Russia’s dam destruction is a metaphor for what Moscow has tried to do to Ukraine for centuries: flood freedom with lies, bombs, and disasters.
Last week with friends, including two who were soon to return to the front lines, we went up Lviv’s Bald Mountain at nighttime. Facing an uncertain sky and an uncertain future, I recalled Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” a theme in the classic Disney film Fantasia, with cartoon demons dancing on a wild mountain. Russia is sending a near-nightly dance of nighttime demon drones and missiles to Ukraine, especially Kyiv. And then this week, in the lowlands of the Dnipro Delta, Russian unleashed a hellish torrent by destroying the Nova Kakhovka dam.
In Ukraine, it’s safe neither up above with drones and missiles in the sky, nor down below with flood waters raging. And there’s another menacing flood: of disinformation. Just in the past days: The New York Times claimed that Ukraine is rife with Nazis. Elon Musk re-tweeted Tucker Carlson’s claim that the Ukrainians destroyed the dam, while many governments and media say we can’t know for sure whether Ukraine or Russia is behind the awful destruction. And many, circulating a story from Mexican TV, alleged that American weapons to Ukraine have been sold to cartels there. All of this is fake.
1. “Nazis” was trending Twitter the past days because of a New York Times story noting that in several out of millions of photos from Ukraine during Russia’s full-scale invasion a few patches with symbols that might be possibly connected to Nazis have emerged.
I have on my desk one of the patches in question: the gold Lion and three crowns. It’s an ancient symbol of Lviv, the city founded in the year 1256 in Galicia by King Danylo who named it for his son, Lev, or Leo, hence “Lion city.” When the Nazis occupied Lviv, they appropriated this symbol for their SS battalion. But most of the people, led by heroic figures such as Greek Catholic Archbishop Andrii Sheptysky, resisted the Nazis, only then to have to suffer from Soviet tyranny. Ukrainians refuse to let others steal their history.
And by the way, the definition of who is a Ukrainian is broad; the key thing, since the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, is to believe in freedom from elite and corrupt control. Ukraine is a tolerant country, where Christians, Crimean Muslims, and Jews alike echo the cheer, “Slava Natsii,” which means “Glory to the nation,” but which I suspect passing foreign tsk-tsking journalists, in their English-speaking arrogance, assume means something else.
As a Jewish friend who has survived a missile strike on his block wrote to me recently, “There is no Nazism in our country. I, a Jew, personally know one of the leaders of the Azov regiment,” which both Russians and American media so often wrongly castigate as “neo-Nazi.” It started off a bit rough and tumble out of exigent necessity when football hooligans rushed to defend Mariupol when the Russians first tried to invade in 2014. Their motives were wholesome and Above has Jewish members too, standing for freedom against Moscow tyranny.
Watch here a video of Ukraine’s chief rabbi, Russia-born Moshe Reuvan Azman, coming under Russian shelling while he, like so many others, sought to help.
2. Meanwhile, several friends in America wrote me last weekend to say Ukrainian weapons have ended up in Mexico, because they saw a video on Mexican TV showing a cartel member carrying an anti-tank weapon. “See, there’s corruption!” they cried. But if you listen to the video in Spanish, the Mexican anchor said this simply “looks like” weapons they use in Ukraine. Indeed such weapons are all over the world. There was zero evidence that it came from Ukraine.
3. Regarding the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam: The Russians have long used both the building and the destruction of dams to wipe out the Ukrainians, especially the Cossack Ukrainians, the free people of the Wild Fields, whose long democratic history includes a 1711 constitution with separation of powers—the very ordered liberty Moscow has always hated.
In the 1920s, Moscow in the name of elite progress built a dam near the Cossack city of Zaporizhzhia, flooding their ancient burial grounds and the place where they codified that constitution. Then in 1941, as the Ukrainians were trying to resist Nazis to the left and Soviets to the right, the Russians blew up the same dam, which killed anywhere between 20,000 and 100,000 Ukrainian civilians.
While most Western cable news experts predicted that Russia would swiftly target Ukrainian infrastructure in the early weeks of the war, they did not do so. They knew the high quality of Ukrainian infrastructure and, like Sméagol in Lord of the Rings, wanted it for themselves. Only eight months into the full-scale war, October 2022, did Russia began a regular, weekly assault on Ukraine’s power grid. But through the winter, Russia failed to freeze out the Ukrainians. And so now, they attempt to flood them.
As free people get closer to victory, the tyrant gets more panicked and fierce. Look at any protest movement, Hitler’s actions in World War II, or Russian history: Back to the times of Russian empress Catherine the Great, tyrants have used any tool they can muster to kill, stifle, drown those who have freedom in their souls.
Today’s struggle is an ancient one: In the 1819 epic poem “Mazepa,” British poet Lord Byron wrote of the eponymous 17th century Ukrainian Hetman who, leading his countrymen, “threw off the yoke of the Polish King and became once more independent, as Cossacks should forever be.”
In Disney’s Fantasia, the terrifying “Night on Bald Mountain” transforms into Schubert’s esoteric Ave Maria, with incandescent figures walking in calm triumph through a forest, having survived some hellish. I have been surrounded by such incandescent figures every day of Russia’s hellish full-scale war on Ukraine.
As Russia seeks to unleash new levels of hell on Ukraine, I remember that moment standing on Lviv’s Bald Mountain: Among those gathered was an American musician who sang a haunting Appalachian folk song, while the rest of us, including a woman whose father was currently in a trench and two soldiers preparing to return to the front, sat or stood in silence.
“I never intended to be a soldier,” said one of them, “but we have to, no matter how scary it is. Despite all the horror, it is an honor to face this fight.”