Ukraine

“I am here.”  

Volodymyr Zelensky

As violence continues to escalate in Ukraine, allies around the world are grappling with how best to support this country under siege from such a powerful aggressor. Technology has allowed more widespread sharing of the images of violence than we’ve ever witnessed before in a conflict. The Ukrainian government and citizens have been harnessing that technology to share their stories to raise our feelings of empathy and garner support.

I’ve lived most of my adult life in the Chicago area, which has the second largest population of Ukrainians in the United States. During my 27 years here, I’ve lived and worked alongside many people from Ukraine or with Ukrainian roots. One former colleague and friend who was born in Kyiv and still has extended family in Ukraine recently appealed on Facebook for support from her friends:

You guys know I don’t post often (except for my wordle scores ) but I wanted to post and ask that everyone send up an extra prayer for the people and leaders of Ukraine. Whoever you pray to, however you pray, whatever you believe in, please keep them in your hearts and your prayers. They need it.

It is striking how key ingredients for a solid friendship, empathy and support, are becoming some of Ukraine’s most powerful weapons in the fight against Russia. When anyone is struggling, understanding their situation is an important ingredient for invoking empathy in others. Ukrainians everywhere are sharing their stories to help the world understand, and those remaining in Ukraine are displaying remarkable defiance and bravery. Watching events unfold on social media and news channels, we can’t help but be struck with empathy for the Ukrainian people.

Empathy will only go so far, and research shows that bullies tend to respond to action. For anyone who’s ever been the target of bullying or witnessed it, allies who step in and speak up for the target can be a powerful force. As Sara shared in an earlier post, Lessons in Speaking Out, the fact that her classmate spoke up to the prejudiced teacher diffused a situation that could have easily escalated. The Anti-Defamation League’s ‘Be an Ally’ publication lists six actions to help stop bullying and hate speech. While geared towards youth, the first action, “Support targets, whether you know them or not,” is something we can see individuals and countries around the globe doing for Ukraine.

Support from friends and allies has been critically important in bolstering the Ukraine’s efforts against its Russian aggressors. A recent New Yorker article details the unexpected power of the “army of helpers that the Ukrainian diaspora has rallied.” A vast network of volunteers has materialized across Europe to help those fleeing Ukraine and to provide important resources to support the army.

This outpouring of support is in stark contrast to what happened in Ukraine following Germany’s invasion in 1941. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Ukraine was home at that time to the largest Jewish population in Europe. Historians estimate that at least 1.5 million Jews were killed in Ukraine at the hands of Nazi terrorists and complicit collaborators. The Russians last week bombed the memorial the Ukrainians had erected at Babyn Yar in memory of the massacre and mass grave of more than 30,000 Jews massacred by the Nazis over a period of two days during World War II.

In the face of such current violence, Ukrainians continue to garner encouragement and aid from around the world. Last Sunday, a large rally in support of Ukraine took place in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village and was attended by the Illinois governor who shared that his family came to America from Kyiv. More than a century later, their countrymen and indefatigable leader President Volodymyr Zelensky are showing us what courage and hope look like.

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