Damaging evidence of more war crimes
by Dr. Rey D. Pagtakhan
On March 26, at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, US President Joe Biden reaffirmed before the gathered leadership, guests, and people of Poland the united efforts of the free world to support the people of Ukraine in defence of their homeland, their identity, and their freedom, as well as the freedoms of all democratic nations.
“Be not afraid,” he began his remarks invoking the first words first Polish Pope John Paul II said in Warsaw in his first trip back home in 1979 when the Soviet Union ruled with an iron fist behind an Iron Curtain, but which collapsed a decade later. President Biden reminded his audience that nothing about the great battle for freedom – a battle between democracy and autocracy, between liberty and repression – was easy or simple.
In the middle of his speech, he differentiated President Putin and his army from the Russian population in general, and appealed directly to the Russian people, saying:
“I refuse to believe that you welcome the killing of innocent children and grandparents or that you accept hospitals, schools, maternity wards that, for God’s sake, are being pummelled with Russian missiles and bombs; or cities being surrounded so that civilians cannot flee; supplies cut off and attempting to starve Ukrainians into submission. Millions of families are being driven from their homes, including half of all Ukraine’s children.
“You still have the memory of being in a similar situation in the late thirties and forties: the siege of Leningrad; train stations overflowing with terrified families fleeing their homes; nights sheltering in basements and cellars – these are not memories of the past. It’s exactly what the Russian army is doing in Ukraine right now. Putin can and must end this war.”
When closing his speech, the US President once more invoked Pope John Paul’s words, “be not afraid.”
He shamed Putin’s imperial dream, “a dictator bent on rebuilding an empire will never erase a people’s love for liberty.”
Then he offered a promise, “a brighter future rooted in democracy and principle, hope and light, of decency and dignity, of freedom and possibilities.”
Spontaneous and implicitly referencing to Putin, President Joe Biden closed his remarks with a deep sense of humanity: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power!”
Indeed, an impassioned ending to a historic speech! Inspiring words delivered off-the-cuff and straight from the heart of the leader of the free world.
No doubt they reflect how President Biden must have been deeply touched by first-hand accounts from the thousands of displaced Ukrainians whom he visited at the National Stadium in Warsaw hours before his centrepiece speech. Two-and-a-half million of the 4.5 million Ukrainians refugees have taken refuge in Poland.
No doubt they reflect his outrage at Putin’s continuing war in Ukraine – unprovoked and unjustified – and its horrendous human consequences.
No doubt this nine-word, unscripted declaration will be fondly remembered by many, particularly by the people of Ukraine, now and in the generations to come.
Yet, there are critics
Some have lobbied criticisms perhaps out of genuine concern and fear the war could escalate and could make peace diplomacy more difficult. Or perhaps out of a wish to appease the aggressor. But what I found appalling were the voices of political partisanship: “should have remained on script; remarks were a gaffe; Putin is a genius; Ukraine President Zelenskyy is a thug.” No less disturbing was the seeming call for appeasement. Let us simply remember that appeasement caused World War II.
More evidence of war crimes
It shall not be forgotten that direct Biden-Putin diplomatic dialogues before the Ukraine invasion did not prevent Putin’s War. Neither did continued negotiations after the invasion – between the Ukrainian and Russian officials and via third-party interventions – produce an end to the civilian devastation. Just the evening after announcing it would scale back operations at face-to-face peace-talks in Turkey on March 29, Putin’s army once again intensified its assault. CNN reported, “Chernihiv under ‘colossal attack’ despite Moscow’s claim of scale a back in operations.’’
On March 16 of the Drama Theatre was bombed. Over a thousand residents had taken shelter in the theatre thinking it was safe since the word “CHILDREN” was painted in Russian letters on the grounds, large enough to be visible from the sky. Some 600 were rescued but 300 were killed.
And now more damaging evidence of more war crimes perpetrated by the Russian army have emerged; the massacre in Bucha exposed after the retreat of Putin’s army; the rocket attack on a railway station on April 8 in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk where hundreds of people, including children, were gathered, waiting to evacuate. The death toll of 50 included five children and several others were injured.
The civilian death toll has surpassed 1,100, including 100 children. The wounded have numbered close to 1,800. The Russian forces have bombed 23 hospitals and other healthcare facilities, 330 schools, 27 cultural buildings, 900 houses and apartment buildings, killing 12 and injuring 34 healthcare workers. At least 1,500 civilian buildings, structures and vehicles have been destroyed.
Over 4.5 million or slightly over 10 per cent of Ukraine’s pre-war population has fled to Poland, Romania, Moldova, and Hungary.
More war crimes! “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power!”
Dr. Pagtakhan is a retired paediatric chest specialist, professor and author of medical articles and book chapters and a former Member of Canada’s Parliament, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and cabinet minister. He graduated from the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Medicine and University of Manitoba (UM) Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research; trained at the UP-Philippine General Hospital, St. Louis Children’s Hospital of Washington University and Winnipeg Children’s Hospital of the UM Faculty of Medicine; and spent a sabbatical year as Visiting Professor at the University of Arizona. He is the recipient of awards and honours from academic, governmental, and professional institutions and community groups.