On an ordinary city in Ukraine, the destruction wrought by Russian cruise missiles, and how Google Street View can put the attack in perspective
Isolated photos of destruction can be hard to comprehend and contextualize, which is one of the many inevitable challenges of reporting thoughtfully on war. But the decision by Russian armed forces to launch cruise missiles from Black Sea submarines into the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia is a crude and egregious example of war criminality that deserves the kind of closer examination that digital resources can provide.
■ Vinnytsia isn't anywhere close to the front lines of the invasion. It's hundreds of miles from the front, well in the middle of the country. An attack on a strategically unimportant city far from combat is plainly intended to sow terror into the population -- that is to say, it is an act of terrorism.
■ Some of the missiles were shot down. Others landed where they could kill ordinary people -- and they did. Video shows smoke rising from one target, easily identifiable in videos because the site is near the "Monument in Honor of the Air Forces of Ukraine" -- featuring a sculpture built around a fighter plane.
■ Anyone can pull up a Google Map of the vicinity and look around. Better yet, Google Street View lets the user take a look exactly from the apparent site of the blast. It's just a neighborhood. There are Volkswagens and Kias in the street, laundry drying from balconies, and satellite TV dishes mounted on walls. What was Russia attacking?
■ A school. A concert hall. A medical center. A courthouse. A soccer stadium. Houses and apartments. All in the immediate vicinity of what was blown up. A street sign, mounted by ordinary public works crews to warn drivers to slow down and watch for kids crossing the road, is probably gone now, obliterated by a Russian cruise missile.
■ Think of that contrast: Ordinary people living good and decent lives put up signs asking drivers to be cautious around kids, just like people do all over the world. But that ordinary caution was no match for Russia's cruise missiles.
■ It's madness for Russia to continue this war. It is a war of aggression, both unjustified and entirely unnecessary. And it is of particular note that the cruise-missile attack -- which killed innocent children -- happened within hours of Latvia's ratification of plans to admit Sweden and Finland to NATO.
■ One cannot read about NATO accession and think about it merely as an abstraction. Not on a day when Russian forces were out to murder children. The threat to the Baltic countries -- and to their neighbors elsewhere in Europe -- is real.
■ What, other than the threat of swift and merciless retaliation, is likely to restrain the choices of military commanders and political authorities who would authorize what happened in Vinnytsia? What is happening in Ukraine is a war of Russian aggression, and it could be stopped instantly on Vladimir Putin's orders. His essence is an evil without self-restraint. An unambiguous and steadfastly united front must be made to stand plainly in his way. The defenders of Ukraine must be supplied with all the war materiel they need. If these conditions are not satisfied, then there is nothing to say that the obscene attack on Vinnytsia couldn't be duplicated anywhere else Putin might want.