Remember Kyiv

In the spring of 2022, a scrappy Ukrainian army pulled off the greatest military upset of the twenty-first century. We would all do well to remember it.

Remember Kyiv

When Texans need a rallying cry to aid in their resistance efforts, they can often be heard shouting, “Remember the Alamo.” They refer to the 1836 clash at the Alamo Mission, when a hardy garrison of Texian settlers fought intrepidly against a Mexican army that outnumbered them ten to one. After they fended off two attacks across thirteen days of fighting, the Texian rebels were ultimately slaughtered by the third.

But the story of the Alamo did not end there. The bloody episode inspired a surge in new membership in the Texas army, which won its independence one month later at the Battle of San Jacinto. As they trounced their enemy combatants, one could hear the Texian soldiers chant, “Remember the Alamo!”

Two centuries later, Ukraine’s fighting forces desperately need a rallying cry of their own. Left in the lurch by its mightiest ally, the country has whittled down its arsenal of weapons and ammunition in an existential war against Russia, whose outdated yet vast military seeks to pummel a resilient people into submission. In this dire moment, it is worth remembering a time when Ukraine’s prospects were even bleaker, and how exactly its citizens acted then.

Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, 2022. A convoy of tanks soon entered from the north, headed straight for the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. The expectation, held by Russian leadership and Western onlookers alike, was that Kyiv would quickly fall and regime change would follow. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, believed that the “special military operation” would last only two days—that within forty-eight hours, he would have a brand new nation under his thumb.

American intelligence agencies concurred. Seeing the writing on the wall, the United States offered to evacuate the young president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in order to save his life. In one of the twenty-first century’s most important decisions, President Zelenskyy made the right call: “I need ammunition, not a ride.”

As Russian troops tore through its territory, Ukraine’s military devised a Hail Mary plan to safeguard the capital, which if successful, would upend Putin’s assault. The first priority was to prevent an “air corridor” from Russia into Kyiv. Ukraine knew that Russia would attempt to fly troops and equipment directly into the capital, effectively ending the battle before it began. As predicted, Russian troops seized Antonov Airport, just outside the city’s limits, by airdropping onto the site. The Ukrainians answered by pounding their airport with firepower, shredding the runway and rendering it unusable.

Next came the task of canceling out Russia’s superior airpower. In the leadup to the invasion, Ukraine dispersed mobile anti-air weapons throughout the country. By constantly shuffling the locations of the weapons, Ukrainian forces tricked Russian bombers into targeting their former positions. Believing that the path was then clear, they flew ahead without caution. The Ukrainians were happy to blast those mistaken pilots out of the sky.

Back in Kyiv, citizens of Ukraine took up arms to repel Russia’s ground assault. While Putin’s army moved to encircle the capital, civilians manufactured their own Molotov cocktails. Homemade “Czech hedgehogs,” produced by Ukrainian welders, littered the streets to stop Russian tanks in their tracks. The military opened its armory to the city’s residents, distributing 18,000 guns to anyone who believed their home was worth defending.

The final objective was to break the Russian convoy headed toward Kyiv. To accomplish this goal, the Ukrainians resorted to a clever tactic: They would wait for a group of tanks to approach and immobilize the first tank in line, thereby trapping the rest. Mud on either side of the road thwarted any escape; many Russians simply abandoned their vehicles and ran. To exacerbate the mud, Ukraine blew up the nearby Irpin River dam and flooded the area. Soldiers went on demolishing bridges and infrastructure, leaving no route available for Russia to penetrate the capital.

By March 10th, the convoy had dispersed. On the 16th, Ukraine began its counteroffensive. By the 29th, Putin’s army had completely abandoned the front, and four days later, Ukraine had retaken all territory surrounding Kyiv. Against all odds, the Russian offensive had failed: President Zelenskyy was alive, his command intact, and the Ukrainian capital was still standing. Its people had won the right to fight another day.

Just before the invasion, President Biden weighed sending thousands of U.S. troops to the NATO alliance’s eastern flank, believing that a belligerent Russia would soon be pressed against its members’ doorsteps. He presumed, as did many, that a new Iron Curtain would be necessary to contain Putin’s resurgent power. Biden’s dreadful projection never came to pass, however, thanks to the astonishing resistance displayed during the Battle of Kyiv. Every Ukrainian today, and those debating the nation’s fate in unbesieged Washington, would do well to remember it.

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