Every once in a while I ask myself “what am I doing?” or, on a day like today, which media outlets across the world are calling the bloodiest day in Ukraine’s post-soviet history – “what am I NOT doing?”
Sometimes it’s quite easy to be convinced that I don’t need to question myself and sometimes it takes some time. I have come to believe and understand that life (and perhaps, existence?) treks you down the unexpected trails, ones covered in snow and ice, winding through the mountainous forests somewhere in Eastern Europe. Oftentimes it’s when you yourself are not even sure how you wound up in the snow in the first place, after 20 years of California winters, that you come to encounter the unexpected. It is this those moments, when you step away from comforts of what’s familiar and take some breaths of icy mountain air, that you stop questioning and start doing.
I arrived in Ukraine a bit over a month ago with limited expectations while simultaneously anticipating things to be a certain way. It’s an inexplicable feeling of being so sure and unsure, yet unable to find the right thoughts or words to assign to moments and significant life events. I’m oddly selective about my emotions, and sometimes I don’t (or perhaps don’t know how to) show them. I am only now beginning to analyze my choices and reactions (or lack thereof) these past few weeks and gaining clarity and perspective that I think only nature, new impressions, and ultimately, a new environment (both built and natural) can bring.
Today, February 20th, marked my first birthday back in Lviv since I left 20 years ago. Unlike most other years, I was not much for celebrating, considering the circumstances in Ukraine this week — dozens of families lost their loved ones, hundreds are lying injured across Kiev, and the impact is felt across Ukraine in one way or another. Good friends of mine, with whom I would otherwise be celebrating, are building barricades on Maidan and volunteering their medical services with the Red Cross while we watch the news for revelations about what is to come. Today I blew out my candles wishing for the best for Ukraine.
But what’s next is not clear. On the bus, in the streets, on the news in bars, in office buildings, in the classroom, you hear the nonstop buzz of the current situation – security guards, teenagers, mothers, professors, expats, drunk old men are talking (or perhaps singing patriotic songs.) The situation is fickle, much like we are. It is contingent on the needs and desires of those who thrive on dominance and control and in fleeting moments of pressure make choices that are irreversible. Choices that forever change the course of history and open the eyes of citizens all over the world.
Whether we sit in front of our computers and TVs baffled, provoked, skeptical, or confused, what is unmistakable is that something is shifting. This country and our world is not what it was twenty years ago, and as much as those who knew it long ago like to think, it cannot, for much longer be sustained on the same principles of a global political and economic agenda as it once was. Perhaps we are approaching yet another epoch that is marked by the need to transform, to revolutionize ways of thinking, to enlighten. We have seen it across the world, and we are seeing it here, in Ukraine.
In the few weeks I have spent here, I have been impressed by the unexpected. Surprised and inspired by those who are hopeful, passionate and see more than just a bleak future— not only in their own country but in global necessity; the needs that lie in being able to see the next generation (possibly our own children) and their children grow up on this planet.
Some may say that we’re dreamers, but isn’t that whom history is written about?