What’s …. right with us?
The last thing I would allow myself in this text is to idealize Ukrainians. That would be at least unwise, and who would believe me? Yes, we are far from flawless; we have many internal problems and complexes. Sometimes we can commit an unimaginable folly on a national scale, something that makes us want to shout in a voice that is not our own: „Ukrainians! What is wrong with us?!“
But here and now, I want to draw attention to the fact that we are doing it. For nine years now, we have been experiencing a disaster on a national scale. Undoubtedly, prolonged extreme circumstances caused by Russian aggression destroy, devastate, and cause pain. Ukrainians cannot get out of this war without terrible and irreparable losses. And it is not just about human losses; although they are the most painful, it is about the consequences that will continue to ruin our lives long after the victory. But we are holding on. And we will endure. And we will recover.
Since the beginning of the Revolution of Dignity, Ukrainians have been amazing the world and themselves. We constantly discover important things about ourselves. Although it is not always pleasant to realize what we have learned about our character during this time, mostly it is knowledge that inspires, encourages, and instills confidence in our ability to form a healthy, strong, and progressive nation.
In 2013, Ukrainians loudly declared: we are not slaves! We cannot be beaten in the squares! We cannot be driven into stables! We are millions, and we decide what kind of country we want to build!
The Maidan revealed the incredible skill of Ukrainians to fight for what is theirs, their ability to self-organize and support each other. The feat of the Heavenly Hundred impressed the world with a powerful desire for justice, which prompted people (of different ages, genders, professions, social status, etc.) to risk their lives without hesitation against mortal danger. And this happened in the 21st century, in the very heart of Europe, in the center of a peaceful (as it seemed then) city!
The full-scale invasion multiplied the scale of the trials. And again, we stunned the world with our determination, bravery, and fierce readiness to defend and drive the enemy away from our land. It might seem that the fire of war should have burned out everything human in us, leaving only pain, fear, and hatred for the enemy. It should have made us act only on animal instincts, but no! We still want and know how to create, empathize, love…
A good, gentle, and benevolent heart is, in my opinion, one of the most expressive and eloquent elements of the portrait of a Ukrainian.
It is said that a sign of a healthy society is its ability to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. And it is true.
On February 24 of last year, a deadly vortex began to spin. In the bloody mill of war, not only people were thrown in. Working on a book about animals during the war, I was struck by the countless incredible, heart-wrenching, fantastic, tragic, and sometimes happy stories associated with animals‘ fates and their humans. Yes, it’s animals and their humans, not the other way around, because four-legged (or even two-legged) creatures perceive us this way. And our sensitive Ukrainian hearts help us understand this. Otherwise, where would all these stories come from?
A family from Kramatorsk, escaping shelling, miraculously managed to fit seventeen cats and dogs into their car. They could have easily left them behind, forgotten them, and saved themselves.
A woman from Mariupol surprised Polish border guards by bringing … a live rooster with her – just an ordinary live rooster.
When the occupiers set fire to stables with horses inside near Hostomel, the horse breeders begged the crazed armed thugs to let the animals out, at the risk of their own lives. Most of the horses died.
Grandmother Maria from Kukhari in the Kyiv region was so worried about her dog Bonya that during the shelling, she tied a scarf around her head to muffle the sounds of the explosions, which the dog was terribly afraid of.
Other people from the village of Kukhari found their cow Malа with a detached leg, and a piece of enemy iron stuck in her lungs upon returning to the occupied village. Anyone who is even slightly familiar with rural life knows what happens to livestock that cannot be cured and can no longer perform agricultural duties; they are slaughtered or sold for meat. After all, it’s just cattle, something to boss around. But do you know what Malа’s owners did? With the help of volunteers, they found a veterinarian to put the cow to sleep, like a beloved but terminally ill cat or dog. And when the animal was finally brought to the clinic for the procedure, the doctors were so struck that they decided to save Malа’s life. And they did. They performed surgery and later made a prosthesis for the cow.
There are hundreds and hundreds of similar stories. And in all of these stories, kindness and love come first.
I don’t really know what’s wrong with us, but I do know what’s right with us.: our living, kind, fearless, and strong Ukrainian hearts.
Translated by Yulia Lyubka and Kate Tsurkan