Anyone who has ever spent time in western Ukraine will recall the devotion people there show to the Greek Catholic religion. The churches are busy with services each day, both women and men enter the churches at will, bow their heads and pray. It is a common site to see people during their lunch hour enter these churches for strength and solace. I have personally witnessed countless people make the sign of the cross as they enter or exit the churches. It is a stunning sight for westerners like me who live in nations where much of the population is indifferent to religion. On Sunday, March 13th, many in western Ukraine probably planned on visiting a church that church that day, but long before the sun came up and anyone could prepare for even the earliest church service, sirens began to scream out across the cities and towns in the region. Warnings that a bombardment from the air was about to begin.
Back in the United States, it was still Saturday evening, when I noticed the warnings cast across Twitter. When I saw Lviv was one of the cities I could not help but feel an even more painful lament than usual. Lviv was where I first set foot in Ukraine. Where I returned not once, but twice. It is said to be the most Ukrainian city in Ukraine and I would agree. Now it was joining a long list of Ukrainian cities under attack from Russian bombardment. I messaged one of my friends from there who now lives in Berlin a message about the attack. Her family lives in the city. There was no reply. I understood perfectly well why. This attack was hitting too close to home. Or was it? It turns out that Lviv was spared. Instead, missiles from Russian warplanes struck even further west, close to the Polish border, opening a Pandora’s box of sinister possibilities that the war might be spreading westward.
Fiery Flashes – Attack on Yavoriv Military Base
Silence and darkness engulfed much of western Ukraine as late night gave way to early morning. The sirens may have been screaming across western Ukraine, but Lviv and Lutsk were not the targets this time. Several hours earlier, Russian aircraft had taken off from Saratov in southern Russia. Once a Soviet secret city on the Volga, it was the embarkation point for a mission that would strike closer to Ukraine’s border with a NATO country than ever before. The aircraft skirted the Sea of Azov and Black Sea. Their pilots may have looked down at the flames consuming parts of Mariupol, a city where civilians are suffering gravely from artillery and airstrikes. The planes moved further west and north. Soon they would be within range of the Yavoriv Military Base which held their specific target, the International Center for Peacekeeping and Security which housed foreign fighters who had signed on to fight for the Ukrainians.
The Russians were looking to send a message. They were going to strike the base at Yavoriv because of the foreign fighters. A video of the ensuing missile strikes showed total darkness, then a rumble, followed by the scream of a missile descending and the resulting fiery explosion. Eight missiles struck the base, killing 35 and wounding another 134. Those on base never saw the attack coming, neither did many analysts. It was a chilling signal, as much as it was a deadly blow. The message was clear, foreign fighters are prime targets no matter where they are located. And in this case, they happened to be located a mere 15 kilometers from the Polish border. Poles on the other side of the border heard the rumble, that distant sound of thunder that acts as the precursor to a breaking storm. Some may have seen fiery flashes in the early morning sky.
Too Close For Comfort – Ever Closer To NATO
Fifteen kilometers is the closest Russia has come to bringing a full-scale war to Europe. The Ukraine-Russia war keeps creeping ever closer to NATO territory. If one of those missiles that targeted Yavoriv Military Base had gone a bit astray and landed on the Polish side of the border there would likely have been hell to pay. And hell is just what this war has brought to NATO’s doorstep. The Russians show the will, if not much skill, in breaking norms. Bombing civilians, targeting non-vital infrastructure, firing on humanitarian corridors, accusing Ukraine of genocidal plans, and harboring chemical weapons labs is all in a day’s business for the Russian political and military leadership. Do they want a wider war involving NATO countries? That is probably not the correct question. A better question is do they (Vladimir Putin and his closest confidantes) believe war with NATO is inevitable? If so, they might just make it happen. By any standard, a war with NATO would be a disaster for the beleaguered Russian army. That never stopped Putin from starting a war anyway.
Truth be told, a war is already being fought between NATO and Russia. Currently, it is a proxy war. Make no mistake, the weapons pouring into Ukraine are an attempt to bring Russia to its knees. The NATO policy towards the war thus far can be summed up as better to fight and defeat (or irreparably weaken) the Russians in Ukraine, than be forced to fight them on NATO territory. The Russian perspective is that they are already at war with NATO. If not, then the Ukrainians would not stand a chance. The Russians are very wrong about that, as they have been about so many other things during this war.
The missile strike on Yavoriv was a shot across the bow aimed at NATO and for that matter, any other foreign nation that might try to intervene in the conflict. It was a calculated risk which worked as planned. The attack was also an outlier, not because of its location, but because it is just about the only thing that has gone according to plan during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The situation from Russia’s perspective is bad and getting worse. Frustration is mounting among both soldiers in the field and the upper echelons of leadership. The war has become toxic and unwinnable. Bolt out of the blue air strikes like the one that hit Yavoriv will not change that.
Keeping The Faith – Prayers For Peace
On the same day of the Yavoriv attack the sun still rose, the churches still opened, and Ukrainians prayed for peace. One day church bells will be the only sounds that pierce the Sunday morning calm across the country. Until that day arrives, the war will continue. It may spread beyond Ukraine’s borders. Let us pray it does not. Let us also pray that war ends within Ukraine’s borders and its citizens can once again live in peace. In the meantime, they will keep the faith.
Click here for: Unseen Forces – Ukraine & The Logic of War (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #19)