Few thoughts on the Russia – Ukraine war that is going on.
Some of the most generous and affable people I have met in my travels were Ukrainians.
A poetry collection of Wislawa Szymborska sits on my bookshelf as I think of Ukraine. A friend pulled it out from her shelf as I spoke of Szymborska’s poetry sitting in her drawing room, scribbled a quick message on the first page and handed it over to me. It was for me to have it, she said. I haven’t forgotten that afternoon in an Oslo suburb. She had migrated from Ukraine decades ago. Without mentioning we were speaking of the former USSR and its disintegration. In the house we sat in, we were looking at the lives of uprooted people and its consequences. But that home and that town in Ukraine was hers, independent of the politics of the day. It was home and its memories that still sat an inch away from the present moment.
This week, with news of Ukrainians fleeing their country in the wake of Russian army’s invasion, I am worried how many more such aching souls and poignant afternoons will be created.
Some of the most pragmatic, sensitive and hardy people I have met were Russians. I have gained a keen sense of appreciation for life and living in the company of Russians.
On a spring evening in Moscow every theater in the city had plays sold out for the evening. The manager at the hotel desk who was at best an acquaintance asked me to ‘wait a minute’. She stood there writing a letter, in Russian, to the theater manager making a case for me. In it, she explained why the theater must consider accommodating ‘a guest to our country’ who is interested in experiencing the culture and art forms of their country. Pressing an envelope in my hand, she asked me to hand it over at the box office of the theater. I walked down the streets thinking of this gesture and the quality of personal character of many of the people I encountered in the city. In short, they were remarkable people and affable, just as many around the world might be.
The ongoing war between the two countries is unfortunate and must stop. I refuse to believe that the common people on either sides of this war are willing to go down the path of violence in settling an agenda that is at best a manufactured by the current political regimes. Time and again, man is being undone by politics and self-serving intents of few. It is not a choice of Russian parents and families to see their men burning a city down or succumb to a stray bullet on streets. It surely isn’t a choice of the millions of Ukrainians to want to wage a war or enlist for combat when they could be tending to their farms or whatever else that they find meaning in.
Nationalism, courage and bravery are overrated. It is our collective misfortune that society regards these as virtues above others. It is unfortunate that we choose a life of bereavement and broken families over non-violent means of resolving our differences.