CARMEL – Just when you thought that the forces of evil were going to once again roll over a free people with Europe and the United States standing idly by, something amazing happened. That something was Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.  

Instead of taking President Biden’s less than magnanimous offer to help him escape the Russians and abandon his people, Zelensky told Biden, in words sure to echo throughout history, “I need ammunition, I don’t need a ride.”  

His words were brave, bold, refreshing and inspiring. Europe and the United States who had, up to this point, only offered weak sanctions against Vladimir Putin and Russia that amounted to little more than double secret probation, suddenly grew some spines and measurably stiffened both their military support and painful sanctions. One man, eight words and the world changed!

Most Americans felt embarrassed and humiliated by the shameless rush to the exits in Afghanistan. Sad, depressed and ashamed was how this author felt as I watched Afghan people drop helplessly from the wheel wells of American transport planes as we made our hasty retreat from Kabul. Sickened was how I felt as I watched Taliban thugs murder and abuse men, women and children as they tightened their grip on an overwhelmed people.  

Joe Biden was prepared to allow the same fate to befall the Ukrainian people before the magical eight words. The United States announced in advance of the Russian invasion a limited number of relatively weak sanctions that were in no way sufficient to deter Putin from his glory-seeking blood lust. We might have just as well sent Putin an engraved invitation to invade and pillage the outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian people.

Before President Zelensky gave the world a lesson in leadership, the weak sanctions offered up as a deterrent against invasion by Putin’s forces left the Russians the ability to receive imports, sell oil, travel freely, and continue to supply natural gas and oil to Germany and the United States. But before the governments of the Western world stiffened their resolve, the courage of the Ukrainian people and their resolve to fight to the death for freedom inspired the people of the free world and they dragged their own governments into providing substantial military aid and in tightening the economic noose around Vladimir Putin’s scroungy neck.

The story of Volodymyr Zelensky’s rise to world idol is an amazing one and worthy of either a dramatic nailbiter movie or a ridiculous comedy. His ascent to the presidency of the Ukraine is something directly out of the imagination of Hollywood.

Born to Jewish parents in a land that had historically been inhospitable to Jewish people, did not offer the brightest of prospects to Zelensky. His great grandfather had luckily survived the depredations inflicted by Cossacks on the Jewish people of the Ukraine ordered by Czar Nicholas II only to become, along with three of his sons, casualties of the Nazi death camps during the Holocaust. 

His grandfather fought for Mother Russia during World War II. When young Volodymyr wanted to go to Israel to study, his father forbade it. He must have instinctively known that blending into the Russian Orthodox population was much safer for his son. Zelensky went on to earn a law degree but instead of practicing law, he found himself drawn to comedy.

Zelensky formed a successful comedy troop in 1998 and competed with the group in numerous competitions throughout the Ukraine and Russia. He formed a production company called Kvartal 95 and began producing popular movies, cartoons and television programs. His hit television program, “Servant of the People,” starred himself in the role of president of Ukraine. His employees took him seriously and formed a new political party in 2018 called “Servant of the People.” In 2019, Zelensky announced that he was going to challenge the incumbent president and he ran on a populist platform that attacked the privilege of the governmental elite and their friends.  

Sound familiar? He won election with 72% of the vote.

Given Zelensky’s limited background in government and path to the presidency, we might have expected a successful man with a wife and two children, wearing the bullseye of number one Russian enemy on his back, to take Joe Biden up on his offer and cut and run out of the country as Russian tanks and bombers roared into the Ukraine, but he didn’t. He boldly announced that he was staying right where he was in Kyiv and was going to battle it out to the death. His people were galvanized by his bravery and leadership and the streams of those attempting to flee the country reversed and formed lines to receive guns and ammunition.

The televised images of the young and elderly called to arms by the desire to defend their freedom inspired the world. A former Ukrainian president and members of the Ukrainian Parliament carrying guns and manning the barricades along with scenes of women making Molotov cocktails told everyone, including Vladimir Putin, that he was in for a big fight instead of a triumphant drive to the capitol.  

Moved by the courage of the people of the Ukraine and independent of any government’s actions, Formula One racing canceled the Russian Grand Prix. The European Champions League moved their finals from Russia to France. Individual athletes announced that they would not engage in any competition with athletes from Russia. It was spontaneous and powerful.  

The citizens of the peace-loving countries of the world lit up their buildings and landmarks with blue and yellow lights to show their solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Soon, the people took to the streets to protest against Russia and against the mild response of their governments to the invasion.

The governments that were initially slow to take the kind of action that would severely cripple Russia’s economy were dragged into implementing tougher sanctions including removing Russia from the SWIFT banking system. This step alone will knock approximately 5% from the GDP of Russia. A severe recession is on its way to Russia and an unhappy people are sure to let Vlad the Bad know their displeasure. In addition, the United States pledged $350 million of extra military aid. Germany is sending 1,000 anti-tank missiles and 500 Stinger shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles. These are the tools and ammunition that Zelensky demanded.

The final military and political outcomes have yet to be decided at this time. On paper, the Ukraine should have collapsed by now. Russia should have been tightening its iron grip around the throat of the formerly free people of the Ukraine. But things are different in the Ukraine than in Afghanistan. Virtually the entire military and the lifeblood of the Ukrainian people were born into a free society.  

Those born in the previous 30 years have never known the yoke of Russian tyranny. The world is learning  that once people have experienced freedom, they are very reluctant to part with it. They are willing to sacrifice their lives to preserve their precious gift.

In 1776, our Founding Fathers included a promise at the end of our Declaration of Independence: “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Those words may have sounded hollow while we watched the disastrous Biden surrender and escape in Afghanistan, but the willingness of the Ukrainian people to fight to the death for freedom and the simple words of a brave leader give me hope that the spark of liberty is alive and well.

So, I say to President Joe Biden, give them bullets and don’t bother calling Uber for them. We’re learning again that as my dad always said, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”  

Dunn is the former Howard County Republican chairman.