The Ukraine invasion reveals many heroes

The International Gymnastics Federation has criticized Russian athlete Ivan Kuliak for wearing a ‘Z’ on his chest at a gymnastics World Cup event in Doha, Qatar. The 20-year-old gymnast had taped the ‘Z’ symbol to his leotard and wore it on the podium while accepting a gold medal, standing beside Ukrainian athlete Illia Kovtun, who had won bronze.

The ‘Z’ symbol has been painted on tanks and other vehicles that the Russian military has used during its invasion of Ukraine. Wearing a ‘Z’ has become a way for Russians to show their approval for the invasion, and many supporters of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin are displaying the ‘Z’ proudly on their clothing and cars.

I do not know what the ‘Z’ stands for. What I do know is that in many conflicts, there are heroes—people we admire for their courage and selflessness—and there are also zeroes.

But I do not know what the ‘Z’ stands for. If I wore a ‘Z’ on my chest, it would stand for Zelensky. Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, is truly a hero. He is a symbol of bravery, a man who could have fled from a daunting battle against a stronger opponent, but instead chose to risk his life and inspire the Ukrainian people to defend their motherland, while uttering a memorable one-liner: “I need ammunition, not a ride.” Don’t call him an Uber—call him an uber leader.

Who would have thought that a former comedian and actor would be imbued with such courage? Perhaps we should have known he’s a rare breed when he said this at his 2019 inauguration: “I would very much like for you to not have my portrait in your offices. No portraits!” This is somewhat similar to what Donald Trump said: “I would very much like for you to not have my portrait in your offices only. Put them in your homes and pick-up trucks, too! More portraits! And please buy them directly from my website:”

Zelensky considers his soldiers heroes and has awarded the title of “Hero of Ukraine” to the military leader, Lieutenant General Oleksandr Pavliuk. But what about the other side? Aren’t there heroes wearing Russian uniforms, too? Of course there are. I would award medals of heroism to all the Russian soldiers who, while approaching the city of Kyiv, got their tanks stuck in the mud.

Videos of the soldiers abandoning their tanks went viral on social media and allowed people to ridicule the Russian military. But there are many forms of resistance, and one of the best is getting stuck in the mud.

Private Petrov: “What are we doing here? Why are we invading Ukraine? Does Putin have a conscience?”

Private Volkov: “Those are good questions. Here’s another question: What does the ‘Z’ stand for?”

Petrov: “It stands for zany. It is our new national identity.”

Volkov: “I thought it stands for zoo. We are behaving like wild animals.”

Petrov: “Yes, but what else can we do? We have to follow orders.”

Volkov: “We can get stuck in the mud and abandon our tanks.”

Petrov: “You are a genius, Volkov.”

Volkov: “Thank you, Petrov. Please inform my mother-in-law.”

Some of these soldiers may be true heroes and some may only be accidental heroes. But it’s okay to be an accidental hero. It’s okay to faint during a bank robbery and accidentally knock the gun from the robber’s hand.

Few people have the courage to be real heroes, like the thousands of anti-war protesters in Russia that Putin has imprisoned. Putin has made it a crime to oppose the war—and even a crime to call it a “war.” It’s a “special military operation.”

You may also call it “Operation Stuck-in-the-Mud.”

Sergeant: “How did you get your tank stuck in the mud?”

Petrov: “Sorry, sir, we fell asleep.”

Sergeant: “Fell asleep on the job?”

Volkov: “We were being patriotic: trying to catch some Z’s.”

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