JOHN GRIFF COLUMN: Zelensky and the Ukrainian people refuse to be crushed

This week I feel a huge compunction to write about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine – I stress Putin rather than Russian because all the evidence points to it being just that, writes John Griff.

By Graham Tebbutt (Edited by)
Thursday, 3rd March 2022, 7:15 am
This car was struck by a fallen tree in the storms. It may have been battered, but it’s still a car... and is maybe a metaphor for Ukraine at the moment
This car was struck by a fallen tree in the storms. It may have been battered, but it’s still a car... and is maybe a metaphor for Ukraine at the moment

But at the same time, I don’t want to write about the Putin invasion of Ukraine. As a broadcaster I’m obliged to make my work unopinionated; to do otherwise would make it unbalanced, emotional and a kind of misappropriation of airtime.

And yet, as a columnist here, it’s my opinion which is required on whatever subject. It’s quite some balance to strike.

Last week I wrote about teenage recollections of 1982 and the Falklands Conflict, a war which was never formally declared as being one.

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As I write this, the invasion of Ukraine is precisely that. Assurances which were given that there would be no such invasion have been cast aside, crushed by the many tons of Russian armour which have rolled into so many border areas of what is a huge country.

We’re asked to believe that the incursion is, in fact, some kind of cleansing of Nazism from Ukraine, as though Putin’s forces are steamrolling some kind of virtuous act across the thousands of square miles of Ukranian soil.

Half a million refugees fleeing the country to Poland as fast as they can get there would beg to differ. So does 44-year-old Ukranian President, Volodymyr Zelensky.

A former winner of Strictly Come Dancing in Ukraine, an actor who voiced the part of Paddington Bear in the film of the same name when it reached his homeland, and a stand-up comedian who ran for office largely as a joke until his nation elected him for his values, Zelensky is emerging as the most eloquent, relatable and backable politician of modern times, succeeding perhaps only Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, for the title.

A day after the invasion –and aware of media blackouts in Russia – Zelensky addressed Russians in their native tongue and in as direct and reasonable a way as perhaps any politician has ever done.

From what we have seen it would appear that he has reached the widest audience of his career, his words being transmitted around the world on social media while Russian platforms, websites and even the state news agency TASS have been blocked, hacked or both.

The self-professed Target Number 1, if he doesn’t win a Nobel Peace Prize, I shall be amazed.

Nobody knows what the next hours, days and weeks will bring.

Currently things look grim with an apparent nuclear threat to world peace now in place.

Reporting of any conflict is always subject to ratification and that always happens in arrears, but it would seem that Ukraine has proved to be remarkably resourceful in confounding its aggressors.

With impromptu lessons in Molotov Cocktail making, the arming of civilians to shoot in defence of their territories and even the simple realignment of road signs so that they point in the wrong direction, President Zelensky appears to have rejuvenated a colossal sense of patriotism in this latest chapter of a dispute which has been rumbling on since 2014.

Outside Northampton School for Boys right now, there sit two cars, crushed by a huge lime tree which fell during the recent storms.

One is a certain write-off. And yet, for all the damage, it sits on four intact tyres. Not all the glass is broken. And it’s still recognisable as a car.

Is it a metaphor for Ukraine? Perhaps... perhaps not. But there it stands; a survivor of something far larger than itself.

How did I do with opinionated balance?