The last few months have been really strange for me. I've been watching the events in Ukraine unfold. I've been watching with anxiety and fear and sadness and some excitement. I've been full of conflicting emotions and real concerns.
There's a very special place in my heart for Ukraine. It's right next to the spot I carved out for Paul Simon and cheesecake. I was a church missionary for two years in Ukraine, from the summer of 2003 to the summer of 2005. I've been fortunate enough to stay close to my friends there over the years and have been able to visit Ukraine half a dozen times since 2009, the year I moved back to Eastern Europe to work in Moscow for a short while. Most recently, Daniel and I visited western Ukraine in 2012, right before leaving for Palau.
Those people are probably still talking about how much borsch that kid ate.
I'm not really as happy anywhere else as I am in Eastern Europe. As bizarre as that place sometimes can be, it feels more home to me than anywhere else. Maybe the bizarre is why it feels like home to me.
In Ukraine I experienced things that I'll cherish for the rest of my life. I also experienced and witnessed the most traumatic events I'll probably ever know. I made great friends, saw culture at its purest, underwent major surgery, was beat up in the street twice, saw someone tragically die, witnessed severe child abuse, and experienced things that still make me wake up in a sweat a few times a month.
To me, Ukraine isn't just a news blurb. It's real. And it's ugly. And beautiful. And tragic. And, well, home.
I love that place. It has become such a huge part of who I am and has so significantly shaped the way I see the world and compassion and fear.
I've had a very unique opportunity to witness some of the most significant parts of Ukraine's recent history from the front lines and from multiple perspectives. While living in western Ukraine in 2004 to 2005, I got a front row seat to the Orange Revolution, a very large but non-violent protest that was spurred after one terrible man was fraudulently elected president. His name was Victor Yanukovych. After months of hundreds of thousands of citizens camping out on the streets and demanding action, the election was nullified and votes were recast. A different man was elected.
It was electrifying and exciting. I've never seen more passion in the political process.
But in 2010 that same man--the really awful, terrible one--was elected president again. And this time there wasn't an Orange Revolution, so he actually took office. And he was, well, really awful and terrible.
A few months ago this awful and terrible president declined a deal that would have led to closer ties to the EU, opting instead for closer ties to Russia. Western-leaning Ukrainians thought this was absolutely nonsensical and they were sure that some very sketchy pocket-padding probably motivated this absurd decision. And the people took to the streets to peacefully protest.
This terrible and awful president, taking a page out of the book of the terrible and awful president from Russia, responded negatively to these protests, essentially making their acts "illegal" and threatening prosecution.
But Ukraine isn't Russia. No offense to the Russians, who are dealing with a level of oppression I've never had to face myself. The protesters didn't go home for fear of being stomped on. They stood their ground and fought harder for what they believed in. And this terrible awful president, who apparently doesn't have a memory good enough to go back to 2005, only fanned the flames. The people FREAKED THE HELL OUT.
And last month they turned this beautiful place in Kyiv:
This was after that terrible awful president sent some armed folks in to put an end to the protesting. Internal war broke out. And things did not go in his favor.
Ultimately, the terrible awful president was kicked out of office and he immediately fled. And just like the end of The Wizard of Oz, the people put down their weapons and celebrated the death of the wicked witch. And they began uncovering the absolutely disgusting evidence of this terrible awful president's corruption, which was so much greater than they even imagined.
To respond, a very angry president from Russia decided to start flexing his muscles. And his Russian troops began to invade Ukraine. Tens of thousands of them, their presence threatening to do the job that the terrible awful president, whom that terrible awful Russian president supports, failed to do.
And that's where we are now.
And that's why my heart is anxious and worried. I can sense the extreme desperation in the words of my friends over there. My dear wonderful friends, for whom liberty and freedom don't feel very finite right now.
I write this today because it feels like I should. I feel like there's not much I can do but raise awareness. And inasmuch as the world benefits when we point a finger at evil, that's what I want to do here.
It can be hard sometimes to feel like problems that are thousands of miles away are actually important. But if you think about it, an incursion on freedom is an attack on us all. Because it necessarily always stands as a declaration that a person can and should be controlled. And it's our obligation, wherever we are, to send a message, however we can, that we are watching what is happening and we are willing to do something to stop it.
There's this quote I love and one that has always made me think of Ukraine since I read it in 2010. It's from an old United States Supreme Court case that talked about freedom of speech. "Those who won our independence . . . valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty." Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927).
Stay courageous, my dear friends.
~It Just Gets Stranger