My mom passed away on January 12 after a prolonged illness. I have more to say about that later, once I finally edit down the volumes of half-starts I have for that post.
But the recent criminal actions of Russia against Ukraine has unearthed a deep sorrow and anger within me – all because of my mom and her beginnings.
My mom was born in Taganrog, USSR – now in Russia – along the Sea of Azov. Taganrog is known as a birthplace of Anton Chekhov. It has been a bustling port city for Russia for many years. It has twice been occupied by the German army, in World Wars I and II.
Taganrog is roughly 55 kilometers (34 miles) from the Ukrainian border. There is a lot of cultural commonality between the people of Taganrog and the Ukrainian people – a border is just a line on a map, moving from side to side due to saber rattling by various leaders over history.
I’m glad my mom didn’t live to see a madman invade Ukraine. She would’ve cried, she would’ve yelled in anger, she would’ve lost sleep over the whole situation. Even though she had no way to change what was going on, she would still be furious and sad.
I’ve never been to Russia. I’ve seen pictures of my ancestral house in Taganrog, as well as pictures of my relatives, many of them featuring the patriarchs of the family in proper Cossack finery (which looks remarkably similar to the folk outfits still worn proudly by Ukrainians at traditional celebrations).
I love the food of the area. Whether on the Russian or Ukrainian side of the border, borscht is borscht, pierogi are still awesome, and vokda is best sipped with a roll of the tongue.
And I am heartbroken that young boys from Russia, conscripted into military service by a despotic dictator who is increasingly isolated from the world and reality, are forced to take arms against a neighboring country that is not a physical threat at all. The strawmen of so-called “separatism” are bandied about by Russian leaders as a reason to “liberate” Ukraine.
Yes, Kyiv is the ancestral point of origin for those who call Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus home. But that was many, many centuries ago. The evolution of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus over the ensuing years is divergent, creating unique and awesome cultures that, while they have a common root, have differences which should rightfully be celebrated and embraced.
Instead, a former KGB agent who has browbeat or poisoned all opposition into the shadows is now trying to “liberate” a country that rightfully celebrated independence from the USSR in 1991 and has, with the typical stumbles of a newly minted democratic republic, sought its own path to the future.
So as a person who is half Russian, I #StandWithUkraine. I wish them peace and prosperity. I hope the Russians will withdraw, that their conscripted soldier children realize the folly and error of their duties. And I hope that the sunflowers that bloom this summer are ones greeting a new day for a Ukraine that is part of the European Union and NATO, one with an inspired leader in President Volodymyr Zalenskyy and a people whose cultural pride shines through the darkness.