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Ukraine war: No choice for Ukrainians-more Putin means more war

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Russia has bombarded Ukraine's north-eastern border region of Sumy 3,000 times this year, say officials, and that is likely to go on

When Ukrainians write about Russia’s presidential “election” they put the word in quote marks.

The vote was entirely engineered, so people here were not holding their breath for the result.

The only unknown was how much support Vladimir Putin would claim, and even for him 87% was quite something.

But no-one in Ukraine was laughing.

Whatever the supposed result on paper, the meaning here is clear: more deadly missile attacks, more drones, more shelling. The full-scale invasion that Vladimir Putin ordered two years ago will go on.

Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, gave his response to the official result last night, describing the Russian leader as “sick with power”, a man who would stop at nothing.

He called on Ukraine’s allies to ensure Putin was held to account.

“This person must end up on the dock in The Hague,” Ukraine’s president wrote in English on Twitter, referring to the International Criminal Court.

Putin is already a wanted man in the Hague: the war crimes court has issued an arrest warrant for him, for the forced deportation of children from occupied areas of Ukraine.

Russian elections have been tightly controlled for a long time, increasingly so each year. This time, there were no genuine opposition candidates on the ballot at all.

The Kremlin has spent years creating the impression that there is no other choice: that Putin is Russia.

But for Ukraine, Putin is Mariupol, Bucha and Bakhmut.

He’s the reason for the rows of fresh graves at every town cemetery; for the displacement of millions from their homes and the nights in bomb shelters and basements for those who’ve stayed.

It was Vladimir Putin who launched the war that badly injured a young girl I met in Chernihiv, after a missile attack, then killed her brother at the front line, where he had gone to fight as a volunteer.

That same war sent another Ukrainian soldier back to the front today. Before he left, he told me he’s the only one of his original group of some 30 men “still walking”.

Of course, Putin hasn’t done all this alone.

That’s why it’s hard to find Ukrainians these days who speak well of any Russians. Relations between two neighbours have been ruined for decades, perhaps longer.

Many here feel Russians didn’t do enough to stop a war that was years in the making, and that Ukraine is now paying the price.

I know Russians who feel the same, even those who have gone to prison in their own country for protesting against Putin: his repression at home and aggression abroad.

There are Russians in exile, too, who help Ukraine however they can. One is even here, fighting on the front line against his own countrymen. He told me it was a matter of conscience. He felt guilty.

That man will fight on. But so will Russia, under Vladimir Putin.

And so, then, will Ukraine. It’s been left with no choice.

kra