Russo-Ukrainian war in 100 days: compassion fatigue is here

Doctors call it “compassion fatigue.”

It may be the unavoidable cost of devoting a career to caring for patients, of tending to their pain, physical and emotional, of trying to alleviate suffering.

After some time, the strong urge to help subsides. Empathy also fades, replaced by a measure of helplessness, a numbness, a detachment, and a split between healer and patient.

It has taken not years, but only 100 days for compassion fatigue to start, I feel, to creep into how people outside Ukraine feel about what is still happening to people inside Ukraine.

You may have felt this too. The indignation and melancholy that were so acute before have turned to resignation. A war that once seemed so close has become, in many ways, distant. Enthusiastic expressions of solidarity have evaporated in favor of the routine, often mundane, aspects of life.

This is not to say, of course, that people outside Ukraine have lost sympathy for what has happened and continues to happen to people inside Ukraine. But the intensity of that concern, and concern about another war in Europe, have begun to fade in the rearview mirror.

The loud and boisterous anti-war protests have ceased. Hashtags on social networks have disappeared. Gone are the poignant accounts of frightened Ukrainian refugees fleeing terror. Praise for the heroism of Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian resistance have become redundant. The opinion pages that, a few weeks ago, brimmed with columns about the serious importance and implications of Ukraine have fallen silent, seized these days by the mass murder of school children, the ghost “debates” on gun control and the storm for the COVID-inspired “Partygate”. ”. Even brave dissidents in Moscow and beyond have been silenced by thugs residing in the Kremlin disguised as policemen.

The impact of Vladimir Putin’s brutal and inhumane blitzkrieg invasion is no longer surprising. The war has slowly receded from the forefront of minds and hearts; surpassed by other convulsions of violence against innocents in other places. Meanwhile, spring has arrived in some parts of the world, gardens require care and the warm and welcoming air outside and away from television screens beckon.

Putin can see what others see: compassion fatigue is setting in. As such, disappointment at his outrageous original calculation that Ukraine would capitulate within days has been exchanged for another, perhaps more sinister design: to recalibrate Russia’s military objectives and turn time to its advantage by turning aggression against Ukraine into a war of attrition

It may be working. Lately, the Russian armed forces have achieved great strategic successes, particularly in eastern Ukraine. Zelenskyy admitted Thursday that Putin’s army has taken control of at least 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory and that other parts are about to fall to the occupier soon.

It seems, as a result, that the “narrative” on the ground has changed. The stories exposing the early problems, debacles and blatant incompetence of the Russian campaign have largely disappeared. The military push is with Russia. The numbers are on your side. More troops. More weapons. More bombing. Everything translates into more victories and determination.

And despite the foolish and contrived speculation that Putin is gravely ill and that disenchanted oligarchs, angered by the impact of Western bans and embargoes on their yachts, travel plans and pocketbooks, are plotting to depose their patron and enabler , the Borg-like Russian leader remains at the helm, in control, confident, and as uncompromising and vicious as ever.

Russia appears to have not only absorbed but rejected what were being touted as “crippling” sanctions that were supposed to punish Putin and company into withdrawing. For the time being, a country familiar with hardship and inconvenience has, once again, adapted to hardship and inconvenience.

So far, most Russians seem content not only to tolerate the galling consequences of Putin’s hegemonic ambitions in Ukraine, but eager to see them through. The long-awaited popular uprising in the West is as distant and far-fetched today as it was when the invasion was launched on February 24.

While Putin certainly welcomes the metastatic onset of compassion fatigue, Zelenskyy has to fear it.

He knows that complacency and forgetfulness are the enemies of victory. If he and Ukraine are to prevail, then Ukraine’s president understands that he must say and do what he can to convince others to do what they can to prevent fatigue from turning into complacency and forgetfulness.

That would be disastrous.

Zelenskyy’s tone and demeanor have changed. There have been the usual displays of steady calm and soulful defiance. Yet recently, his urgent calls for help from abroad have been tinged with exasperation, veering, at times, toward despair.

Zelenskyy’s frantic demands for more resolve, more sanctions, more weapons are evidence that after having slowed Russia’s advance, Ukraine is not only losing on the battlefield, but also, drop by drop, notice people outside of Ukraine that it needs to push back the invaders

While presidents and prime ministers have promised to stand by him, undeterred by mounting costs or sacrifices, the politician in Zelenskyy, not the resistance leader, appreciates how fickle politicians can be.

The escalation of the tit-for-tat economic war being waged between Russia and the presidents and prime ministers who want to control it has made life in Europe and North America decidedly more expensive.

Gasoline and food prices have skyrocketed, fueling inflation rates that have hurt many people outside Ukraine who, for the most part, want to help people inside Ukraine.

How long that dynamic can be sustained politically by presidents and prime ministers who have to respond to internal difficulties and pressures while fulfilling their foreign “commitments” is a question that Zelenskyy and his government must consider.

In this sense, time may not be Zelenskyy’s friend.

The looming fact confronting Zelenskyy and the Ukrainians is that the longer the war drags on without a definitive outcome, the more likely it is that people outside Ukraine will lose interest in the fate of people inside Ukraine.

The other undeniable phenomenon that Zelensky and the Ukrainians deal with that aggravates compassion fatigue is war fatigue.

No matter how noble and just Ukraine’s struggle is, people in a scarred and broken world are tired of war. Tired of hearing about it. Tired of seeing it. Tired of being told about the need for it. Tired of being tired of war.

Zelenskyy is fighting on two fronts: at home, where he faces a regrouped, if not resurgent, Russian army, and abroad, where he faces diminishing attention to the fight at home.

Now, more than ever, Zelenskyy must maintain, if possible, his extraordinary will, strength, endurance, and imagination to command a nation to do the impossible: Defeat Putin.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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