Ukraine’s knock-on effect on democracy

Other places struggling against dictators find inspiration in the bravery of Ukrainians to fight for freedom.

A member of a choir from Belarus performs "For your and for our freedom!" in a Berlin square on March 6 following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

In one of his last official acts as an ambassador for Nicaragua, Arturo McFields sent a note this week supporting a resolution by the Organization of American States condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Then he condemned his own government for its crackdown on democracy under strongman Daniel Ortega.

“It is impossible to continue to remain silent and defend what is beyond defense,” he said, on behalf of more than 170 political prisoners in Nicaragua.

Mr. McFields’ actions were clearly directed at his Central American country. Yet they also suggest that Ukraine’s brave defense of its fledgling democracy could be inspiring many around the world struggling to shake off authoritarian rulers. OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro described Mr. McFields’ actions as “speaking truth to power.”

In Myanmar, where the military has repressed pro-democracy activists, one army officer who defected, Lt. Col. Banyar Kyaw, has called on the international community to support the people of Myanmar in the same way it has the Ukrainians.

In early March, police in Hanoi detained many people trying to attend a charity event in support of Ukraine’s independence and democracy. Vietnam follows Moscow’s narrative that the Russian invasion is only a “special military operation.”

The inspiring struggle of Ukrainians, says Avril Haines, director of U.S. national intelligence, could “empower [other] populations to speak up in dissent from such authoritarian efforts.”

In a few places, democracy activists forced into exile have been lifted by Ukraine’s example.

Activists from Hong Kong have embraced Ukraine as a way to rally supporters against China. Some who fled Belarus after a 2020 crackdown on pro-democracy protests have found a new goal: A group called Cyber Partisans has hacked into government infrastructure such as railroads to thwart the delivery of Russian troops and materiel into neighboring Ukraine. “Without a free Ukraine, there is no chance for Belarus,” group spokesperson Yuliana Shemetovets told Fast Company magazine.

On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for global protests against Russia’s invasion. “Come with Ukrainian symbols to support Ukraine, to support freedom, to support life,” he said. “Freedom matters.”

In many other countries beset by oppression, people are already there.

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