Welcome to Spring; the Massacre of Mariupol; and a New Hello Kitty

“I’ve been writing about Ukraine in this space nonstop for a month. I’m exhausted by it. I suspect you are, too.”

That’s not me saying that. It’s Jonathan V. Last (aka JVL). He’s a never-Trumper ex-Republican, who blogs & podcasts for The Bulwark, one of the key ex-GOP-Save-Democracy-if-we-can media shops which I follow.

But in Quaker-talk, I affirm it: this friend speaks my mind.

My sense is that the American public’s attention span for disasters and even wars, except maybe our own, is no more than a few weeks; and we’re approaching our limit with Ukraine. (And in “our” I’m including myself.)

Sure, Putin is still awful, we really hate the invasion, the razing of cities, killing of civilians, especially kids, the flood of refugees. Zelensky is a surprise megahero, the citizen resistance has been epic, even Biden seems to be doing the job right of fighting back without loosing the nuclear furies on us (so far).

And yeah, it’s grimly fun to watch Putin’s Fox News pals squirming and trying to cover their bloody tracks. For a few minutes, anyway.

But, by this weekend, it was like sitting in a darkened theatre, stuck in an action movie which has gone on too long. I can feel the shifting in the seats around, detect the stifled yawns, the gleam of furtively-checked cell phones, all telegraphing the key American question:

Okay, okay — so what’s next?  Gimme the remote. (Or maybe, “Siri, check on the game . . . .)”

On the ground in Ukraine, it was another weekend of nonstop mayhem, especially around Mariupol, which I read is a strategic target for Putin’s forces. And despite all their losses, the Russians are grinding it down.

That’s why JVL, who’s tuned in to his audience as well, protests against giving in to the restless creep of distraction:

And yet, this seems like an important moment,” he says “—one that deserves a great deal of our attention so that we can understand what’s coming next.

“Also: Turning our attention away from Ukraine would be a kind of victory for Putin. One way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in an information war is just to exhaust your opponents. Exhaustion is a real force, one that can ultimately defeat resolve and even truth. . . .

JVL – one exhausted dude.

“I’m sorry in advance if I’m taxing your patience.”

Well, I did what I could: rode with the Fair Wendy down to Fayetteville (in her relatively new Electric Chevy, flipping off all the self-inflating gas station signs we passed), to join the second Ukraine rally sponsored by Quaker House along with the local chapter of the National Organization of Women.

There we met up with a dozen or so genuine Ukrainians, who were just as pleased with the support and the springlike weather, yet who brought a note of seriousness and heightened stakes to the vigil, as when they talked about family in the homeland (and Russia), stood to sing their national anthem, in Ukrainian, and recited a prayer in both that and in English, in which we joined.

The Ukrainians’ prayer, Fayetteville NC, part one

And there was a jolt when the mic was handed to a fellow who told us he was working with the Special Forces Foundation, based near the Fayetteville Airport, who were raising funds and supplies for relief. Let’s call him Gary.

I was jolted because in my tour of eleven years on the Quaker House staff, in doing scores of vigils and rallies in Fayetteville about Iraq & Afghanistan, the SF guys who showed up were almost all on the other side. They usually drove by, saluting us and our antiwar signs with one raised finger.

The Ukrainians’ Prayer, part two

But love is strange, life is weird, and wars aren’t all the same; like politics, they can make for unpredictable  bedfellows. U. S. forces are not deployed in this war (hope it stays that way), and I read that many SFers have done tours there over the past decades, training the Ukrainians, who have long feared that such an invasion was coming.

These troops have also been building many relationships that run much deeper than those of us who know it only through the media. Some, like Gary, refuse to give them up even though they’re not currently permitted to do anything “kinetic” (aka join the fighting).

The war’s tidal wave of refugees, so many suddenly homeless families, so many terrorized elders and kids, has yielded a sudden mountain of non-kinetic work for people with their connections. So Gary told us he had arranged for a container to be shipped to Ukraine or nearby, and asked us to help fill it with — baby formula. Stuff like that. No weapons. That was somebody else’s job.

