States are built with hardware, but nations run on software. Which is the more indispensable to the life or death of a nation state, we are, through Ukraine’s bloody ordeal, just discovering. The hardware of state power consists of armies, bureaucracies, security police, imposing buildings, abysmal prisons. National software is something less tangible but no less powerful: the obstinacy of allegiance under extreme stress; the kinship of calamity; the surge of patriotic emotion; the fortitude of families; the swell of civic pride even as neighborhoods are besieged or destroyed; the inconvenient resistance of truth; and, not least, the transfiguring experience of creating, amid torment, an unforgettable national epic.

The 60km Russian convoy, stalled in the mud, hobbled by blown tires, fuel, and food shortages, is the ultimate embodiment of dumb hardware: a lumbering dinosaur, inexorably destructive, fire-breathing its oxygen-sucking terror, yet also brainlessly impotent, incapable, for all its death-dealing, of achieving any politically strategic end. This is not to say, of course, that monstrous atrocities such as depriving cities such as Mariupol of the most basic human needs — water and sanitation — will not have been committed en route to the dead-end of Putinite imperialism.

Countless small acts of defiance, a daily astonishment — doubtless to the Kremlin as to the rest of the admiring world — are all over the internet:

villagers draped in Ukrainian flags, impeding tanks and armoured cars, leaving the soldiers who man them bewildered about what to do next with the crowd whose grateful acclaim they had been told to expect. Hatred rains down on their head rather than nosegays. Troops who have no difficulty firing missiles on faraway, unseen targets, pull up short before gunning down grandmothers and teenagers. Notwithstanding the grotesque disparity in military resources between the invaders and the invaded, there have been pitched battles where the ostensibly larger force has come off worse.

It doesn’t do, of course, to make light of the devastating firepower of the invaders, capable as it is of reducing Ukrainian cities to piles of smoking ash and rubble. The barbaric cruelty of those operations — expressly designed to terrorize a civilian population and becoming ever more monstrous as the Kremlin’s anticipated end game is frustrated — has already succeeded in producing a tidal wave of a million refugees flooding across the western borders, not to mention the desperate multitudes of the internally displaced. Yet this too will prove a pyrrhic victory, since the Ukrainian diaspora will instill the characterization of the Putin regime as genocidal murderers. Generations will neither forgive nor forget.

The hardware of the Russian invasion may well be operational but the software of its narrative has seized up. Whatever power the Putinite autocracy might have over Russian reception of the “story”, evidence flooding the internet makes the targeting of civilians indelibly clear. And did no one in the Kremlin notice that characterizing a people governed by a Jewish president as Nazis