Claytoonz: Riding with Zelensky
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky went from being an actor, the voice of Ukraine's version of Paddington Bear, and the winner of the first season of Ukraine’s Dancing with the Stars (that’s a thing?) to being the man inspiring his nation to fight.
A video clip of Zelensky standing in the middle of the streets of Kyiv with other government officials has helped make the Ukraine president an international war hero. In the clip, he says, “We are all here, defending our independence, our country. And it will stay that way. Glory to the men and women defending us. Glory to Ukraine. Glory to the heroes.”
While that video was made of Zelensky standing in the streets of a city being bombed, Vladimir Putin was sitting somewhere safe and posh with his greatest concern being for his own political safety. Putin doesn’t have to worry about his citizens dying, or himself, from an invasion by a much more powerful nation. Footage of dead Ukrainian children probably doesn’t both Vladimir as much as his oligarchs’ anger over sanctions of their superyachts.
When Texas was hit by a rare winter freeze, Senator Ted Cruz fled to the warmth and daiquiris of Cancun. When Black Lives Matter protested outside the Cheeto White House, Donald Trump hid in a bunker. When the United States offered to evacuate Volodymyr Zelensky, he said, “I need ammunition, not a ride.” Our nation needs more Volodymyr Zelenskys and fewer Trumps and Cruzs.
Russia underestimated the people of Ukraine. Putin believed Ukraine would capitulate overnight from his invasion. He believed that by this point, Zelensky would either be in his custody or dead. Instead, he has suffered a rude awakening in that the people of Ukraine will not go silently into the night…and that they are killing Russian soldiers. He’s discovered he didn’t play this war very well and is now rushing in reinforcements and provisions to sustain the invasion. He’s discovered the people of Ukraine are inspired by Volodymyr Zelensky, a man who used to be a comedian. Putin’s not laughing.
Putin’s response to Ukraine’s stubbornness has been to move his targets away from military installations to government buildings, businesses, and civilian population centers. Putin should study why Zelensky is being compared to Winston Churchill. He might learn something.
In World War II, Churchill refused to negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler, even after the Nazis started bombing Britain’s cities. If Putin studies history, he would learn that bombing civilians doesn’t soften the nation for an invasion or to surrender. It does the exact opposite. It builds morale among the population. It makes civilians defiant. It makes civilians willing to fight to the death to protect their homes and families. When you bomb civilians, they don’t blame their leaders and beg them to surrender. They blame the nation bombing them.
Putin doesn’t even have to study the blitz of the United Kingdom. He can study his own nation’s invasion of Afghanistan. Though in the past, he’s twisted that history.
This will not last. The Ukrainian government will eventually succumb to Putin’s invasion. Ukraine’s military can’t last against the more powerful Russian army. Ukraine can’t keep civilians in subway stations indefinitely. Who knows what will happen to Volodymyr Zelensky. Ukraine’s cities will fall…eventually. But Ukraine itself will never stop fighting. Even by taking control of the entire nation of Ukraine, Putin can’t win. He can ask George W. Bush and Dick Cheney about this. Ukrainians will never stop fighting. Ukraine left the Soviet Union in 1991 and the 44 million citizens of that nation don’t want to go back.
This is a fight Putin never should have started. Sanctions will cripple his nation while Russian soldiers continue to die. Russians will see a lot of body bags coming from a war they never wanted. This war could even remove Putin from power after over two decades. But at this point, Putin’s greatest concern is for Putin. He’s a lot like Trump that way, who also underestimated our nation and even his own party’s support for Ukraine over Russia. After calling Putin a “genius” for his invasion, Trump released a statement commending himself for providing Ukraine with weapons and giving himself credit for NATO’s existence. Never mind the fact that after Congress allocated those weapons for Ukraine, Trump withheld them in an extortion attempt in a “perfect phone call” to get Zelensky to help him attack Joe Biden. Never mind that Donald Trump withheld those weapons while demanding a quid-pro-quo. Never mind the fact that Donald Trump’s first impeachment was over his extortion attempt. Never mind the fact that Donald Trump tried to destroy NATO. Never mind the fact that while Ukraine is being invaded, Donald Trump is more concerned about his media coverage. Never mind the fact that while Zelensky is protecting his capital from a foreign invasion, Donald Trump ordered his fascist-loving white nationalist terrorist followers to attack his capital.
And never mind the fact that Donald Trump has never criticized Vladimir Putin and has only praised the war criminal. While bombing civilians in Ukraine, Putin’s back in Moscow arresting those protesting those bombings.
Volodymyr Zelensky is a freedom fighter and freedom will win. Putin will lose.
Music Note: I rocked out to Ace Frehley’s first solo album while drawing today’s cartoon, though Ace, being a racist who used to knock on his Jewish bandmate’s hotel room doors dressed as the Gestapo, might be on Putin’s side.
Clay Jones is the 2022 recipient of the RFK Human Rights Journalism Award in Editorial Cartooning, and won a 2021 Sigma Delta Chi Award for Excellence in Journalism from the Society of Professional Journalists. He was a finalist for the Herblock Prize in 2019 and a finalist for the National Headliner Award in 2020. See more award-winning editorial cartoons from him at Claytoonz.com.