Seeds of Destruction – From Lidice to Rubizhne: The Totality of War (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #83)

It has been over thirty years now, but I can still recall the moment when I first read the story of Lidice. The inhabitants of this small village in central Bohemia were rounded up on June 10, 1942, by Nazi German police and security forces. The villagers were then either murdered or deported to concentration camps in retaliation for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich – the Nazi German governor of Bohemia and Moravia – by the Czechoslovak resistance. After the executions and deportations, the village was razed to the ground as a terrifying example to the Czechoslovak population of what was in store for anyone who dared to resist Nazi rule. Paradoxically, it was both the capriciousness and methodical nature of this massacre which must have made it particularly terrifying. A peaceful village in the rural countryside of Czechoslovakia selected seemingly at random for complete destruction. No one was safe and everyone could be considered guilty. This was the fate of those who called Lidice home. The village was gone, but not forgot

I had never heard of Lidice until reading about it in a book about the Second World War at a local community college library. The story was so shocking that I could not look away from the words. I came back months later and read the story again. It sounded like something more associated with the medieval than the modern. I can distinctly recall the sickening feeling that came over me while reading this horrific bit of history. An entire village’s inhabitants, hundreds of men, women and children killed in an act of premediated murder thoroughly planned and executed with lethal efficiency. The Nazis wanted to leave a legacy of destruction that would be remembered for years to come. Nothing was left of Lidice except for rubble and ashes. For me, Lidice became a byword for the most extreme form of total war, one that I was thankful had been relegated to history books. At least that was what I thought thirty years ago. The Ukraine-Russia War is now providing a reminder that what happened in Lidice can be repeated on a much larger scale with similar results.

Total war – Scene from Rubizhne

Past Tense – Off The Map
Rubizhne was a small city of 56,000 in eastern Ukraine. It was strategically situated on the left bank of the Donets River. Referring to Rubizhne as a “was” rather than an “is” feels strange because one hundred days ago the opening sentence of this paragraph would have started with, “Rubizhne is.” That is no longer true. Rubizhne was destroyed in matter of weeks. It suffered massive damage from Russian artillery strikes. This was followed by Russian forces taking control of what is now a burned-out ruin with no inhabitable buildings still standing. Rubizhne is indicative of the damage caused by the Russians during their latest campaign in the Donbas. A city of 56,000, once a vital economic hub for chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and plastics only exists in the past tense. The destruction of Rubizhne is akin to that of Lidice, but on a much larger scale.

At least most of the population in Rubizhne has avoided being murdered, though there have been disappearances and deportations. Thankfully, many of those who called Rubizhne home were able to evacuate as the fighting worsened. While these people are still alive, their livelihoods and homes have been destroyed. This is part of a concerted strategy by Vladimir Putin and the Russian military to leave much of the Donbas an uninhabitable wasteland, The goal is to depopulate and destroy, not only people and buildings, but also the Ukrainian economy. This could be termed a more extreme version of total war or complete genocide. Every aspect of Ukraine’s existence is under Russian attack in this brazen war to wipe it off the map. Rubizhne and other such atrocities are the result of Putin’s belief that Ukraine has no right to exist. This is a war crime on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War.

Situation report – Lines of control in the Donbas (Credit: Institute for the Study of War)

Policy Proscriptions – In The Crosshairs
The Putin policy enacted upon countless villages and smaller cities throughout the Donbas has morphed from an attempt at conquest to a “if you can’t beat them, then destroy them” type of strategy. This policy has several sub-branches which take on their own insidious forms. For instance, those civilians not killed in the crossfire are often deported to Russia. Hundreds of thousands of women, children and to a lesser extent men, are prone to this treatment. They might as well be invisible to everyone except those loved ones still searching for them and a Russian state that carries out these kidnappings. This is identity theft by ethnic cleansing. Others, especially men can end up in concentration camps. Whether they live or die is unknown. Their lives are in the hands of faceless officials who carry out these genocidal state policies on an industrial scale.

Places like Rubinzhe are in the crosshairs of a Russian state that is hell bent on destruction of all things Ukrainian. People, places and property can be either stolen or destroyed, though it seems the latter has become the preferred method. Rubinzhe is an example, one among many, of what has occurred and what is to come if Russian aggression is not stopped as soon as possible. It is also instructive, in case anyone had doubts about what kind of regime rules Russia. International law does not apply when it comes to Putinism. Violence is a tool of conquest and destruction a tactic to wreak havoc on Ukraine. If Putin’s forces cannot defeat Ukraine on the field of battle, then they will try to bring Ukraine to its knees by wrecking the economy. It is not just what has been lost in Rubinzhe that comes at great cost, but what will also need to be rebuilt in the future if or when Ukraine regains control of the Donbas. Reconstruction costs would cripple a well-functioning economy, let alone one that will struggle to overcome the cost of repairing massive wartime damages. Ukraine will need a great deal of assistance to rebuild Rubinzhe and ensure that it is not wiped off the map.

Seeds of destruction – War damage in Rubizhne

Triumphing Over Tyranny – Remembering Lidice/Rebuilding Rubinzhe
On the site of Lidice there is now a monument in memory of what occurred there just eighty years ago. Nearby, another village by the same name arose in the postwar period. This ensured that if not the place, at least the name would live on. Czechs have made sure that the sacrifice of Lidice is remembered. Will the same be said about Rubinzhe? It depends on the war’s outcome. If Ukrainians have anything to do with it, Rubinzhe will likely rise again. That would be the ultimate triumph over tyranny.  

Click here for: Blind Spots – Putin’s Regime & The Making of History (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #84)

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