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A protester holds a peace sign during an anti-war protest amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: REUTERS/LEONARDO FERNANDEZ VILORIA
A protester holds a peace sign during an anti-war protest amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: REUTERS/LEONARDO FERNANDEZ VILORIA

My school history teacher would work himself into a froth if we ever used the phrase "history repeating itself".

"History doesn’t repeat itself," he would roar, "it’s people who repeat history."

To the battlefields of Ukraine, then, where the Russian advance has, if media reports are to be believed, run into unexpectedly stiff resistance from Ukrainian soldiers.

Not only did the Ukrainians not welcome the Russians with open arms, cheers and flags, tureens of steaming borscht and streets strewn with flowers, but they were also well armed, shot back and fought like cornered caracals.

Taking a leaf out of the Stalingrad siege-breaking, resistance-crushing playbook (first edition, winter 1942-1943), some top brass — three of whom, including a special forces officer, were reportedly killed — were sent to the front to stiffen the advance, according to The Times (one hopes this was done with more subtlety than in 1942, when the political commissars following an infantry advance were tasked with using their pistols on any Russian soldiers running the other way).

With the advance faltering, Moscow sent in its bombers, thereby leading us to the second lesson of the day: when you bomb civilians in their homes and kill their loved ones, you create hatred along with considerable backbone and resolve.

Bomber Command failed to learn this lesson in World War 2 — its mission to "dehouse" (yes, they actually used that word) the German civilian population through sheer tonnage of high explosives and firestorms not only failed to crush Germany’s spirit but instead unleashed a seething hatred, which found its natural expression on bomber crews who had survived parachuting from their flaming aircraft only to be butchered by angry townspeople on the ground.

Russia might have learnt about resistance after its abortive Afghan adventure. But the shirtless horseman of the apocalypse seems to have no memory of that time at all.

Rinse, wash, repeat.

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