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Guest Column
What a kiss on my hand taught me about Ukraine’s fight | Column
Some struggles in life are worth the risk, and our continued support to Ukraine is one of them.
A Ukrainian soldier stands atop an abandoned Russian tank near a village on the outskirts of Izyum in eastern Ukraine on Sunday.
A Ukrainian soldier stands atop an abandoned Russian tank near a village on the outskirts of Izyum in eastern Ukraine on Sunday. [ JUAN BARRETO/AFP | Getty Images North America ]
Published Sept. 15, 2022

It was a gorgeous sunny day in Kyiv in late May. I was shopping for a wedding anniversary gift for my wife, who was in Italy awaiting my return. I hoped to find something for her that was unique to the culture. I had accepted the job in Ukraine knowing that we would be separated on our special day. As you can imagine, she was not altogether pleased.

But it was a beautiful day. For a fleeting moment, the on-going brutal war that was concentrated mostly in the east and south of the country at that time seemed far away, and despite occasional late evening air raid sirens warning of missile attacks on the nation’s capital. The Ukrainian battlefield victories of the past few days were still a long way off.

Robert Bruce Adolph
Robert Bruce Adolph [ Courtesy of Robert Adolph ]

I stepped into a small shop that traded in women’s goods not far from Independence Square in the center of the city. A dark-haired, middle-age woman spoke to me in what I assumed was a greeting. I apologized in English. Her face brightened. A broad smile appeared on her face. She leaned forward and asked, “American?”

My accent apparently gave me away. I nodded in assent. Her smile widened. She grasped my wrist and lowered her head while kissing the back of my hand. I was momentarily stunned to speechlessness, but managed a hesitant, absurd, “Thank you.” I simply had no other idea how to respond. She led me deeper into her shop, never releasing my hand, while saying, “No, thank you, thank you … for helping Ukraine.” I have thought about this incident several times since. I met many Ukrainians who felt much as she did, massively grateful for U.S. assistance, but willing to fight their own battles against tyranny.

I have often found myself at odds with the foreign policy choices of our nation, in particular the unnecessary war in Iraq and our two decades of waste in Afghanistan, but I am in accord with the transfer of military weapons, intelligence data and financial support to the Ukrainian people.

This nation of 40 million continues to fight for its life. Recent successes prove that they were more than worthy of U.S. support. Their armed forces are pushing back against the invaders. Some Russian soldiers are fleeing. This is wholly Vladimir Putin’s war — a man consumed with visions of a Russian Empire that never actually existed. One wonders if the former KGB officer has become a consumer of the lies spewed by his own propaganda machinery.

The soldiers in Putin’s army have proven to be incompetent, while also clearly unaware of their responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions. They have committed a multitude of verifiable war crimes. Russian soldiers clearly have no idea why they are fighting and dying in Ukraine. Their overuse of artillery, rockets and missiles — killing civilians and soldiers alike — while destroying private residences and public infrastructure, is demonstrative of weakness, not strength and smacks of desperation.

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Even so, caution remains essential. Russia is a nuclear power. If pushed into a corner, might Putin be tempted to use one or more tactical nuclear weapons? The Kremlin also possesses a worrisome chemical and biological warfare capability. Moscow used chemicals to terrible effect in Syria. It is not much of a stretch to think he might do the unthinkable, especially if battlefield defeats continue.

Still, there are some struggles in life that are worth considerable risk, and our continued support to Ukraine is one of them. These people need and deserve our assistance. The sometimes-quarrelsome European Union is in full agreement. For once, nearly everyone agrees on both sides of the Atlantic. Putin must not be permitted to have his way.

Can the Ukrainians win this fight? Yes, and the tide may have already turned. Why? The most dedicated soldiers on this planet are the ones fighting for hearth and home. It was ever thus. The woman who kissed my hand spoke volumes to me with that singular spontaneous heartfelt act. I will not forget her — neither should you. With our support, Ukraine could soon win this war.

Robert Bruce Adolph, who served nearly two decades with the United Nations, is a retired senior Army Special Forces soldier, who holds graduate degrees in both National Security Studies and International Affairs. He is the author of his publisher’s number one best-selling book, “Surviving the United Nations: The Unexpected Challenge.”