By Amy K. Sorrells
We took care climbing the crumbling, ice-covered stairs towards the doors of the Stalin-era buildings, drab high-rises strung out like gray Legos as far as the eye could see. Their cold frames frightened me, walls sagging with the weight of oppression. Dimly lit windows mocked my naivety regarding the depth of cruelty a government can dole out to a land and its people.
A Ukrainian nurse trudged forward, carrying a blue folder of welfare information. Another Ukrainian carried a bag of essential groceries, baby formula and diapers. The rest of us, American supporters of Mission to Ukraine (missiontoukraine.org) visiting last January, tagged along behind them. Shadowy figures leaned against corners in the hallways, ends of their cigarettes glowing like the beady eyes of wild animals. They watched as our steps punched through the thick, oily darkness, up seven flights of stairs.
We had to use a flashlight to find Alina’s door at the end of one of these halls. The door creaked open to reveal a studio-style kitchen and single bathroom shared by four other families. Alina, single, beautiful, and painfully thin greeted us. She wore her blond hair pulled back, revealing eyes too large and ancient for her age. She showed us her baby, Victoria, a chunky, rosy-cheeked girl, then Alina broke down and sobbed when we handed her the groceries.
We visited many families like Alina’s, and while their situations seemed dismal, the one thing everyone we met in Ukraine had in common was hope: hope for better days; hope that the independence their country had gained in 1991 would bring opportunity; hope that instead of “cattle,” as some government officials refer to them still, they’d be valued as individuals with dreams and a chance of realizing them.
See, for every family like Alina’s, we met bright-eyed, impassioned young adults who’d studied abroad in Europe and America—students who’ve tasted what life is like in countries which empower independence. Students who’ve started landscaping businesses and translating businesses and who love to drink flavored (especially chocolate) coffees in corner shops all across the town.
Since late November, however, my Facebook feed is filled with pleas from these, my Ukraine friends, for help. They’ve been crying out in horror at the deaths of tens of peaceful Maidan supporters. They’ve begged for prayers for safety.
Most of all, they’ve pleaded for the West to see them, to notice the corruption and acknowledge the ridiculousness of Russia’s renewed imperialism brought on by an alarmingly apathetic American administration.
“Russia’s advances in Ukraine are the greatest threat to European security since the Cold War,” NATO’s chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said last week.
Never mind European security.
Russia’s advances are an abomination shadowing the emergence of hope in the eyes of people like Alina, too-long oppressed, but who know enough about the liberty of independence not to fight back.
And they deserve nothing less than we who are free to fight alongside them.