The real cost of the war in Ukraine is everything that could have been accomplished if Putin hadn’t yielded to his thirst for blood and treasure. What does that mean? What could have been accomplished?
Well, for starters, and most obviously, all the people that have died could have lived, and could have contributed to their country’s or the world’s culture. Many of the deceased soldiers were young men, that could have gone on to do great things in lives that could have been many decades longer.
Next, there are the survivors to consider. These people have been changed from what they would have been if not for the war. Take Zelensky, as an example. The guy has really stepped up for his country, and I expect he’ll end up as some kind of hero, but what could he have done if the war hadn’t come? What could he and an uninvaded Ukraine have done? Those questions do have some objective answers, in the form of predictions based on the prewar productivity of Ukraine and yada-yada-yada, but those predictions would all be nonspecific averages, where the actual products of an uninvaded Ukraine could have been specifically amazing. Art, music, medical research, all could have had breakthroughs that could be now totally lost or else delayed or even corrupted by the war. Postwar art and science are almost always heavily influenced by said war, so what could have been very well could be truly lost.
All these could-have-beens and estimated losses are on Putin’s long and bloody bill, and nothing he could do or that could be done to him, would ever settle that debt. Zelensky says that Ukraine is fighting a war against evil. He is correct.