Which is to say, that afternoon, in this phase of an awful war, we were definitely on the same side, and all had plenty to do.

From the outside, our little rally seemed like a success. Good spirit, encouragement, determination, kids with sunflowers like crowns.

But the war wasn’t far away. A young Ukrainian came by, passing out small decals; I took one.

Under a translucent cover sheet, I could make out a version of the internationally popular Hello Kitty image. But when I lifted it, the diminutive feline was wearing a blue and yellow Ukrainian vest, embossed with a black death’s head, toting what looked like an AR-15, and had a steely-eyed expression that banished the “cute-cool” kitten.

And there, under the balmy Fayetteville sky, amid the cusp-of-spring flowers, amid the moment’s good feeling and the fervent prayer for peace, was a clear postmodern signal of resistance to the death.

AP- Worldwide, farmers . . . are weighing whether to change their planting patterns and grow more wheat this spring as the war has choked off or thrown into question grain supplies from a region known as “the breadbasket of the world.”

Ukraine and Russia account for a third of global wheat and barley exports, which countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa rely on to feed millions of people who subsist on subsidized bread and bargain noodles. They are also top exporters of other grains and sunflower seed oil used for cooking and food processing.

Major grain producers like the United States, Canada, France, Australia and Argentina are being closely watched to see if they can quickly ramp up production to fill in the gaps from lost Ukrainian and Russian supplies.

But farmers are facing the prospect of another year of drought, climbing fuel and fertilizer costs, and supply chain disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic. Major producers also are hamstrung by factors like legal limits on exports and farming patterns.

That means uncertainty for countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan, Iran, Ethiopia and others that cannot grow enough wheat, barley, corn or other grains to meet their needs. The war has raised the specter of food shortages and political instability in countries that rely on affordable grain imports.

Any extra grain exports from anywhere in the world “will likely only partially offset lower Black Sea shipments over the remainder of the current season,” the International Grains Council said in its March report.

About half of the grain the World Food Program buys to feed 125 million people worldwide comes from Ukraine. The double blow of rising food prices and depressed wheat exports from the war is a recipe for “catastrophe not just in Ukraine, but potentially globally,” the head of the U.N. food assistance agency warned.

“It will impact millions and millions of people, particularly in the poorest countries of the world,” WFP Executive Director David Beasley told The Associated Press in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv last week as he visited a refugee center where food aid was distributed.”


AP-MADRID — Authorities in Gibraltar have detained a superyacht linked to a Russian tycoon who is the target of British sanctions over Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Gibraltar is a tiny British overseas territory on the southernmost tip of the European mainland, bordering Spain.

According to Gibraltar’s public broadcaster, GBC, the yacht is called Axioma and is believed to be owned by Dmitrievich Pumpyansky. He is chairman of the board of directors of PJSC, a main steel pipe supplier for Russia’s oil and gas industry.

Pumpyansky was also included earlier this month in a European Union list of Russian sanctioned individuals.

The Gibraltar government said late Monday it would not have normally granted the vessel permission to enter its waters given its “ultimate beneficial ownership,” but that port authorities allowed it in after “it was confirmed to be the subject of an arrest action by a leading international bank in the Supreme Court of Gibraltar.” The statement didn’t specify the legal claims from creditors.

Yachts owned or linked to super-rich Russian oligarchs have been among the first assets seized or frozen by Western governments as part of their response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Authorities in Italy, France and Spain have impounded several luxury vessels in the crackdown.”

The Axioma, on a halter in Gibraltar.






2 thoughts on “Welcome to Spring; the Massacre of Mariupol; and a New Hello Kitty”

  1. I’m glad that you are still writing about Ukraine. Once people stop writing, Americans will stop caring, and Ukraine will be left without the support that it needs from us. I am a Ukrainian and an American. (I’m not sure how one can be a not-genuine Ukrainian, by the way.) I have family in Ukraine and a cousin fighting in the Ukrainian armed forces. I believe that the only way to end this awfulness is to keep our eyes focused on it.

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