Timothy Snyder on why we should thank Ukrainians

Timothy Snyder is the Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University, a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna and an expert on Russian and Eastern European history. Yesterday, he narrated an essay on his subscription-only Substack site “Thinking about . . . “ on the occasion of Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to the US and expression of gratitude for UN support. Snyder believes that we should be thanking Ukranians. Here, I summarize his ten reasons:

1. Security in Europe: Ukraine has been the victim of a long-anticipated Russian military attack, the first such attack since NATO was established, and Ukraine is fulfilling the NATO mission of European security singlehandedly on the strength of 3% of the US defense budget;

2. Audit, in practice, of the US defense budget: using US military technology* and equipment, Ukraine has won back half the territory it lost to Russia in 2022 and has thereby shown us what a portion of the US defense budget can do in the field;

3. Increasing security in the Pacific: Ukraine’s success in absorbing Russian military power serves as a caution to China in its ambition to attack and conquer Taiwan and to threaten the South China Sea by showing the difficulty in carrying out offensive military operations;

4. Helping to feed the world: before the war started, Ukraine was a major source of food for Asia and Africa, and has some of the most fertile soil on the planet and is close to ports on the Black Sea. Russia has destroyed dams, irrigation, farm fields and port facilities, and Ukraine continues to try to get food out to feed the world;

5. Making nuclear war less likely: by refusing to give in to Russian nuclear blackmail and fighting back, Ukraine shows that other nations don’t have to possess nuclear weapons in order to stand up to nuclear powers, thereby making nuclear proliferation less likely;

6. Giving democracy a chance; democracy has been in decline for most of the 21st century, and the Russian attack on Ukraine is an explicit attack on democracy that Ukraine has steadfastly resisted in the name of democracy, demonstrating the strength of democracy;

7. Talking about freedom; freedom as a way of talking about a future in which people can realize their own possibilities;

8. Modeling courage; Zelenskyy exemplified this by staying in Kyiv when it was under siege and under threat of assassination, but that’s just the most visible example of the physical and moral courage the Ukrainian soldiers and civilians show every day that they remain in, and fight for, their homeland;

9. Search for truth; journalists, scholars, writers continue to report and discuss difficult truths about their society and culture during the stress and violence of war;

10. Giving us a chance to be on the right side; our people are not in Ukraine taking the risks to resist an illegal war, but the opportunity to help is important for us in evaluating our own democracy and our place in the world.

*Snyder overlooks the critical role of Starlink technology, which is privately owned, although the Ukraine military use is paid for by US tax dollars