J. Michael Willard has had a notable international career, traversing journalism, politics, public relations, advertising, writing and art. He traveled the world with West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd, as adviser and press secretary, and was a Communications Director and adviser for then-West Virginia Gov. John D. Rockefeller IV (and once filed papers to run for governor, before coming to his senses). After 22 years working in risky markets — Moscow, Kyiv, Istanbul — he and his wife, Olga, formed Willard Global Strategies to serve clients globally, with offices in Kyiv and Moscow. Since 2016, he has worked out of Orlando, while keeping a close and plain-spoken eye on Ukraine, in the aftermath of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion. WestVirginiaVille’s newsletter recently reprinted excerpts of accounts and commentary on the invasion by him and Mia, one of two daughters who were born and still live in Kviv. Below, are excerpts from his Ukraine commentary on Facebook.
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Day 67 | Russia’s Ill-fated Invasion of Ukraine
By J. Michael Willard | May 1, 2022 | Reprinted from Facebook
Russia has ballyhooed a promised victory over Ukraine by May 9, which honors the traditional day set aside where many European countries celebrate World War II liberation. Hold your horses, Vladimir. You probably will have egg on your face. I am reminded of Prince Vasily Golitsyn, favorite (and lover) of Russian regent Sophia Alekseyevna who, after a campaign against Crimean Tartars in the late 15th Century, paraded in Moscow to celebrate his victory. Problem was, Golitsyn, had been — as we say in West Virginia — cold-clobbered by the Tartars, who were vassals of the Turkish empire. This happened not once, but twice.
I wasn’t there, of course, but it has been reliably reported in the history books. Prince Golitsyn was fortunate there was no Internet, no CNN, no satellite imagery of the battlefields. Years later, the good prince — and he was actually a fairly progressive fellow — got his comeuppance when Peter the Great exiled him to Siberia and put his half sister, the former regent, in a convent.
So, Vlad the Incompetent, your army was routed on its way to take Kyiv. As of today, the war is ebb and flow in Eastern Ukraine, and a never-really-tested Ukraine missile sunk your famed battleship. Do you even have sufficient tanks to hold a decent May 9 parade in Red Square? Ukraine has destroyed about 1,000 tanks , and you’ve lost about 22,000 soldiers.
Question: You’ve never announced the fate of the sailors on your sunk battleship, Moskva. Are you going to release that information? Really Putin, inquiring minds want to know. Your flock of nearly 150 million sheep would find it interesting, and the parents need closure.
In the meantime, on May 9, my birthday, I am going to toast the brave Ukrainian soldiers who each day show tremendous courage. I’ll also toast a 5-foot-7 Ukrainian President Zelinsky, who stands 10 feet tall.
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Day 63: The Fate of Mariupol | April 28, 2022
It is insignificant that my firm, The Willard Group, created the logo for people who will most likely die in Ukraine’s Alamo, a sprawling steel plant on the Azov Sea in Mariupol. It’s the holdout preventing the Russian invaders from establishing a partial land bridge through the eastern and southern tier of Ukraine. Several thousand fighters and civilians, including children, are inside.
The city itself was pounded to rubble. It is not habitable, notwithstanding the Russian propaganda to clueless Russians that elements of the city are coming back to life. That’s a lie. You’ve seen the pictures. It looks like Hiroshima after the bomb. Thousands of Ukrainians have been murdered. Satellite photos show fields of unmarked mass graves.
There is no other name for it than genocide.
The plant is called Azovstal. The company is Metinvest, part of the holdings of Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov. Seeing the logo on a cap and having worked with many at Metinvest, the sadness is overwhelming.
Being a writer of fiction, I whimsically fantasized about a hospital ship bearing a Red Cross banner coming near to evacuate women and children. United Nations troops protect the ship of my daydreams. NATO issues an ultimatum that to attack the evacuees is the red line that will bring forth hells fury.
But, of course, that will not happen. Real-life didn’t count on a madman like Vladimir Putin.
Watch the documentary “Navalny”
When I write about Alexey Navalny, some of my Ukrainian friends wonder why I would write about the “enemy.” He’s Russian. After all, he appeared to favor the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea. On immigration, long ago, he was not unlike America’s right-wing when he ran for mayor of Moscow.
Navalny is not a close friend. He was a client, and I remain in contact with his team. I admire him. When Olga and I sat down to work with him in 2013, he was nuanced on immigration, and the issue of Crimea had not come up. It was before Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity and Freedom.
He was and — from a jail cell outside Moscow — is a politician.
Navalny, however, is one of the few in Russia who stand up to Putin and, who some would say, is a walking dead man for this bravery. He is very much against Putin’s war with Ukraine. He is outspoken on Kremlin corruption and the need for Russia to be democratic and not the dictatorship that it is.
The Kremlin has failed to kill him, though they certainly have tried.
When I worked for the U.S. Senate Leader Robert Byrd in the mid-70s to early 80s, he often railed against constituents who held on to single-issue politics. Some people would vote against him because he pushed through the Panama Canal treaties but, otherwise, loved his positions.
That’s the way I look at Navalny.
He’s a politician. I agree with on most issues, but disagree with on others. I look at the totality of where he stands.
I was proud to have worked with him in Moscow on bringing clarity to his messages and how best to present them.
The one person on the world stage today that I believe has the courage of Navalny is Ukraine’s President Zelinsky.
If you can, watch the documentary.
Putting Faces to Ukraine’s Crisis: J. Michael Willard on Putin’s invasion and his daughter, Mia, writing from a bunker in Kyiv. | feb27.2022
EDITOR’S NOTE: When it comes to West Virginia, what Bob Dylan said about something else. Plus, what’s up in the May 2022 issue of WestVirginiaVille.com
FIRST/PERSON: On the streets in “the capital of pain”: There are mayapples unfurling on the banks of the Kanawha River in the darkness of West Virginia’s capital city. There are humans sleeping there, too, on this cold and rainy April night, and we are among them. | by JAMES COCHRAN
5 QUESTIONS: On the Art of the Guitar: Spencer Elliott is a genre-defying solo performer based in Charleston WV, while also performing in the burning-down-the-house trio SE3. A look at keeping your day job while growing an international fan base.
CHARACTERS: ‘The Hobo Girl: She had many names and left many stories. The night ‘The Hobo Girl’ wandered into St. Albans, WV, like a footloose traveler from another time.
LISTEN/UP: Artists & Podcasters worth noting: From hip-hop innovator Shelem to podcasts worth hearing, a heads up from BLACK BY GOD: The West Virginian.
FIRST/PERSON: On Ukraine, Putin, Navalny & Zelensky: J. Michael Willard worked for Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller then went on to international career that landed him in Ukraine. Excerpts from his thoughts on Putin’s brutal invasion of the country where two daughters still live.
POETICS: Two by Colleen Anderson: Clean music. The notes fall one upon the other, / transparent. Closing my eyes on this city concert,/ I hear water, the song of melting snow on a hill / in Braxton County, in spring …
MAN/MADE: A brief meditation on ‘Reflected Glory’: A brief meditation on a shiny object in West Virginia’s capital city.