War is a school
War is a teacher, and each person caught in its whirlwind receives a unique education and ends up with a unique set of skills. However, without a doubt, the knowledge gained is valuable, providing basic survival skills, stability, and faith, and toughening the necessary cynicism and stubbornness needed in today’s world. This is an ancient, proven, and reliable guarantee of procreation and existence – to transform stress into a benefit, to pack it into an invaluable treasure chest of life experience that, whether needed or not, can only be beneficial. The question of why we must learn this is one for the universe, and unlikely to receive a conscious answer. But the axioms and rules we must remember forever are chosen based on experience, urgent needs, and future plans. The main „trick“ is to see war as a great opportunity to learn to truly live.
A conventional Harvard student would be envious of the rapidity and practicality of the education that the Ukrainian people are involuntarily acquiring today. Starting from personal hygiene in extreme conditions and everyday details of securing and maintaining one’s home, to the basics of providing emergency aid and identifying oneself as an active and effective part of a nation fighting for its right to exist through the use of weapons. There is no infantile, bookish theory – only solid, ruthless practice. In general, Ukrainians have always been forced to grow up as good and conscientious students, due to being experimented on by anyone who was not lazy to assert themselves at the expense of humiliating others. This is why our people, for the most part, adapt so quickly to any crises and deadly challenges. However, war is undoubtedly the most difficult common test.
What are Ukrainian children learning in these difficult times? They are learning to adapt to new living conditions in the front-line zone, under occupation, in new places either in Ukraine or in forced emigration. Some are learning to live in orphanhood and poverty, others in a world of continuous limitation of needs, while some try to ignore the general misery if possible. They are experiencing long-term online education, making new acquaintances, responding quickly to air raid sirens, playing games of „Us against the Muscovites“, and learning to cope with the absence of their fathers. Our children are growing up rapidly and irreversibly, and we can only acknowledge this with sadness and try to make their lives less anxious and themselves more resilient to stress.
What are our young people learning? To be fearless, to make mature decisions in a balanced manner, to be independent in many aspects of life, and to experience the stages of personality formation more quickly. They adapt their emotional aspirations to the demands of the times, but remain the same defiant and curious explorers of life who are prepared for new challenges and pleasant surprises that are an inherent part of youth under any conditions. Because love, new and powerful emotional discoveries, disappointments, joys, and unprecedented experiences cannot be taken away even by war.
In these new conditions, Ukrainian women have learned how to quickly and efficiently organize their lives, adapt to new realities, protect their children, and shape their own destinies. Many have gained new experiences, such as learning a new profession, moving abroad, volunteering, helping those in need, taking courses in tactical medicine, weaving camouflage nets, participating in associations for soldiers‘ wives, starting new projects, and tirelessly supporting their families. They have also mastered the art of remaining feminine in difficult war conditions, inspiring those who are fighting. Our women have shown the world that, even under the most challenging circumstances, it is possible – and necessary – to remain human and preserve our dignity. They have held Ukraine in their hands.
Meanwhile, men have discovered new abilities that will be necessary after our victory. They have learned to create and build, to restore and work three times as hard, to lead, to financially support the economy and the army, and to contribute to something that brings us all closer to our cherished goal. And most importantly, they have learned to stay calm, to believe in themselves and their work, and to be true Men, not just consumers of various goods as was mostly the case before.
Our military has gained vital new knowledge in this war – how to fight, defend and attack, maintain the skies over Ukraine, and protect the lives of those in the rear. Their knowledge is essential because the future of the entire nation and country is in their hands. But their greatest asset during this conflict is their ability to survive and return home, where someone is waiting for them. It is their destiny to help build a free and happy state after the victory.
Even Ukrainian elderly women were forced to learn and adapt constantly. They learned how not to lose faith, not to give up, and not to leave this world before their time. They had to learn how to survive in occupied cities, among enemies and traitors. Some were forced to start new lives thousands of kilometers from their homes, which they had rarely left before. They learned to be a reliable source of support for young people who were prone to despair and complain about the whims of fate. After all, who else can serve as a strong foundation to survive the darkest of times?
Those who lurk, for whom this war is „not theirs,“ have also learned a lesson, unfortunately. They have acquired their own invaluable portion of knowledge: how to avoid responsibility, to adapt, to remain silent, to quietly undermine and harm Ukraine in new ways. Such people have always existed and will continue to do so.
Our villages, towns, and cities have learned to adapt and fight in the face of new realities. They have faced mass rocket attacks, shelling, power and heating outages, and restrictions on essential goods. People have had to deal with rising prices, uncertainty, panic, and an influx of temporary and permanent migrants. In some cases, the result has been total devastation and anxious expectation of the unknown. Yet, in this new paradigm, life goes on. Today’s residents of Ukrainian cities and towns have undergone a profound transformation. They are mostly reserved, focused, and businesslike, absorbed in their own concerns, yet confident and resolute. They look at the blackened buildings damaged by missiles with a remarkable degree of stoic courage. They quickly form voluntary brigades to assist rescuers and tirelessly clear rubble and debris from their yards. During alarms, they calmly retreat to underground passages, where they await freshly baked pastries prepared by ruddy bakers. In the eastern regions, people are speaking Ukrainian more often and more loudly than they were a year ago, which is still somewhat surprising. They whisper the latest news from relatives trapped in the occupied territories. When they hear the explosions again, they curse loudly, venting their anger and frustration towards those who launched the rockets. They bravely learn to survive each day.
The war has taught our nation and people many lessons. Through anxieties, grief, troubles, and torment, something that modern Ukrainians have lacked catastrophically for a long time is gradually crystallizing: a new national idea. This idea is to achieve the Great Goal of living freely, happily, and abundantly on our God-given land, which has been watered with the blood and sweat of our numerous ancestors. It is to achieve unity and harmony among all the people from the San to the Don and from sea to sea. We must protect, multiply, and build the Cathedral of the great and long-suffering Ukrainian soul while cherishing the happy future of our country. Finally, we are beginning to understand this.
Although war is a harsh school, and it would have been better not to experience it, it has taught us the most essential knowledge – how to LIVE.
Translated by Yulia Lyubka and Kate Tsurkan