Sergiy Osachuk

The view from Ukraine: world war three has already started

The view from Ukraine: world war three has already started
A funeral for a Ukrainian soldier outside Chernivtsi (Getty)
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I saw the first Russian bombs land from my balcony in Chernivtsi. They hit a military depot 50 miles away but the vibrations were so strong it felt like it happened right by us. I’d attended an intelligence briefing from Volodymyr Zelensky’s office hours before to be updated on the situation: I’m the governor of Chernivtsi, the capital of the Oblast region. The President's office was keeping us abreast of plans for an invasion that many Ukrainians thought would never happen. Even now, it’s hard to take in.

The horrific images from Bucha have finally alerted the world to Putin’s true tactics. We are living through daily air raids, rocket strikes, and even white phosphorus bombs. Our priority now is saving those stuck in besieged territories where Russian troops are looting, defiling, raping, slaughtering, and burning innocent men, women and children. The aim will be to conjure up fake republics in Luhansk and Donetsk. Putin didn’t think, though, about how many Ukrainians would stay and fight.

But we can’t win on our own: a military victory requires support from the West. Boris Johnson has stood up for Ukraine in a way that Nato has not. Johnson has courageously expressed his disdain for Putin, helping us stand up for our dignity and freedom. And British sanctions have demonstrated that Russians can no longer be accepted in civil society and that war crimes will not be tolerated. Yet we need more military support from Britain. The weapons provided so far are suitable for partisan warfare, for protecting small towns. We’re fighting the second largest army in the world: we need armoured vehicles and more powerful weapons.

The West talks about the need to avoid a third world war. But in many respects, it has already started. Most of the world is trying to stop Putin. Modern warfare isn’t just about military conflict, but about all the possible means that different countries undertake to withstand it. Take the fact that the US is negotiating with China about Ukraine’s fate. Then there are the many other countries that are also offering help to Ukraine. With the world increasingly aware of the crimes being committed in Ukraine, it is already a global issue.

And the war is likely to continue for months. It has strong support from most Russians and Putin’s approval rating is the highest it has been for five years. What incentive does he have to stop? To be sure, Russians aren’t being told the full story — especially about soldier casualties — though I doubt that would change much. The Soviet Union had a high tolerance for casualties and the same is true in Putin’s Russia.

But if Ukraine does prevail, we’ll need further support from the West so that this won’t ever happen again. The Security Council of the UN isn’t working, and the Budapest Memorandum – which banned the use of military force by the UK, US and Russia in Ukraine – doesn’t help. For now, joining Nato isn't a priority, but we need some form of western alliance to protect us from future brutality.

The war is often described as ‘the Ukrainian conflict’ but it’s more a terrorist war against a democratic, free country. Ukraine is simply the battlefield for a war against the free world. The old Europe is used to dealing in principles, based on laws and conventions, but Putin has trashed the rules-based system. Europe needs to quickly adjust and be ready for Putin always being three steps ahead. This war is still in the balance, with much that is unpredictable. But one thing can be said with absolute certainty: if Putin wins, he won’t stop with Ukraine.