Russia-Ukraine war at 100 days: Compassion fatigue is here

Andrew Mitrovica

Doctors call it “compassion fatigue”.

It can be the inevitable cost of devoting a career to caring for patients, of tending to their pain – physical and emotional – of trying to relieve suffering.

After some time, the potent impulse to help subsides. Empathy wanes, too, replaced by a measure of powerlessness, a numbness, a detachment, and a divide between healer and patient.

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

You may have sensed this as well. The outrage and gloom that once were so acute have dulled into resignation. A war that once seemed so close has become, in many ways, distant. The once enthusiastic expressions of solidarity have evaporated in favour 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 the preoccupation with another war in Europe have started to fade into the rear view.

The noisy, teeming anti-war protests have stopped. The hashtags on social media have vanished. The touching accounts of frightened Ukrainian refugees fleeing terror are gone. The praise of Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s heroism and Ukrainian resistance have become redundant. Opinion pages that, a few weeks ago, overflowed with columns about the grave import and implications of Ukraine have turned quiet, seized these days with the mass murder of school children, phantom gun control “debates” and the tempest over COVID-inspired “Partygate”. Even the brave dissidents in Moscow and beyond have been silenced by the thug-in-residence-at-the-Kremlin’s goons disguised as police.

The shock of Vladimir Putin’s brutal, inhumane blitzkrieg invasion no longer shocks. The war has slowly drifted from the forefront of minds and hearts; overtaken by other convulsions of violence against innocents in other places. Meanwhile, spring has arrived in parts of the world, gardens require care and the warm, inviting air outside and away from television screens beckon.

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

It may be working. Lately, Russia’s military has scored some big strategic successes, particularly in eastern Ukraine. Zelenskyy admitted on Thursday that Putin’s army has seized control of at least 20 percent of Ukrainian territory with other chunks poised to fall into the occupier’s grasp soon.

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