When Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, it unleashed a wave of worldwide sympathy not seen since the World Wars of the previous century.

Back then, of course, it was easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys: The Allies were good, and the Axis were bad. Since then, wars have come and gone but few were as morally clear as World War Two. The war in Ukraine took the world back to those good old days. We love a David versus Goliath story as much as anyone; and there is no better David than Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the comedian who went from playing a president on television to being one in real life; and when adversity struck took on the role of a lifetime. On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin makes a terrible Goliath.

Though Putin began his unsavory career as a KGB officer, his idea of a Russian revival is not that of a multinational Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, of which Ukraine was one. Rather, Putin yearns for the days of imperial Russia, when Romanov rulers like Peter the Great and Catherine the Great and others not so great ruled a continent-wide autocracy based on the supremacy of ethnic Russians and the Russian Orthodox Church. Putin’s designs on Ukraine frighten those countries that, like Ukraine, were once part of imperial Russia: Poland, Moldova and the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Along with Ukraine and Belarus, they formed the “Bloodlands;” unhappy countries historically trapped in a tug of war between Germany and Russia. There is every indication that Putin might expand his reach beyond Ukraine into Moldova, which is why Poland and the Baltic States recently joined NATO and now eagerly support Ukrainian sovereignty. Only Belarus, led by its dictator Alexander Lukashenko, openly backs greater Russia in its war of conquest.  

Though the Russian Federation is technically a democracy, it is in fact an autocratic republic, and most Russians would not have it any other way. Russian voters gave Putin a landslide victory in 2018 and now eagerly support his invasion of Ukraine. Though Joseph Stalin’s Gulag is a thing of the past, today’s political opponents are quickly dealt with in an unsavory fashion and more than one dissident has had his life cut short before its time. Like the Russian Orthodox Church that he pays lip service to, Putin and his followers are violently homophobic; and under his reign Russia enacted severe anti-LGBT laws that would give Ron DeSantis pause.

Of course, Ukraine is far from perfect. Government corruption, before Zelensky, was endemic. Though Ukraine has a historically vital Jewish community — Zelensky is a Jew — antisemitism is as prevalent here as in any other country in the “Bloodlands” (or, for that matter, Russia). According to an analysis published by Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, extremist movements on both the far left and the far right are exploiting the war between Russia and Ukraine to spread antisemitic propaganda. But all this should not deter us from sympathizing with the valiant Ukrainians, whose only wish is to have the right to manage their own affairs.

We wish them well.

Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer and journalist. He has been an active member of South Florida's LGBT community for more than four decades and has served in various community organizations.