Tomas Martinaitis is a 2022 McCain Global Leader from Lithuania. Since 2019, he has served as one of the youngest deputy mayors in his country and has personally worked on grassroot efforts to welcome and aid Ukrainian refugees in the Akmenė District Municipality. This has included transporting refugees from Poland to safe havens in Lithuania and informing his own citizens about how the local government is supporting Ukraine.
The events on the night of February 24 became an unimaginable reality for the whole world, especially for my generation which was born in the broken Soviet Socialist Republics and grew up in a free, independent world. For many years, we believed that times of war, times where fighting is happening on all fronts, times where civil targets are brutally attacked to inflict fear and chaos were over. However, fear came with thorns of war and locked our hearts, showing the fragility of our world.
For many years, Vladimir Putin and his cronies have been trying to bring the power and respect of Soviet Union back to Russia, trying to make the world play by the rules of the Cold War. The first step was taken in 2008 Sakartvelo, then in 2015 in the Ukrainian regions of Crimea, Doneck and Luhansk. The Western world did not take proper steps to stop Putin’s initiative or show the unaffordable price of risk to start a conflict. However, Russian leaders made a lethal mistake. They did not manage to change the leadership of Ukraine and only inspired opposition and a sense of ownership of the country for Ukrainians. The Ukrainian army started to grow up, modernized by western allies with technical and know-how support. Most importantly, it was trained in combat for the following seven years.
Putin understood how dangerous Ukraine had become, and it was only getting stronger. Therefore, this nonsensical disinformation campaign about Ukrainian nazism and facism was created, and the free will of Ukraine was challenged.
This situation is a perfect example of the clash of different world views and different values. The power of Russia is based on brutal force, on the emphasis of fear and the willingness to enforce power to the smaller, weaker one. It is based on the quantity – not on the quality – of the fighting force and on fierce obedience, not on shared leadership.
In a country on the frontlines of Russian aggression, my fellow Lithuanian politicians have warned the Western world about this for many years, yet our voices have not been heard. Russia’s actions have become a serious challenge to the entire democratic world (and I am not talking about the inflation or food shortages Russian aggression has inflicted). If Russia will not learn the price of its aggression, it will encourage other world powers, such as China, to claim their interest, such as Taiwan, by pure force despite the consequences. Russian success may show the birth of a new reality, which may lead to total anniliation.
Senator John McCain once said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act despite fears.” My countrymen have shown courage in the face of Russia’s antagonism and will continue to be a friend and ally of Ukraine until Russia is stopped. People of Akmenė District Municipality, where I am working as a deputy mayor, has hosted hundreds of Ukrainian refugees running from war – not only today, but since 2014. A recent crowdfunding initiative to collect money to buy a Bayraktar drone to aid in defending Ukraine is a great example of the power of decent citizens.
I strongly believe Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian soldiers had many fears when the war started, but when they chose to stay, stand their ground and act despite their fears, they became a brave example to all of us. They are fighting for a cause bigger than their land and country. They fight for the entire free world and for the world we will live in the future.