Friday, February 21, 2014

Pain and Hope.

Tomorrow morning people that I love and care for deeply will join together for the funeral of fallen heroes.  They will cry for their friend, lecturer, neighbor, brother, or son.  Some of our Pilgrims were close with the lecturer from the Catholic University.  One of my good friends sat with her classmates in grief after hearing the news that their friend had died.  

On the second night of the revolution, long before anyone had begun calling it a revolution, Ihor Kalynets stepped up to the microphone to speak.  He is a 75 year old widower and a tremendous poet and patriot.  He begged the students not to listen to politicians nor the press - but to follow their conscience and their hearts.  He told them - us - that we would find our own path.  I don't think Ihor ever set out to be a revolutionary.  His wife was arrested first (in 1972) and sentenced to six years of hard labor - and he really didn't have a choice after that, did he?  He was arrested six months later and sentenced to nine years in a forced labor camp.

I don't think any of these young men wanted to be revolutionaries.  Too many of the dead are young fathers.  Revolutionaries are young and unattached - but many of these men were fathers, they fought for their children.  They fought so that their children could live in a normal country and have a government that works for them instead of the other way around.  They fought because they were secretly and illegally baptized and they never wanted their children to experience the lack of freedom of religion.  They fought because the president had blood on his hands and no apology on his heart.  

I don't know a lot about Ukrainian culture.  I've only lived here 3 short years, and I don't how much longer I'll get to live here - but I'll tell you what I know:  sixty years from now a grandmother will tell her grandchildren of the valiant struggle and the names of these fallen heroes.  Can you name someone who died on 9/11?  Americans don't forgive, but we forget awfully fast.  Ukrainians don't forget.  They will pass these names from generation to generation.

We only know the names of about half of the dead.  Slowly pictures and names emerge on the internet.  More than 50 people are in intensive care in Kyiv hospitals, it is likely that the death toll will continue to climb.

I remember that night, after Kalynets stepped away from the microphone someone began chanting "rev-o-lut-si-a" and as I heard the chants of "revolution" my ears could hardly believe it.  My students and friends surrounded me and they were chanting too - and soon enough, I joined them.

I never followed politics in Ukraine.  There are too many surnames and they all mix together.  For a project I asked my best friend if I could interview his grandmother - I wanted to hear about her life and her work.  She agreed and I thought that I would start with a softball question.  I asked her to tell me about a happy memory from her childhood.  She said, "I don't have any happy memories from my childhood.  My father was arrested when I was quite young and my mother and I were persecuted from that day on.  I only saw my mother twice after that.  She was forced to work on a beet farm and she was grating beets when I saw her last - I didn't know where the red of the beets ended and the red of her own blood began."

I'll never forget those words.  I talked with my friend later and he told me that I should follow the political situation - starting with the history.  The history was painful and gruesome, but I couldn't live here and be present here fully if I didn't know it.

I stood on the Maidan with our students because I weighed both sides, and I understood that I must stand with the side of freedom and democracy.  I took a rather active view, and perhaps because of this I will have visa issues in the future.  But every day, I get up and I can look myself in the mirror knowing that I did the right thing.  The death of these young people has been tragic, but had the Ukrainian people remained silent they would have become slaves to a totalitarian regime - I believe this with all of my heart.

The Maidan in Kyiv might be covered with blood and ash and soot - but it is also covered in hope.  The people have fought for their own dignity, freedom, and future.  This is what democracy looks like - it is bloody and ugly and painful, but it is free.

I believe that Yanukovych is in his final hours and that soon a new democracy will be formed.  Our primary goals will be healing of wounds, forgiving enemies, and building one country together - and I say "our" because the whole world will have to help.  We must invest in this great country and help it to move forward as a European nation.  We must share the story of the brave little country that fought to oust criminals from leadership.  We must tell our grandchildren the names of these young men who died for freedom.

There is pain, but there is also hope.

And hope, like heroes, never dies.    

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