[Ed note: Approximately 67,000 people of Ukrainian descent live in the Philadelphia region, one of the highest concentrations of Ukrainian-Americans in the country. For many of them who grew up in the former Soviet Union or whose families fled it, the Russian invasion this week is a devastating return to a situation they never thought they’d see again.
One of those Ukrainian-Americans, the daughter of immigrants who is active in the local Ukrainian community, wrote this “faith reflection” to open a POWER Interfaith meeting earlier this week.]
I’ve stopped setting the radio to wake me in the morning
I’d rather be shaken by a bone-rattling buzz
than the news of bombs falling
or tanks crossing into Ukraine
In the morning I have a ritual
Before I switch on the radio I must feed the cat/write the Morning Pages/meditate/eat breakfast/take my vitamins
This buys an hour
Then power on the phone and listen:
No pings are a good sign
No one urgently trying to reach me, no catastrophes,
no prayers or condolences
I was born in this country, but barely
A casualty of history
My parents refugees from Ukraine after World War II
My mother at 18 taken by Nazis to Germany for slave labor
with 2.5 million other Ukrainians
Teenagers and young adults
And children young as 10
Their young lives shattered before begun
A piece of history largely unknown
My father in the underground fighting both Nazis and Soviets
His parents sent to Siberia for his “crime”
A 25-year sentence that my grandmother did not survive
And my grandfather returned a broken man.
As Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
No more true than here
Where so much past has yet to be even acknowledged
Where to utter it was a death sentence.
Eight time zones away a small man sits in front of a television camera
And offers a bizarre history lesson in the form of propaganda,
or maybe the reverse
He says: Ukraine does not exist, Ukraine never existed, is a fiction, not a real country
Therefore: must be destroyed
The irony of his words—”never existed but must be destroyed”—escapes him.
He says: Russia and Ukraine are one people, the same people, brothers
Therefore: we must attack their homes and kill their children.
(This is how they treat their brothers?)
There is a German saying: “If you won’t be my brother, I’ll beat your skull in.”
The little man tells the world he is being provoked,
like a man who beats his wife and says “She made me do it,” because of:
What she said
What she did
How she looks
But really just because she is.
The existence of Ukraine is what threatens this little man.
So she must be subdued, destroyed, obliterated.
I think of my aunt 90 years old
My father’s youngest sister, still living
In a house that has one sink
and no inside toilet
A house that was built by the packages
Our family sent each Christmas and Easter
Filled with sweaters and scarves and socks and jeans
Not for their pleasure
But for selling, for survival
Purchased with my parents’ factory wages
And toys I didn’t receive
This aunt the last of her generation
Who said when I met her in 2005:
“We didn’t think anyone would ever come back.”
This aunt who lived through World War II
The front coming through her village three times
Destroying everything everything
She cannot show me one photograph
This aunt now waits as tanks roll toward the so-called
“Peoples’ Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk
My only comfort knowing that she is in the West
And they are in the East
My heart beats in my throat all day
I don’t want to know my blood pressure . . .
How is this a Faith Reflection?
What faith do I have to offer?
Only my story
Send good wishes, friends
good thoughts, good prayers
Do not believe the lies
Do not be fooled by talk of NATO
or “Russian speakers”
Do not allow the aggressor to define the terms
There is no “Civil War” or “Separatists”
It is not a “Stand-off” or “Ukraine crisis”
It is an invasion, an attack
An attempt to remake an empire
Listen to those who have lived through it
And continue to live it
The fight for justice knows no borders
God, grant me the serenity to get through this reflection without crying,
The courage to keep fighting,
And the wisdom to know that the long arc of the moral universe does bend toward justice
To believe it in my bones
Though now it has us by the throat.
Mary Kalyna, a Ukrainian-American activist, has lived in Mt. Airy for the past 38 years.
The Citizen welcomes guest commentary from community members who stipulate to the best of their ability that it is fact-based and non-defamatory.Header photo by the Ukrainian League of Philadelphia