Musings on the War in Ukraine

I get emotional thinking about the war in Ukraine. I’ve never been there and I only know one Ukrainian woman by association with her husband with whom I once worked. I look at a map and see Slovakia on the border with Ukraine and think of my grandparents who came from that region. My DNA identifies me as being almost fifty percent Eastern European. Without ever having been to any of those places I somehow identify with the people in that part of the world and remember stories that my mother told me about her father’s love of his homeland. I know that I must have relatives there because I have seen letters from cousins reaching out to my grandparents. 

My mother was proud to be an American because her father taught her to be so. He had come to our shores just before the outbreak of World War I and was always grateful for the freedom and opportunities that he found in this country. He rather quickly became a naturalized citizen of the United States and all of his children were born here and spent their lives serving and honoring this country, but they also understood that their heritage was shared with Slovakia. 

Mama told me that she only saw her father cry a few times in his life. One was when Germany overtook Czechoslovakia during World War II. Another was when the Soviet Union laid claim to his homeland at the end of that war. He had hoped that the place of his birth and boyhood would become a free democracy like the USA. He did not live to see his dream come to fruition when many years later Slovakia finally become its own nation after a long history of domination by outside forces. 

I have admittedly paid only cursory attention to Eastern Europe. I know little about the place where my grandparents were born or the nations that surround it other than the fact that many of them endured the iron fist of the Soviet Union for decades during my lifetime. I celebrated their freedom as we neared the end of the twentieth century and the old guard fell. I watched the various countries struggle to build democracies and lift themselves up from the domination that the Soviet Union had held over them. 

When murmurs of potential conflict between Ukraine and Russia arose last year I had to do some research to learn more about the fractious historical relationship between the two countries. I realized that the struggles had been ongoing for a very long time and that Ukraine by nature of its location was an amalgam of many differing people. Using the skills I had learned in a long ago geography class I saw the economic worth of Ukraine to Russia and better understood why the super power was bold enough to invade under the guise of freeing Russians who live there. Its fertile land and seaports were the most likely reasons for Russia’s greed, along with the outsized pride of Putin’s dream of recreating the dominance of the old Soviet Union. 

I had hoped that Russia would see the determination of the Ukraine people and the support of western nations, including my own country, and pull back from the push to conquer the country. One year later I realize that Putin is determined to continue his murderous rampage regardless of the cost to either Russians or Ukrainians. At this point he seems determined to send waves of Russian soldiers into Ukraine no matter how many of them die or how much destruction they leave in their paths. The idea of any kind of peaceful resolution appears to be far away. 

I think of the people of Ukraine often. My mother used to muse that we might have relatives there given the proximity to Slovakia. I wonder if there is some distant cousin enduring the horrors of a year of war and worrying about what the coming months may bring. I feel a strange connection to the people there and I have admittedly shed many tears over their predicament. I also wonder why so many Americans want us to withdraw our support of Ukraine with the argument that it has nothing to do with us and is therefore a waste of our taxes. 

I find myself thinking of the grandfather that I never met. I would love to talk with him to find out how he feels about what is happening close to his old neighborhood. Would he be angry, worried, or maybe just sad that any people in Europe are still enduring the whims of power hungry oligarchs? Would he be concerned that Slovakia too might lose its recent freedoms if Ukraine falls? I’d like to know his thoughts.

As Ukraine enters its second year of war I keep the people constantly in my thoughts. I wish that the whole world were united in support for them, but politics make strange alliances that all too often choke the life out of innocent people. Such has been a fact of history for decades and it bothers me. I can’t seem to be someone who can easily ignore the suffering of others, especially when what is happening to them seems so unfair. I’m a fixer and I don’t know how to fix Ukraine other than to continue to support them in every possible way.