There was a lot of good news for Ukraine in mid-September, seven months after Russia’s invasion. Ukraine re-seized sizable amounts of territory in the North as demoralized Russian forces fled, and it was pushing a counteroffensive in the South. It got an indirect diplomatic boost from two of Russia’s strategic partners: President Xi Jinping of China, whose statement on the need for stability was read as displeasure with Vladimir Putin, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who expressed the sentiment more explicitly soon after. It was set to receive another $600 million in U.S. defense aid. And it got a papal blessing of sorts, as Pope Francis acknowledged that it is morally acceptable for countries to send arms to Ukraine so that it can defend itself from Russia, which the pope, after some hesitation, is now willing to call the “aggressor.”
With every advance against Russia, and with every new revelation of Russian atrocities, Ukrainians become more unified, and more hopeful that victory is at hand. Morale and motivation are high even as President Volodymyr Zelensky cautions against excessive optimism. Meanwhile, questions asked since the war began are no closer to being answered now. What exactly does a Ukrainian victory look like? Would it require retaking Crimea? How would neighboring countries, the continent, and the rest of the world live with a defeated Russia—or a humiliated Putin?