What does NRC | Only with more Western support will Ukraine have a chance to drive out the Russians

They still hang in many Dutch streets: Ukrainian flags as a statement of support for the country that was dragged into war in 2014. Some are starting to fray or fade, others have been taken away. On the one hand the influence of a year and a half of sea climate, on the other hand the result of habituation. But the end of the war in the heart of Europe is still a long way off.

Ukraine celebrated its Independence Day exuberantly for the 32nd time on Thursday. That was the second since last year’s full-scale invasion, and the ninth since the capture of Crimea and the raid on Donbas. Russia marked the day with rocket attacks.

Russian attacks on civilian targets fill the stream of war news almost daily – and the world seems to be getting used to it. Missiles on a hospital or a restaurant; the destruction of a grain silo; civilian casualties in a residential flat, at a station or a crowded theatre. A few times a week, the terrorist attacks on the Ukrainian population evoke anger and indignation in Europe, as do the attacks on power stations in winter, the blowing up of the Kachovka dam in the spring. Earlier there were the executions, torture and rapes in Butha, the destruction of Mariupol, Shevyerodonetsk, Bachmut and other towns and villages.

The list of barbaric attacks on the citizens of Ukraine is so long after a year and a half that many atrocities have been swallowed up in the history of Putin’s war, or simply supplanted by new ones.

The fact that Ukraine is still holding its ground and is even counter-offensive in three places at the front is largely due to the unprecedented intransigence of the population, its armed forces and the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky. Of course they are helped by military support from the West.

But the price the Ukrainians pay is enormous. Millions have fled. Those who remain live every hour of the day in fear that they or their loved ones will be buried in the next attack. New physical and psychological traumas arise every day, including in the occupied territories, where children and adults are being deported in abundance. According to the UN Commissioner for Human Rights the war has already killed nearly 10,000 civilians in Ukraine, and wounded 17,000 – “the real number is likely to be considerably higher.” Fallen soldiers are not included in those figures.

After the large-scale invasion, Western leaders repeatedly urged the Ukrainians that they will be supported by the West in their war for survival, ‘for as long as it takes’. It is to be hoped that the free West will keep that promise, even if there are setbacks on the battlefield. The military support may be extensive, but with Kyiv’s arsenal and troops, no NATO general could have launched a counter-offensive. The promised F-16s from the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway will also not help the Ukrainian air force gain predominance in the airspace. They will mainly contribute to an improvement of the anti-aircraft defenses.

Partly due to the protracted discussions in the West about the supply of heavy military equipment, such as tanks, long-range missiles and combat aircraft, as well as sufficient ammunition, the Ukrainian options for a successful counter-offensive are considerably limited. Russia was given months to use minefields to build one of the toughest lines of defense in history. Criticism of a slow advance in the south is therefore premature and could harm Ukraine’s chances of a military breakthrough.

A first litmus test of Western fortitude may soon follow. Ukraine hopes to cut off the Russian land bridge in the occupied south, the main road to Crimea, before winter sets in. There are now doubts within American intelligence circles whether Kyiv will succeed in this.

The road to Ukrainian freedom remains full of dangers. But like the Ukrainians, the West has no choice. To hope for a change of course from Putin, dictator of a regime that behaves like a bloodthirsty criminal organization, would be naive. This was underlined on Wednesday by the presumably brutal settlement with Yevgeny Prigozhin. Putin has no compassion, he is not out for peace.

Kyiv’s allies will not have to stand behind Ukraine alone. The only way to peace is through the battlefield. The Western world would do well to step up military support to increase the chances of Ukraine expelling the Russians. As long as Ukraine is not free, Europe will not live in peace.