They work quietly, each man bending and turning in rhythm. Together, they form a long human chain — sons and fathers moving in unison to fill sandbags for the attack they all know is coming. One hundred twenty-five miles to the west, Russian soldiers own the streets, giving these exhausted men all the motivation they need to keep working. For days, Odessa’s families have braced for an invasion from the sea, a modern version of the horror their grandparents endured in 1941. Nearby, the city’s crown jewel — the opera house — “looks like a scene from a World War 2 movie,” fortified like it was when Nazi Germany was the wolf at the gate. One man, seeing a picture of the beautiful baroque building, bursts into tears. “It’s impossible to imagine that this picture [is] reality,” he says.
Around the world, images of a Ukrainian nuclear plant going up in flames set everyone on edge. “The situation is extremely tense,” local leaders urge. Heat has been completely cut off in the city, and men at the plant are working at gunpoint, the head of the site said. After fierce fighting put the ticking time bomb in Russian hands, President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a grave warning to international leaders. “There are 15 nuclear reactors in Ukraine. If one of them blows, that’s the end for everyone. That’s the end of Europe,” he added.
In Lviv, close to the Polish border, residents are climbing onto cherry pickers and up stepladders desperately trying to protect important pieces of Ukrainian heritage. In Market Square, Neptune’s trident is the only thing that’s visible above the duct tape and plastic that locals hope will withstand a siege. Centuries-old statues and sculptures are being frantically wrapped in layers of protective sheets, while historic churches are busy boarding up old stained glass windows. They’re heeding the painful lesson learned in Iraq, where the world’s most priceless ancient treasures were destroyed in ISIS’s bloody march. If Vladimir Putin takes Ukraine, the people are determined: he will not kill our culture.
Five thousand miles away in D.C., Ukrainian flags wave down a two-mile stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue. At night, city hall, nearby embassies, the D.C. Basilica, Memorial Bridge, and the National Harbor Ferris Wheel glow blue and yellow in a growing symbol of solidarity. “The Russians have greatly underestimated and miscalculated the strong international resolve against their aggression in Ukraine,” Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) insisted. “It’s being heard loud and clear. There will be a very strong punitive response diplomatically, economically, and otherwise. So I won’t say I’m surprised — I’ll say I’m impressed. For Vladimir Putin, this has become a politically incorrect war, and he’s losing.”
In corporate America, the backlash against Russia is full-throttle now. In a flurry of media advisories, the U.S.’s biggest brands are pulling out of Putin’s country in droves. Microsoft said Friday morning that it will suspend “all new sales of Microsoft products and services in Russia,” following in the footsteps of U.S. titans like Apple, Ford, Shell, and Exxon. Hollywood executives are turning up the heat too, as Disney pulls major studio releases like Marvel’s Doctor Strange and Pixar’s Lightyear and DirecTV cuts ties with its local partner. Even Big Tech got in on the game, announcing that Twitter and Google would stop advertising in the region. To most people’s amazement, Putin’s Twitter account is still active — an ironic decision for a company who can’t seem to censor conservatives fast enough.
Airbnb, one of the five major sponsors of the Beijing Olympics, is stopping all operations in Russia, while Nike — who fought to keep Uyghur slaves toiling in their shoe factories — is temporarily closing 116 stores. It’s a powerful gesture by these big businesses — but a confusing one. How is it that Nike, Apple, Airbnb, and Disney find their voices on Ukraine but shrug their shoulders at genocide in China? While these CEOs all seem to be deeply troubled by the Russian invasion, they manage to feel no such sympathy for the two million victims of China’s war, wasting away in concentration camps behind miles of barbed-wire walls. For them, there are no underground bunkers — no safe spaces to shelter and wait. Their hope is not in picking up arms and fighting back but in the moral courage of the West.
What would these CEOs say to them — that atrocities only count when the world’s televisions can see them? That money matters more than the brotherhood of humanity? Because that’s the message America’s titans are sending by deciding that persecution and barbarity are only sometimes wrong. As grand as their pronouncements about Ukraine have been, they’re no substitute for the truth, which is that these punishments might not have been carried out against a country with deeper pockets; pockets in which they have their hands.
As Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) pointed out on “Washington Watch,” “Russia’s GDP is the same as some of our states. I mean, it’s a two trillion dollar economy. It’s the size of Italy. So it’s not a big economy. China’s is a much bigger economy. Our corporate class, our businesses [are] a much more ingrained there than they are in Russia. And I think they feel like that economic power insulates them from some of the things that’s happening to Russia right now.”
We don’t have to ask if these companies would be willing to sacrifice business for conviction with a better international customer, because they haven’t. Nike, Apple, and Ford rake in about a quarter of their profits from China — and not one of them have been willing to risk a cent of it for the moral high ground. If oppression is wrong in Ukraine, then it’s wrong in Xinjiang. When billionaire Chamath Palihapitiya insisted, “Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs, okay?” the shocking part wasn’t just that he said it. The shocking part was that in so many of America’s gleaming skyscrapers, it’s true.