To truly understand the impact of Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine, listen to the people he has hurt.

People like Mikhail Shcherbakov, whose sleep in his apartment in Kharkiv was shattered by war early Thursday.

“I heard noise and woke up. I realized it sounded like artillery,” Shcherbakov told ABC News

At the moment he went to wake his mother, a missile punctured the ceiling behind him, leaving a computer and teacup covered in dust. 

Or listen to a woman named Sasha, in the same city, who also told ABC news she awoke to the sounds of explosions and, after realizing they weren’t fireworks, ran to her balcony to see.

“Today I had the worst sunrise in my life,” she said.

Or look into the eyes of a young mother, huddling with her two small children in a subway station and telling a CNN reporter that she can’t afford to have her children believe she is scared. She held up a meager bag of snacks and said it was all the small family had to eat. She expected to stay at the station all night.

“We try to be brave, because we have children and we don’t want to show them that we are scared,” she said in broken English.

Tyrannical leaders such as Putin order bomb strikes and troop movements to extend power and influence, but the victims they produce are so much more than just casualty numbers. They are human beings, just like you, who care deeply about family, jobs and the normal cadence of everyday life. 

They don’t deserve to huddle underground with strangers, taking shelter from bombs and wondering if they or their loved ones will survive the night.

Make no mistake, the responsibility for this suffering in Ukraine lies squarely at the feet of Putin, Russia’s autocratic ruler, who concocted fictions about Ukrainian aggression against ethnic Russians as a pretext for what appears to be the violent takeover of all of Ukraine.

President Joe Biden sounded resolute and firm at his news conference Thursday afternoon. He correctly explained the purpose of expanded sanctions, which is to, over time, weaken Russia’s ability to fund further military actions. He correctly warned against possible cyberattacks, and he announced further troop movements to shore up defenses in NATO countries, including the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. American soldiers in Poland will help evacuate any Americans who desire to leave the area.

Short of military action, he can do little else. Over time, however, these sanctions, if honored by all civilized nations of the world, would have an effect.

As events unfold in Ukraine, two troubling aspects have arisen.

One is the threatening rhetoric Putin used in a televised speech signaling the start of aggressions. 

“‘For those who could be tempted to intervene from outside, whoever tries to hinder us, and even more so to create threats to our country, to our people, should know that Russia’s response will be immediate, and it will lead you to such consequences that you have never encountered in your history,” he said.

This appeared to be a veiled threat against the United States, NATO and any other nation who may issue sanctions or provide any other means of resistance. Some wondered if it hinted at the use of nuclear weapons.

The other is the collaboration of Belarus, which borders Ukraine to the north. CNN published a video showing a column of tanks entering Ukraine Thursday morning from that country. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said Belarusian military personnel were not involved in the attack, but that they could take part, if needed, according to Britain’s Independent. Belarus appeared to at least have granted permission to the Russian military to use its territory, providing strategic access to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city.

This widening of the conflict shows the broad scope of attack, as well as Putin’s willingness to use nations under his broader influence to achieve his aims.

These two things ought to awaken Americans, who have been too obsessed with mask mandates, trucker strikes, arguments about the 2020 election and petty partisan politics to realize an existential threat was brewing half a world away. 

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, whose declaration of Russia as a top foreign policy concern during his 2012 run for the White House has suddenly been shown to be prescient, said Thursday, “History shows that a tyrant’s appetite for conquest is never satiated.”

That, along with the stories of each individual in Ukraine who huddles with loved ones and strangers amid an onslaught against their sovereignty, ought to awaken every freedom-loving person.