What I’m Seeing in Ukraine

My friend in Kyiv managed to send her two children outside the city. They should be safer there, but she has to remain with her elderly mother, sleeping on a mattress in the hallway while the shells explode outside. It’s good news, but now, every night as she lies down and waits/hopes for sleep, she can’t know for sure if her children are safe, and they face the same fear for her.

There are so many reasons to hate war, but the way it preys on the most vulnerable may be at the top of the list. So when I see photographs of the children, elderly, and women crossing the border into Romania and Poland, I feel like every one of them is a point scored against this injustice. But that score really starts to shift when you see the warmth with which refugees are met. The volunteers offering rides, bags of food, and places to stay. Leaders making plans to accept and care for them (including in Suceava, where hotels like the one where I stayed are being asked to welcome refugees; I wonder if they set up a camp near the castle?). One bad leader can cause so much suffering, but thousands come out to counter it. That is the real measure of humanity, and I am delighted (and unsurprised) to see Romanians stepping up to this challenge.

(I have a lot of faith in the IRC, whose image this is. Their donation page for Ukraine is here)

War like this is awful. But it’s also a reminder that the propaganda of these warmongers is false. The ominous uniformity of “behind the iron curtain” was never the whole story even then, but its days of oppressive state communism and threat are long gone. Sorry Vlad, you can join the long sad list of authoritarians trying to capitalize on nostalgia to justify brutality, but the world has moved forward. I’m reminded of all the wonderful refugees I met when I taught at the IRC in Oakland, and heartened that Biden has reversed the cruelty of our own would-be authoritarian menace, who reduced America’s refugee quotient to just 15,000. Last year Biden raised it to 62,500 with the goal of 125,000 by the first full fiscal year of his term. This is the right side of history.

So in the face of the cruelty of this war, and my impatience that we do more to end it, I am also reminded of the goodness of people. And the growth of civilization. Ukraine is not some Soviet stooge, nor is Romania. Give people freedom, hope, and safety, and they’re better than that. Better than you, Vladimir.

If I need proof, I just have to come back to my friend in Kyiv, and what she wrote to me this morning. Is she vindictive or hateful? No. She’s expressing concern for the kids. “Our troops take Russians prisoner. It’s horrible. Most of the prisoners are guys 18-20 years old. These are conscripts, children who are scared. Pity them. They didn’t even come here of their own free will. Thousands of Russian soldiers are dead already. It’s such a grief for their families.