This past week has been tough. Sleep inconsistent. Anxiety and distraction higher than usual.
Why? Because I’ve had one eye on the other side of the world.
That’s because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not abstract to me and my family. It’s threatening the lives and livelihoods of many people we love.
The five of us first visited Ukraine in 2016 and then again in 2018. We went to small towns near Kyiv to help start and run a week-long camp for kids. A camp like the ones I grew up attending in my home state of South Dakota but was new to them.
Those two visits were enough to fall in love with Ukraine and the people. The countryside of grain fields looked very similar to the American Midwest. And we came to find them as some of the most peaceful and hospitable people we’ve ever met.
But it’s also a country with a very difficult past. Standing between empires and now eastern and western Europe, Ukraine has borne the brunt of many conflicts before today. And in the past century, it has been bullied relentlessly by Russia.
When we first visited in 2016, we saw bullet holes and posters of students who were killed in the center of Kyiv in Euromaidan two years earlier. They died in protests of President Viktor Yanukovych, who chose to suspend the signing of the European Union–Ukraine Association Agreement, in favor of closer ties to Russia. Yanukovych was labeled one of the most corrupt government leaders in the world and after being chased out of office, fled to exile in Russia.
You can also see it in the museums of Kyiv. The World War II museum is very different from American shrines to war. This museum was more memorial to the (at least) 7 million Ukrainians who lost their lives in the war, the 2nd or 3rd largest percentage of population of any country.
Then there’s the National Museum of the Holodomor-Genocide, which was constructed in memory of the famine caused by the government of Stalin in 1932-3 that killed millions of Ukrainians.
My point is that Russia is not a new threat to the Ukrainian people. Both times we visited, Russian interference in the Crimea was simmering enough to make us slightly nervous. And some of the kids at our camp were refugees from that part of Ukraine.
So far, all of our friends, many of whom are cabinet makers and other tradesmen, are physically safe, but afraid for their lives. Some have fled to surrounding countries, others to the countryside. Access to money, gas and food isn’t guaranteed.
The world must make clear to Russia that their unprovoked invasion of a peaceful democracy won’t be tolerated. I’m sure that many of the Russian people, like the Ukrainian people, don’t want this war. It’s unfortunate that sanctions will negatively impact them, but they are a must.
We know that one of Russia’s favorite tactics is digital misinformation so it’s important that we all continue to counter that by sharing the truth and challenging the big tech companies who are enabling the misinformation.
Beyond that, I am in favor of whatever support we can give Ukraine. If it means that we pay higher gas prices, that’s a much smaller price that what my friends and the millions of Ukrainians are facing.
My prayer is that global pressure on Russia, American support and Ukrainian resistance brings a swift end to the conflict and sends Russian military home. My prayer is that my friends get to go back to their homes and their lives.