The Heroes of Mariupol, the Modern Day Thermopylae
Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine, much of the world rallied to the Ukrainian cause. People around the world sent donations, military veterans volunteered to fight and advise, and NATO countries sent military aid. Overall, any honest assessment would indicate that this has been a disaster for Russia and that Ukraine is winning this war. But in any war, even when you have success, there is also tragedy. Throughout the course of the war, Russia has been using indiscriminate tactics, deliberately killing civilians.
One particular town that has been rocked by the devastation of artillery, missiles, and aerial bombing is Mariupol. Over the last several weeks, the last remaining defenders have been holding up inside a steel plant, withstanding blow after blow, as they ran low on supplies. Earlier this week, I saw on the news that these brave defenders had surrendered. Many of my friends and colleagues who have been watching this war and offering whatever support we could, were devastated. But there is a heroic story to tell. These defenders made a heroic stand on par with Thermopylae.
Many people, particularly military veterans, can talk about the battle of Thermopylae in which 300 Spartans held off against thousands of Persians. This battle is used as an example of tenacity and bravery against a numerically superior enemy. Allegedly, when the Persians told the Spartans that they had so many arrows that they would cover the sun when they launched, the Spartans replied, “good, we get to fight in the shade.” What most people don’t remember is the Spartans eventually lost. But their stand enabled a Greek victory. The rest of the Greek city states were able to rally and defeat the Persians. Without this Spartan stand, that victory was not possible.
When I reflect on Mariupol, I see this as the modern-day Thermopylae. While it crushed me to hear about the surrender, I can appreciate what these brave fighters did. They bought Ukraine time. As I write, Ukraine continues to make gains in its counteroffensive against Russia. I firmly believe that one reason we are seeing this success is because Russia had to spend a significant amount of resources in human and material capital to succeed in Mariupol. Because of these brave defenders, Russia was not able to put their attention to other Ukrainian military units taking part in the counteroffensive. They bought time. And as Ukraine continues to demonstrate strength with increased confidence and increased Western support,
these brave defenders can hold their heads-up high knowing that they played a key part in Ukraine’s victory against Russia. Had they folded quickly, Russia could devote other military resources toward the rest of Ukraine. But because of these brave defenders, they were not able to do that.
So as you reflect on the war, let’s hold a moment of silence for these brave heroes. Time is an important dimension of warfare, and these heroes bought Ukraine time. They enabled the offensive to succeed. Next weekend, the United States will celebrate Memorial Day, a holiday that is typically associated with the kickoff of summer. While I hope everyone enjoys their cookouts and pool parties, it is of course a holiday that honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. This year, let’s honor our brave Ukrainian allies who have done the same in the name of freedom.
Authors note: for those of you who are looking for a way to help Ukraine, my good friend Steven Moore started the Ukraine Freedom project. This is a worthy cause which is raising money to provide needed supplies to the people of Ukraine. Donate here: