Mariupol will be Putin’s Guernica

The relentless bombardment of civilian areas has been a feature of Russian military strategy since the closing months of World War II. Then the Russians were allies of the Western democracies as they advanced on Berlin, the citadel of the Nazi Empire. Now they are our enemies and will probably be viewed that way for many generations to come.

With emerging evidence of indiscriminate shooting of non-combatants, attacks on refugees, vehicles bombed even when marked with white flags and carrying signs saying “children”, deployment of hypersonic missiles and the attack on an art school where 400 women, young, and old people were sheltering, there is no doubt that the peace talks are a sham, at least as far as the Kremlin is concerned.

Many Russians seem unaware of the unholy barbarism being unleashed in their name on non-combat targets in Ukraine, including that theater in Mariupol where hundreds of civilians were sheltering. Photo: EyePress News/Shutterstock

Many Russians seem not to believe in the barbaric nature of the attacks their forces are carrying out against their neighbors. But people’s ability to delude themselves in times of war can never be underestimated.

Many Germans denied the existence of Adolf Hitler’s death camps and continued to do so until they were forced there to see and confront the evidence for themselves.

The most eviscerating portrayal of the impact of modern mechanized warfare is Guernica by Pablo Picasso, an epic scale painting of the destruction of the Basque town of Gernika by German and Italian air forces at the behest of Spanish nationalists led by Francisco Franco. It depicts screaming women, a dead baby, a gored horse, dismembered soldiers, an all-seeing eye.

Even after the Red Army and its allies liberated Hitler's death camps, many Germans denied their existence until they were forced to visit them and, in this case at Belsen the April 15, 1945, to carry away the bodies of their victims.  Many in Russia are now in denial about their country's attack on Ukraine.  File Image: PA
Even after the Red Army and its allies liberated Hitler’s death camps, many Germans denied their existence until they were forced to visit them and, in this case at Belsen the April 15, 1945, to carry away the bodies of their victims. Many in Russia are now in denial about their country’s attack on Ukraine. File Image: PA

Most of the footage from Ukraine of the depredations of the invading forces is shared on social media and through brave reporters and citizen journalists.

But art will surely follow in all its forms, and it will show a cruelty and cynicism that will reflect on the discredit of Russia down the centuries.

If Picasso were alive today, he would be painting Mariupol.

Edward K. Thompson