As I write, Russian troops are marching towards the Mariupol region, where friends and loved ones of mine live. Both civilians and Ukrainian soldiers are preparing the city for war, digging trenches and blocking roads. Residents en masse are protesting Russia’s involvement, knowing for months this could happen. The region has been on edge.
It’s quite possible that Mariupol could experience the same violence that has gripped Donetsk and Luhansk. According to the BBC, as of September 1 about 350,000 people have fled these regions with at least 2,600 people killed. This does not include the 298 souls killed by the Russian surface to air missile that downed Malaysian Airlines MH17.
My anger soars with how dishonorable the separatists have been. Acquaintances of my family fled their apartment in Donetsk and moved to Crimea. Why? Because separatists killed the family living above them so that they had a better position to shoot people on the streets below. Separatists have been executing members of their own “army” for breaking rank, and have imprisoned or enslaved civilians not sympathetic to their cause.
My hatred soars by Putin’s shameful lying. Don’t the hundreds of thousand that have been tortured, killed, displaced, robbed, and destroyed at least deserve to be remembered in light of the truth? For months I have studied it, lived it, seen it, and experienced it, not going a fucking week without experiencing some new hardship or piece of sorrow. Nothing Putin claims brings truth to his believers, and nor will he allow this to ever happen.
I wish I could scream more loudly than has ever been heard at just how evil these lies are. It is the lies that make evil smile, as it becomes so easy to slip into hatred for anyone who remotely supports Russia. It is only a wisp away from seeing the uninformed as stupid, lesser beings. It becomes acceptable to be disgusted by those who cannot muster up the energy or courage to be anything but narrow minded.
And, then comes the important question to myself: How narrow-minded am I becoming? Is there nothing good in the other?
The BBC, Reuters, and the New Republic are all converging on the fact that Russian soldiers are not being told they are entering Ukraine when sent on a mission. If a Russian soldier is found, Putin is claiming they are on vacation. And Russian soldiers killed while fighting in Ukraine are being dishonored by being made invisible. Perhaps there are hundreds that have been either wounded or killed, and Russia will say nothing about them.
I personally know three members of the Russian military, and all dismayed by Putin’s actions. As one stated to me in very broken English, “Putin…Crazy!” His friend, who is a captain in the navy, feels exactly the same way. My future father-in-law, who was a captain of third rank, kindly helped me be safe before the illegal referendum in Crimea. My future grandfather-in-law, who was a captain of first rank, proudly tells his friends he has an American grandson. He boasts to his friends that I invited him to America, which I did and I hope to honor.
We hear little about the thousands in Russia placing themselves at great risk by protesting against Putin’s policies. Many Russians have been fired from their jobs or put in prison for standing up to Putin. Others have exploited cracks in the domination with creative acts of protest, while both intellectuals and artists have publicly condemned Putin’s actions. In a February poll, about 70 percent of Russians believed Russia should not be militarily engaged in Ukraine, which is believable given that 30 percent of Russians have family or friends in Ukraine.
But it is my pro-Russia friends in the Occupied Territory of Crimea that touch my heart. My friend Liena offered to travel twenty-four hours roundtrip by train to fulfill Russia’s law of my needing to be escorted home. Other friends call and write all the time, refusing to let go of our relationship in very challenging times. My friend Igor simply picked me up and held me like a teddy bear, savoring that we were finally able to meet this summer.
There is indisputable evidence that Putin and his entourage are committing heinous crimes. But there is also the unquestionable fact that very many good people from both countries are trapped in this evil. They are chained to an existence not of their conscious making, and they do not have the luxury to escape it like myself.
But, while I can escape the place, I cannot escape my connection. It has been a very humbling process not to succumb to hatred. It takes a lot of consciousness to love those who demonstrably are lost in a false consciousness. Every day, I must ground myself in trusting that everything is graced by the divine.
My Ukrainian journey has highlighted my need to be with truth and love – needs I will gratefully accept as core to my being. But, what has preoccupied me is how both are contingent on the other. Perhaps it is easier to see that we cannot find love without truth. For example, can any relationship be filled with love without actualizing truth within ourselves and those we are connected to? How can we care for those we do not know? How do we know if we cannot trust it is truthful?
But, what haunted me this summer is that we cannot find truth without love. Like all miracles, truth is not obvious and it requires our will to unearth its presence. But, if the nature of our will is fomented by hatred, will we ever unearth the truth? To open our minds and hearts to new understanding, doesn’t this process need to start from a place of love?
I leave on September 18th for Ukraine again. My relatives in the region of Sumy were just notified by the military of them needing to volunteer. As Russia pours in, they are likely to face disaster; there is not even enough food for the Ukrainian troops. God, grant me the power to find truth and love as I head into this region.