Unfortunately one week into my visit in Ukraine the company managing my website decided to block inputs coming from Ukraine, so I was unable to continue this blog.
In this last entry, now that I'm home, I'll sum up my impressions for those of you who are interested.
Some of you expressed concern after reading of a missile strike that hit Lviv at right about the time I stopped writing. Fortunately in Lviv no one was hurt though I did hear the explosion from my hotel.
In the city of Poltava that same day the Russians sent one wave of missiles that injured many people, then another wave to the exact same location 45 minutes later, timed to kill and injure as many of the first responders on the scene as possible.
I learned over my time in Ukraine that this is how the Russians have consistently operated in this war. I heard many stories directly from Ukrainians about what they or family members have experienced in the occupied parts of Ukraine: tortures, rapes, murders and kidnapping of children (apparently in the thousands) sent to remote locations in Russia who will grow up thinking that they are Russian, with no connection to their Ukrainian families and culture. I heard about Ukrainian soldiers captured by the Russians who were castrated before being returned to Ukraine. I was told about an 11 year-old girl in Russia whose art teacher gave her class the assignment to paint a scene about the war. The girl painted one person standing under a Russian flag, another under a Ukrainian flag with a rainbow linking the two and the words: "No more bombs." When her teacher saw what this girl had painted she notified the school authorities who notified the police, who notified the FSB (KGB). Her father was put in prison for 10 years and the girl was sent to an orphanage. This level of brutality is how Putin's government treats any opposition---in Russia or anywhere else..
My time in Ukraine confirmed my impression that the outcome of the war being fought there will deeply affect us here in the U.S.. I'm aware that the U.S., too has invaded many countries and left massive destruction in its wake. That there are many ways that we as a country have failed to live up to our ideals. And that it's easy after just a month of travel and research to come up with simplistic and incomplete perspectives.
But watching and listening to the people I met in Ukraine led me to conclude, as hesitant as I am to put things in absolutes, that theirs is a war for freedom and democracy against a totalitarian, criminal state that is threatened by that freedom. And that the same conflict between totalitarianism and democracy is playing out here in the U.S. and around the world as well. And that confronting those totalitarian forces here in the U.S. supports the Ukrainians to do the same there, while supporting the Ukrainians in their fight also helps us in our fight here.
I've come to realize how naive U.S. foreign policy toward Russia has been over the past 30 years. I've been forced to acknowledge that both Democrat and Republican presidents have appeased Vladimir Putin in ways that have encouraged him to think he could invade Georgia in 2008, then eastern Ukraine and Crimea in 2014, then all of Ukraine in 2022 with impunity. And I believe, based on conversations and reading about recent Russian history, that Putin will continue his war of imperial ambition until he is stopped. The only question, in my mind, is whether we'll help the Ukrainians enough to stop him there in Ukraine or if he'll continue with his depredations on into the rest of Europe and the world, using the various forms of "hybrid warfare" that his regime has perfected over the past 20 years.
I'll close by again quoting the dance instructor who was the first person I talked to in Ukraine, who said, "As terrible as war is, it can also tear down old ways of being and allow the growth of something new and better; it can bring change and growth and allow transformation." My hope is that we in the U.S. can learn from this time of conflict in our world, our country and our individual lives, discern the change and transformation that life is asking of us and take those steps without needing to endure the immense suffering, death and destruction that are now afflicting Ukraine.
Lviv Front Line Kitchen: processing and delivering nutritious dehydrated food to soldiers and people in the war zones of Ukraine; info here;
Make It Possible Ukraine: organization I worked with most: helping refugee children with education, empowerment and enrichment: info here;
ArtHub Odessa: creating cultural events in the beleaguered city of Odessa to raise morale and promote solidarity: https://www.facebook.com/arthub.odessa