Russian vodkas roll off the shelves for Ukrainian products at the Fish House in Key Largo. In the southernmost city, city officials plan to fly the Ukrainian flag and possibly illuminate the city hall with blue and yellow floodlights.
“What Russia is doing in Ukraine is tragic, inexcusable and unacceptable,” Commissioner Sam Kaufman said on March 1. “Today they bombed the historic site of the Holocaust in this country. It’s not correct. My stepfather is a Holocaust survivor from Kiev. It’s outrageous and I’m all for any show of solidarity we make. Also, we have a lot of Ukrainians living in Key West.
Since February 24, Ukrainian citizens have taken up arms in a battle to defend their country’s freedom against Russian adversaries who continue to come from different fronts. President Volodymyr Zelensky, in a speech to the European Parliament on March 1, said the country was now dealing with the fallout from the Russian attack.
“We are dealing with people killed, in real life. And, you know, I believe that today we give lives for rights, for freedom, for the desire to be equal as much as you are. We give our best, strongest, most values-based people,” he said.
Islamorada resident Frank Derfler is a retired Air Force officer. He graduated from the Air War College and spent eight years at the Pentagon in plans and policy, and in the office of the Secretary of the Air Force.
Early in his career, he worked on joint ventures with the staff of the 82nd Airborne Division. The 82nd is now deployed on the Polish border. Derfler, in an interview with Keys Weekly, said the first rule of war in Ukraine is “don’t believe 90% of what you hear”.
“All parties are experts in producing false information. While Vladimir Putin is playing chess, the Western powers are playing…not checkers, but bingo. Western Europe depends on Russia for about
40% of its natural gas and 30% of its oil. Putin controls Europe’s heat and light. As natural gas and oil prices rise, Russia gets richer.
Derfler said Western powers don’t have good plans on Ukraine. Economic sanctions are almost as “inconvenient for the West as for Russia”.
“Let’s put ourselves in Putin’s shoes. Of the original 15 states of the USSR, three are now part of NATO along with several other countries that were satellites of the USSR,” he said. “NATO countries hold military exercises just a few hundred kilometers from the Russian border. Imagine Russia spinning fighters, drones and a 5th generation ground-based weapons system across Mexico and Cuba. This is what it looks like for Putin.
The reasonable U.S. response was to reassure Poland, Defler said. The 82nd Airborne acts as a tripwire on the Polish border.
“They can help treat refugees, but so can the Red Cross. They are there as a security point. Speaking of fail-safes, the United States flew high-altitude B-52 missions with orbits over Poland long before Russian nuclear forces were on high alert.
Keys resident Abe Conn retired from the military as a full colonel. He was deployed to various parts of Afghanistan in 2002-03, 2006-07 and finally in 2012-13. Conn’s was awarded the 2nd Bronze Star Medal, 2nd Meritorious Service Award, 2nd Army Commendation Medal, and the Global War on Terror Service Medal. As the youngest Army colonel in Florida history, Conn served three year-long deployments to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
In a recent Keys Weekly podcast, Conn provided insight into world affairs and the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia.
“They say history repeats itself. What happened is very similar to what happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis,” he said. “Cuba went ahead and told the Russians to go ahead and put missiles on the ground here. We went ahead and almost went to World War III with this. But at the last minute calmer spirits prevailed and that didn’t happen.
“Now they (Russia) are watching us get so friendly like a place like Ukraine, or where we went ahead and put interceptor missiles in Poland. It’s a bit too close for their comfort” , Conn continued. “If the United States and NATO attack, which I think would never happen, all nuclear capabilities would be pointless, because we can eliminate them in Europe before they even do. reach US airspace.”
Conn added that he didn’t think Ukraine would become a member of NATO because “we don’t want to get into a political quagmire ticking off Russia.”
Mariam Tvaliashvili, who owns Key West soaps and handcrafts each clean creation in her studio and store in The Shops at Mallory, is originally from Georgia.
“My country is also occupied by Russia, so I know what it is, and when my country fought against Russia, Ukraine fought with us on our side.”
On Monday, she was creating handmade soaps in the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag. She plans to donate part of the proceeds from their sale to humanitarian aid organizations for Ukrainians.
Fish House in Key Largo announced on its Facebook earlier in the week that it would no longer serve Russian vodka. “We will serve quality Ukrainian vodka instead.” The post received some 700 likes.
Key West resident Paul Menta, owner of Key West’s First Legal Rum Distillery, told the commission that his company now makes vodka and will use it as a fundraiser for Ukrainian relief efforts.
On March 1, US Representative Carlos Gimenez said he was introducing legislation in the House of Representatives to ban Russian airlines, such as Aeroflot, from operating in US airspace. Additionally, he is pushing to ban Russian oligarchs from flying personal planes in US airspace.
“President Biden should have closed US airspace to Russian aircraft weeks ago and aligned with the similar decision made by Canada, the UK and the European Union,” he said. in a press release.
— Mandy Miles contributed to this report.