"At the center of the universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service." ~Mr. Fred Rogers

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Ukraine Lives On

"Ще не вмерла Україна" are the beginning words of the Ukrainian National Anthem. Literally translated, it reads: "Ukraine has not yet died" to which so many people have cynically equated with the country over it's long and somber history. But while I was in Ukraine, one of my mentors translated it another way: "Ukraine lives on!" - The same exact meaning, but more of a glass half-full sort of approach to the life and legacy of her Motherland. 

As I'm sure you've seen from the news, Ukraine is in an upheaval. My heart has been sickened with sadness over the past few weeks seeing everything that is happening in my second home. When the peaceful, mass protests started about 2 months ago, I was elated; overjoyed that the people of a country that I love so much, with so much potential, had risen up to speak out, and speak out they did. But over time, the crowds dwindled due to cold weather, lack of immediate governmental progress, New Year and Christmas celebrations, etc. 

What were peaceful rallies are now violent protests that have escalated as the people's patience dwindles. The crowds may have left, but there is still a core of extreme men and women standing as strong as they can. The protests have become deadly, too, as snipers have shot some protesters (and a journalist) dead. Some protest leaders have been found dead in the forest outside Kyiv, while others have been stripped naked, tortured, and beat in the snow (violence caught on camera, sickening to watch). The extreme momentum has spread nationwide with the opposition taking over "state" level administration buildings. Even the capital of the state of Volyn, where Kolky is located, has been taken over. 

The ruling government is outrageously ignoring the pleas from world officials. Some of the new anti-protesting laws were passed unconstitutionally, in a "show of hand/secret/without quorum or discussion" vote. The extreme laws lead to a slippery slope to dictatorship, and Vice President Biden and Sec. of State Kerry have both asked the President to reconsider such "anti-democratic" violation of human rights. This video explains the root of the problems, and what is going on now.  You also may have seen President Obama mention Ukraine in his State of the Union address. While it was only a few sentences, it was HUGE for Ukraine because he sided with the people. With so much international pressure, the Prime Minister resigned and his post was offered to the leader of the opposition...which was rejected. Also, most of the awful protesting laws were repealed, but the Ukrainian people are (rightfully) still not satisfied.

There are so many articles circulating around my Facebook because so many people I know also share such strong feelings about Ukraine. What I failed to realize is that many of you don't have those same articles being shared every hour, so below are a few. There are a lot on BBC, NYT and the KyivPost. If you're the Twitter type, live updates are happening from a former PCV/current journalist for the KyivPost, Christopher Miller. He, along with his colleagues, have been doing an amazing job posting updates for the English speaking world about what's going on. Check out the KyivPost for more stories and photos. (It's been suspiciously taken off the internet a few times over the last few months, but it always seems to reappear) 

Aljazeera: Watching the Protests [Photos]
HuffPost: 10 Questions About Ukraine You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask

NYT: Love and Hatred in Kiev 

In any of the photos you see or videos you watch, please understand that this is Ukraine in a very extreme situation, with their backs against a wall. This is not the Kyiv that I loved exploring and wandering around for hours. The sometimes apocalyptic looking live shots from the heart of the protests are streaming here. Sometimes people are chanting (Usually, "Glory to Ukraine. Glory to Her heroes"), sometimes people are banging things, sometimes speakers giving encouraging words. Always you can see struggle at its most human form, in the faces of tired men and women and the flames of tire fires. 

Which leads to today...protesters are standing fast and so are the Ukrainian officials. And what can I do? I guess I can share my feelings and educate those around me. I write to my congressmen (and one personally wrote back!) but I know if I were still a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine, I wouldn't be able to write this post, let alone share too many of my feelings. 

Transitioning back the US has been a lot harder than I imagined, and certainly not for the reasons I envisioned. People understand where I've been, and they've taken their time to really hear my stories and grasp my experience. Culture shock wasn't wrapped up in conveniences and food, but rather being removed from all I knew. I've found a new normal, and really enjoy it, but Kolky put a spring in my step that few things have ever come close to rivaling. I've kept pretty quiet about Ukraine since coming back because I've needed to do a lot of processing on my own and figure out what exciting things are next. 

I wish, more than anything, that I could gather up all of my students and hear their thoughts about everything. They have the best perspective, because talking to them is like looking into a crystal ball, knowing that they are going to be the ones to make changes next. I wish hugs were felt a half a world away, for my colleagues, teachers, friends...my family in Ukraine. I can't to much but continue to pray, write to my elected officials (daily), and remain hopeful. Stay safe, friends. Stay safe, Kolky. Stay safe, Ukraine. Know that many people across the world believe in your plight and are praying for progress. 

If there is any take away from all of this, it's this: ще не вмерла Україна...Ukraine lives on!