Ukraine and What to Do About It

My friend in Kiev sounds exhausted. Her family lost everything when Russia invaded the Donbas, and she was just getting back on her feet when this current round of menace began. “Just a hard period of life which still does not end,” she wrote. As with all troubling headlines, it’s painful to feel the human reality. But we individuals can’t stop Moscow or save Kiev, so how can we respond? For me, one thing is obvious

I’m going back to Kiev as soon as I possibly can.

Kids playing and eating cotton candy in a park in Kiev, Ukraine, Kyiv
(News about Kiev means more when I remember these kids in the park)

Fear is natural. Fear is obvious. But fear is easy. It’s also a waste of vitality, a rejection of joy, a submission to diminishment. Giving in to it is letting the bullies win, letting them limit us, and in this case it’s letting them further harm the people of Ukraine. I hear reports from Kiev and Lviv, remember the people I met in those beautiful places, and wish I could rent every room, buy every meal, and talk on every bench, today.

Partially, I admit to an urge to wave a particular finger at the disingenuous forces that are causing them so much stress. But beyond that, going to a place like Ukraine is just good Travel! I grew up in a Cold War context but Ukraine lives its firsthand place in those geopolitical chess matches. Ideas for me were realities for them. Touching that different experience, seeing through that other lens, is exactly the kind of experience travel can gift to us. So I’ll go back to Ukraine when I can, and listen to whatever it has to say.

In the meantime, is there anywhere else that can give us its firsthand human perspective of these events and dynamics that have shaped recent history? You bet there is! Say it with me now: Romania!

Romania had different experiences during WWII and behind the Iron Curtain, which gave Romanians their own attitudes about Russia (“I think distrust of Moscow is in our bones” one of my local guides told me, standing not far from a monument to fallen Russian soldiers), and my travel there is further informing my perspective on what is happening in Ukraine.

But is it safe? Bucharest is about 500 miles from Kiev, so it would be like canceling a trip to San Francisco because there was tension in Tijuana. But even if macro-violence erupts (which I personally doubt), I am confident in saying there is no chance Putin would invade a European Union country, which Romania is. Not even with his sneaky “What, those guys, speaking Russian, wearing our uniforms, and using our weapons? No, they’re not mine.” (I wouldn’t be surprised if Belarus becomes Russian after Lukashenko sloughs his mortal coil, but an EU country? No way.) I felt safer in Romania than I do while driving on the freeway back home. That hasn’t changed.

Student Center in Iasi, Romania, with EU flag
(The student center in Iasi may date back to Soviet iconography on the walls, but it’s EU modern, safe, and clustered with kids just like I went to school with, but who have different stories to tell)

In the end, I am back in a situation I have seen before, when ominous headlines kept my fellow travelers away from the experiences that I feel are most vibrant, vital, and important at exactly those times. So am I still charging ahead on Romania, even as tensions simmer in Ukraine? Absolutely! I’m going to open my mind with curiosity, reach out my hand in friendship, and yes lift a finger in protest, and I’m going to be a happy traveler while I do it.

Want to come with me? (Spots still available.)