Discover more from PREVAIL by Greg Olear
Washington & Kherson: A Tale of Two Cities (with Zarina Zabrisky)
Republicans in Congress hijacked the federal government to help Russia defeat Ukraine. One of the two journalists in the Ukrainian port city of Kherson reveals what this actually looks like.
With Republicans in Washington, it always comes back to Ukraine.
Ukraine is what Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan were talking about in 2015 when McCarthy said that he thought Putin paid Trump. Ukraine is where Paul Manafort workshopped his campaign fuckery. Ukraine is where Trump dispatched his attack dog, Rudy Giuliani, to manufacture dirt on Joe Biden. Trump refused to send promised and Congressionally approved aid to Ukraine unless “you…do us a favor, though,” resulting in his first impeachment. The single change made in the Republican party platform in 2016 involved—you guessed it—Ukraine.
So it was no surprise that the one concession Congressional Republicans refused to budge on during last week’s shutdown fiasco was regarding aid to Ukraine. Indeed, one could make a compelling argument that the entire point of the shutdown was to achieve that objective.
The more MAGA the member of Congress, the more adamant the opposition to funding Ukraine. For example, the troglodytic Marjorie Taylor Greene, who voted against everything, said: “The rule is the first step of advancing this blood money in Congress. Unfortunately it looks like some of the House’s strongest conservatives are going to vote for the rule to help along..the ‘process.’ Voting yes on the rule means more money for Ukraine. It’s that simple. No one who wants peace should vote yes on the rule to advance the bills. That’s why I’m a HARD NO on the rules package and a blank check for Ukraine!”
After preventing the shutdown—or, rather, giving Congress a few more weeks to get its shit together—the same Kevin McCarthy who once said Putin pays Trump was removed as Speaker of the House. By law, the new Speaker doesn’t have to be a member of Congress. Maybe the House Republicans should just elect Putin and eliminate the middle man?
Meanwhile, in Ukraine, Russian occupiers are busy laying waste to cities, launching missiles at hospitals, churches, apartment buildings, schools, and hotels, killing civilians indiscriminately. This is nothing new. Putin has adopted these tactics from the early days of the invasion, once it became clear that it would take more than three days to conquer the country. That the American public has “Ukraine fatigue” does not change the fact that every day in the second-largest country in Europe, Russia is committing genocidal atrocities we file under that quaint euphemism, “war crimes.”
Kherson is a strategically important city of some 280,000 people on the mouth of the Dnipro, where that great river meets the Black Sea. Odesa is 125 miles to the West. The isthmus connecting Crimea to Kherson Oblast lies to the southeast, even closer. Russian occupiers control Kherson Oblast, on the southeastern bank of the river; the city of Kherson, liberated by Ukraine on November 11 after nine months of occupation, is on the other side of the Dnipro. The Russians have stepped up their attacks on the city—a place they already devastated in June by destroying the Kakhovka dam, intentionally generating a Johnstown Flood-level natural disaster—with the aim of turning it to rubble.
Zarina Zabrisky, my guest on today’s PREVAIL podcast, is one of only two foreign journalists remaining in Kherson. “We have arrived here ten days ago,” she told me on Tuesday, “and just in that time, the attacks intensified to a somewhat unbelievably, almost ridiculous amount. I’ve never seen anything like this, and I’ve been in Ukraine for almost two years. There are explosions sometimes every five minutes; sometimes there’s an hour of silence and then they start again. And in the middle of September the Russians started to drop air bombs on the city.” These guided air bombs cause incredible devastation, as she has now seen firsthand. “They are targeting civilian places, critical infrastructure.”
She sent me a recording she made of the bomb noises, from her apartment, in a file she sardonically titled “Russian classical music.” This is the war symphony of Kherson:
Russia, she told me, has adopted a “scorched earth” strategy, oft used in Russian military history, most famously in Moscow during the Napoleonic Wars. The idea boils down to this: if Putin can’t have Kherson, no one can. “There are places,” Zabrisky says, rattling off the names of villages and towns and cities, “that don’t exist anymore.”
“And now, they are doing it systematically,” she continues. “And what’s worse, or what makes it worse. . . is that it’s not being reported.” Media outfits don’t have the resources, or the will, to send correspondents to the war zone. “All of this is happening in silence. The world is unaware. And I feel like this is my goal now, is to break the story through, to make the world see and hear: there’s a big city that is being destroyed right now.”
Since we spoke on Tuesday, Zabrisky tells me, the situation has only gotten worse. Putin clearly wants to wipe Kherson off the map.
Yesterday, Tymofiy Mylovanov, president of the Kyiv School of Economics, tweeted out a list of Russia’s “success” in Ukraine, compiled by the economist Timothy Ash: loss of revenue, loss of prestige, loss of Putin’s ability to travel freely, loss of the Black Sea port, loss of consumers for its exports, and so on. It’s a long list, and it hammers home the obvious point that no matter what happens down the line, Putin has already lost, bigly. Ash ends it with this question: “And Matt Gaetz and the crazy element in the GOP want to stop arming Ukraine to reverse all the above?”
Thankfully, the President of the United States, Joe Biden, is well aware of all of this, and is fully committed to helping Ukraine. The same can’t be said for GOP members of Congress—and not just the “crazy element.” Victory in Ukraine will only embolden Putin, who would then seek to invade Moldova, Georgia, Armenia—maybe even Poland. All we need to do to defeat him, meanwhile, is arm the Ukrainians properly. That’s it. This is arguably the most worthwhile aid investment the U.S. has ever made. Why don’t Republicans understand this? Could it be that they do understand this, and are actively working to prevent that outcome?
Putin is utilizing considerable weaponry to destroy Kherson. He may destroy Washington, too—without firing a shot.
The Russian invaders are attempting to wipe the Ukrainian city of Kherson off the map. Greg Olear talks with war correspondent Zarina Zabrisky, who is one of only two journalists in Kherson, about the situation on the ground there, the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Crimea, and the psychological impact of war.
Listen to her podcast:
Watch “Under Deadly Skies:”
Read her work at Byline Times:
Read her Kherson pieces at PREVAIL:
Thanks HelloFresh! Go to HelloFresh.com/50prevail and use code 50prevail for 50% off plus 15% off the next 2 months!
Photo courtesy Zarina Zabrisky. She stands next to a crater caused by a Russian bomb in Kherson, September 24, 2023. Second photo: residential building damaged by Russian bomb.