As war now rages in Ukraine on the fourth day since Russia invaded its neighbor to the south, there is a pit in my stomach that won’t go away.
My relationship with Russia and Ukraine goes back decades, before the collapse of the Soviet Union. My particular connection to Ukraine is founded in Donetsk. I still consider the Russians/Ukrainians I met, knew, lived with to be friends, even if I haven’t talked to them in many years. I did talk to one such friend recently, just after the Russian invasion began. She is originally from Donetsk, but has resided now for many years in the states.
It was so good to connect with her, to hear news of her family, both in Russia and Ukraine, to hear her perspective on this horrible circumstance. But of course the conversation was also heart-wrenching. My heart aches for her, for her family, for other friends we both have still living in both countries, for the tragedy of these misguided times.
She wrote to me soon after our conversation, openly and beautifully about her growing up in the then Soviet Union. How her family is a mix of Russians and Ukrainians. How she grew up with both languages, both cultures, completely intertwined. She explained how the three primary languages she speaks are tainted by the others. She explained, “My English has some Slavic tang to it. My native tongue, Russian, has distinctly soft “g” and peppered with Ukrainian words and phrases. My Ukrainian is mixed with Russian colloquialisms. Mixed, just like most of the other people speaking these languages.”
And how her head feels like it will explode, her heart torn in two…
Her story must be the story of tens of thousands, maybe millions of mixed Russians and Ukrainians.
And yet now because of bravado or misguided geopolitical calculation or a longing of a political order long gone, Russia has invaded Ukraine. Russians are killing Ukrainians. Ukrainians are killing Russians. These two peoples so intertwined over a thousand years of history…
And clearly the underlying humanity has been lost. Or has it?
Maybe this moment demands the very fabric that brings these two peoples together, that it is now being torn in two, hearts torn in two…
It’s not too late to stop this madness. We must. All well-meaning people, and especially Russians and Ukrainians.
Otherwise what is left?
What is left otherwise are Ukrainians (many of whom no doubt have Russian in their lineage) fighting to defend their country against Russians (many of whom no doubt have Ukrainian in their lineage), Russians fooled by their government that Ukraine is somehow a threat,
And I can only hope that the world responds with resolve to end the violence; that the Ukrainians can hold their ground, remain steadfast, determined;
that everyday Russians can see through the lies and somehow make their government stop, somehow find the resolve they found thirty one years ago,
That perhaps even the Russian government can see the folly of this ill-advised transgression, step back from further catastrophe, death, and destruction, though somehow I don’t think this is much possible but,
I remain hopeful somehow, even as my heart aches for my friend, for Ukrainians and Russians,
I remain hopeful for wiser, more clear-headed, well-meaning minds to find their humanity again, and find common ground and understanding, let understanding prevail before it’s too late,
Let it not be too late,
Let it not be too late.
As my friend told me,
“in my heart it is Russia Ukraine. In my heart they are inseparable. No politician, no war will ever pull that apart for me and many others. In my heart they are ONE. On genetic level. On human level. My family, my friends… in both countries – ONE in my heart and soul.”