So he actually did it. And it’s heartbreaking.
The inevitable has happened. We hoped it wouldn’t. But it has.
Russia has invaded Ukraine.
The distant wave has just drawn uncomfortably close.
Now the question none of us wants to contemplate. How far will it sweep?
23rd January 2005. I’m standing with my husband and two 11-year old sons, among thousands of ecstatic native Ukrainians, in the nation’s capital, Kyiv. We’re on Independence Square, attending Viktor Yushchenko’s inauguration as President.
It’s happening. Thanks to the peaceful protests, sit-ins and general strikes of the Orange Revolution, a democratically elected president stands before us. His scarred face, the result of a recent near fatal poisoning, reminding us that he almost didn’t.
This was an historic moment. A rare moment of optimism in this country’s scarred landscape. A nation on the cusp of what might become, for the first time in many centuries, complete independence from foreign dominion.
We lived and worked in Ukraine for nearly four years. We met many remarkable people -teachers, doctors, soldiers, sailors, politicians, priests, musicians, cleaners, gardeners, people in business… They all had one quality in common and it was this: an extraordinary capacity to endure hardship as a fact of life.
Their stoicism changed the way I saw the world. Whenever I’m in pain, I ask myself “what would a Ukrainian say”. The answer? “Everything will be all right”.
But there’s a watch-out here too. While stoicism may help us endure the changing tides of fortune, we also have to recognise those elements which must be opposed.
This is not fate. This is the carefully calculated act of a clever but insecure — and therefore deeply dangerous — potentate.
This is not a time only for stoicism. It is not a time for complaining. Or for panicking.
This is a time for courage.
And for solidarity. Like the sunflowers in the photo above, in a field in southern Ukraine, all facing in the same direction: towards the light.
We are all afraid. Of course we are. No-one under the age of 40 has any experience of a world in which there was a constant threat of conflict and the spectre of nuclear war.
We also forget that Russians may see their government’s latest act of aggression as not so very different from NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. That action not only ignored the UN Charter, but was considered by many in Russia to be part of a concerted western campaign to bring down the Serbian government.
And so it goes on…
Hate and fear are as much a part of life as love and courage. Each exists because of the other.
It is up to us to choose which one we feed.
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