Small Wars Journal

Why Ukraine Won’t Quit

Sat, 11/26/2022 - 8:18pm

Why Ukraine Won’t Quit

By Yurij Holowinsky

The world is witnessing the horrors of full-scale war in Ukraine, and some are beginning to offer the advice that Ukraine should seek peace with Russia.  Those who do so do not understand Ukraine and Ukrainians; the unstoppable passion of a people awoken and pursuing the goal of real freedom.

I am a first generation American, born in the “Land of the Free.”  My maternal and paternal families fled from Ukraine during the horrors of WW II, spent years in Displaced Person Camps in Europe, and arrived in the US in 1950.  My father was prominently drafted, served in the US Army in Korea, and returned to build the American dream for our family.  I grew up speaking Ukrainian at home while being fully integrated into American life.  A college graduate, a PhD in history, twenty-two years as an Air Force officer with multiple deployments to combat zones, and a follow-on civilian career with the Defense Intelligence Agency, retiring at the age of sixty provided me with the education and experience to offer my thoughts on Russia’s war against Ukraine and why I believe Ukraine won’t quit.

It is safe to say that people are guided by both logic and emotion; by what is seen and unseen - the physical and spiritual aspects of life.  It is extremely rare that one will live solely by logic and reason or conversely by passion and faith.  Yet I would propose that what the world is currently witnessing in Ukraine’s resistance against Russia are the actions of a people finally fully awoken to the belief that they can and will prevail over a bullying aggressor that for hundreds of years has sought to extinguish Ukraine as a nation and Ukrainians as a people.

I recall the drills in grade school during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  We would “take cover” under our desks or in the hallways.  Neighbors built shelters in the back yard. The catchy phrase - “better dead than red.”  Looking back through the prism of over a nearly six-decade long span, I am grateful that America prevailed through the Cold War, and we were never fully put to the ultimate test in our cities and farms.  Today, in 2022, as I see Ukrainians holding signs defiantly proclaiming that they fight because they would rather be dead than part of Russia, I can’t help but marvel at Ukrainian courage and determination.

The pundits who propose negotiations with Russia appear to rely more on logic and reason, thinking Ukraine can’t possibly win.  Therefore, let’s stop the carnage and suffering.  Ukrainians on the other hand know from centuries of experience not to once again fall victim to words on paper.  One of the latest examples is the 1994 Budapest Memorandum which promised the inviolability of Ukrainian borders in return for Ukraine relinquishing the inherited nuclear arsenal following the collapse of the Soviet Union.  When, in 2014, Russia violated the agreement by invading the Donbas and annexing Crimea, Ukraine was shocked that Russian aggression would stand due to a wording technicality within said Memorandum.  The English version used the term “assurance”, and this did not mean “guarantee” as Ukraine envisioned with the word “упевнення”

Therefore, for over seven years Ukraine withstood Russian tanks, artillery rounds and bullets in the Donbas. Then, on 24 February 2022 Putin launched the full-scale invasion. 

Ukraine and Ukrainians understand better than almost anyone else the words of Ronald Regan pertaining to freedom.  Our 40th President stated that - “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.  We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream.  It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

As a nation, every Ukrainian generation since at least 1914 has been impacted by war, death, and destruction.  In turn, I would argue that the desire for Freedom, if not Freedom herself, has been passed on to every Ukrainian within the bloodstream.  This desire has now fully awoken and there is no turning back. Ukrainian passion and belief in Freedom surpasses any calculating unemotional logic or reason. 

Ukraine will not quit because that word does not exist in the Ukrainian language with the same concept or meaning as it does in English.  Just as guarantee and assurance are not exactly the same, the Ukrainian word for “quit” translates as «залишати», «кидати», or «припиняти» words which do not fully carry the concept of permanence as does the word quit.  The Ukrainian words leave open the option of resuming that which has been ceased.

Ukraine and the Ukrainian people have resumed their journey to real independence and Freedom.  They are implementing words I first heard from a Ukrainian general in the early 1990s when, on a visit to our nation’s Capital, he explained why Ukraine had broken away from the Soviet Union and was on the path to full freedom and independence.  He said - “a slave seeks a strong master to protect him while a free man provides for his own security.”

Ukrainians are no longer slaves to anyone but masters of their own destiny.  They are the living modern-day embodiment of our own forefathers who fought the armies of King George III and created America.  Ukrainians are committed to the end with each and every citizen ready to embody the immortal words of Patrick Henry -
“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?  Forbid it, Almighty God!  I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

I close with a poster.


Dad, what does it mean to “surrender”?
I don’t know my son.  We are Ukrainians!

Yurij Holowinsky


About the Author(s)

1976 - B.A. Rutgers University, Phi Beta Kappa
1984 - Officer Training School, Commissioned Officer, US Air Force. Career in HUMINT, retiring with the rank of Major from the Reserves in 2006.
Mid-1990s - Contract Interpreter, Ukrainian language, US Department of State.
1997 - PhD in History, University of Virginia.
2001 - 2014, Intelligence Officer, Defense Intelligence Service. Retired as GS-15.

Numerous operational tours and deployments around the world throughout the course of a thirty-year government career including Russia, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Bosnia, Macedonia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Numerous military awards and decorations including Bronze Star with Valor for direct combat action in Afghanistan in November, 2001.