancestors. To that I confess, wholeheartedly.
And so Ukraine's tortures have become, as it were, my daily bread. I eat its distress, yet gag as I do, symbolically consuming the flesh and blood of the many now being murdered by Russia's legions. The land of my predecessors has again become a Golgotha, a place of skulls. This is all Vladimir Putin's doing. It is happening as we approach the most sacred day in any Christian's calendar, Easter, marking the triumphant Resurrection from the dead of Jesus, the Christ.
What is happening as I write is only a prelude to the coming Passion of Ukraine, an outrage that will soon occur. As we stand by, an entire country will be scourged and a concerted attempt made at its extinction. Even before that we shall mark a kind of Lent for Ukraine, indeed those 40 days are already upon us. Set aside in the liturgical calendar this is a period that allows Christians the world over to reflect on what Jesus endured after he went into the desert, alone, there to pray and fast, and where he was tempted sorely by Satan.
Ukrainians are in that same wasteland now, being put to the test. The fate of Europe may well depend on how they respond. Their tormentor is none other than Putin. His designs are devilish. Left unchecked, this KGB man in the Kremlin, this president-in-perpetuity of the so-called Russian 'Federation,' will despoil the world you and I knew, short days ago. In large measure he already has. The coming new world order, from which Ukraine is being excised by force, will not be to your liking. We should have forearmed ourselves against this day, for did not W B Yeates raise the clarion call, more than a century ago, warning of a moment in the history of humankind when:
"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."
That rough beast has now come. He is Putin, Russia's slouching tsar. Soon he will offer a kind of communion to those he is sacrificing, ironically in the very breadbasket of Europe. All they must do is eat of his bread, acquiesce to his corrupted vision about how Ukraine never existed, and never will, accept an erasing from memory of the last three decades of independence, as if that time was nothing more than a delusional mirage, best forgotten.
Should the Ukrainians break bread with Putin, should they accept this first temptation, their nation will return to the Russky Mir, absorbed into the oblivion of his imperium. They haven't and they won't. This explains Putin's rage, his frustrated impotence. Still, he is far from spent. So he will try to entice the Ukrainians into laying down their arms, insisting their continued resistance is futile, reminding them, and in this he will speak the truth, that they have not found much real help in this world, have no angels waiting to catch them should they leap into an existential fight against his minions. Why jump, he will ask the "Little Russians" - as he derogatorily refers to Ukrainians - when all can see there are no angels below ready to break the fall? Ukrainians will reject this second temptation. They know they are alone.
Dismayed they are, but these are not a people willing to accept the yoke of Putin, the mark of this beast. Even
when his final offer comes, when he places before them the chance to join his new Russian empire, lording along with him over all they can see, they will not give in. Why? Because, from 1991, from the very first days of Ukraine's independence, and indeed for many centuries before our time, Ukrainians have sought only their country's return to its rightful place in Europe.
They have never lusted for their neighbours' lands or wealth. Rather, by their deeds and their words, most especially over these past three decades, they have stood firmly with the liberal-democratic world, have committed themselves to a rules-based international order. They believed this to be the surest way toward securing a real peace, building up an architecture of stability sustained by the better angels they were told to believe are intrinsic to the nature of Western civilization.
Since 24 February 2022 they have bitterly learned the fallacy of that faith. Now they are fighting and dying alone. They have seen the face of Judas. And so a gloating Putin appears before us, the very antithesis of goodness. Not a
deranged despot but rather an ever-clever secret policeman, this trickster, a relentless liar, nevertheless stands exposed as nothing less than a remorseless and wicked enemy of the light, anathema to everything any decent human being understands by words like truth or goodwill.
If you think I'm exaggerating just ask any Ukrainian. Yet much of the rest of the world still pretends, or prefers, not to see Putin for what he truly is, a species of evil now loosed upon this world. He must be cast back into the pit. There is no alternative.
Tragically, there is worse yet to come for Ukraine. The NATO countries, like that Pilate of yore, have washed their hands of Ukraine's fate, abandoning an entire nation to the savagery of Putin and his confederates. The latter's plans are plain. They seek not Ukraine's surrender but a national extinction, the erasure of this country from the world's maps. Putin's agenda is nothing less than genocidal. Those who stand by and watch this happen cannot remain innocent. Their platitudes won't stop Putin.
Someday, surely, a time for atonement will come. Those Russians who today succour Putin have the blood of Ukraine's innocents on their hands, and that gore will rain down upon the heads of their children and children's children, a baptism staining them for all time, branding them with the mark of Cain. This is how they will be recognized on the day when an even-greater enemy arrives to vanquish Muscovy. Too late, they will remember, as they wail and lament, that the seeds of those future wars, of their destruction, were planted in our time because
of their slavish obedience to Putin, even as the very soil of Ukraine was fertilized with the flesh of her many martyrs.
When they should have staged a real Russian Revolution they stood by. As for those Ukrainians who survive, or somehow escape this war, their memories will forever be infused with a bitterness that can never be extirpated. These grapes of wrath will sooner or later be harvested, then pressed. Over the passage of time that juice will become a nectar of aging vengeance, a wine that can never slacken or satiate their profound thirst for retribution, yet an elixer that will sustain a cause borne forward, tainting even those as yet unborn.
Ukrainians never were Russians, are not Russians now, and certainly never will be after having suffered the devastation and dismemberments of the days of Ukraine's Passion. The only "good tidings" on offer, a balm for those who somehow endure, is that even as so many have been sacrificed to a Moloch, their Ukraine has won this war, its true struggle for independence.
Ukraine is now forever lost to Moscow. No matter what the battlefield outcomes, Putin's imperial project has been polluted and made putrid, his final failure certain. Godspeed that day. Until that time comes this will be Ukraine's only gospel, the only good news emerging from this apocalypse now.
Yes, the Ukrainian nation still resists the Russian foe. That dogged struggle reminds the world of how tyranny must be confronted. Yet the heroic Ukraine we see before us cannot last forever. Be it tomorrow, or the next day, or even weeks from now, those fighting this just war in defence of their homeland will be beaten down, many of the country's best people will be butchered or driven into exile.
Ukraine's Passion will then end. In the wake of this holocaust what remains of the modern Ukrainian state will be buried. But do not think this represents any final solution to the Ukrainian Question. I say to you now that it does not. For just as surely as Ukraine's crucifixion is upon us so too Ukraine will arise from its Russian-dug tomb. With that
Ukrainian Resurrection there will be a reckoning. Those who drew Ukraine's blood, and those abandoned Ukraine, will not escape a judgement. Know too that Ukraine's Second Coming will not be a herald of the West's salvation. Putin, and all who permitted his predations, are tomorrow's damned. One day they will drink the juices oozing from these grapes of wrath.