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A Humanitarian Call for Arms

There is little doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin will continue to sacrifice Russian troops and commit atrocities against Ukrainians for the chance to secure even minor symbolic victories. So, the war will drag on – unless Ukraine is given the means to accelerate its conclusion.

ODESA – It is always a worrying sign when humanitarian workers and activists start advocating for the delivery of more weapons to a combat zone. But, for Ukraine, these are worrying times (to say the least). While humanitarians like us deliver to civilians and troops the supplies they need to survive – fleece uniforms and tourniquets, portable stoves and generators, baby formula and mobile-phone power banks – Ukrainian armed forces often lack the tools they need to fight.

War calls for realism. And the horrifying reality is that, in its invasion and occupation of Ukraine, Russia has deliberately attacked civilian targets and upended civilian life, relentlessly committing atrocities that often do not even bring tangible military gains. Should humanitarian workers and activists silently carry on attending to the victims of these savage assaults, or should we add our voices to the chorus of those demanding materiel that could drive Russia out of Ukrainian territory and end the war? Given the humanitarian implications of more war – including more refugees from Ukraine – the answer is obvious.

A similar dilemma confronts Ukraine’s foreign backers. As Morton Abramowitz, a longtime US State Department official who went on to co-found the International Crisis Group, often said: policymakers must decide whether to deliver “Stinger missiles or macaroni.” He should know, having worked on delivering both, in Afghanistan and Bosnia, respectively.