My mom called me on Sunday night from Los Angeles. I was at a bus stop in Lviv waiting for the bus. My mom spoke to me in English, which is typically our language of conversation, but since I moved to Ukraine I have increasingly begun to speak Russian.
“Christina! Ti shto–What’s wrong with you? You should be speaking Ukrainian or English!” I could sense the mild worry in her voice, but I couldn’t help but laugh. “Mom, it’s fine. Everyone here speaks whatever language they want. In fact this week people in Lviv made a point to speak Russian while in the East people spoke Ukrainian” I reassured her in English. I could only imagine what kind of news they have received through U.S. media and whatever Russian and Ukrainian channels they get via satellite. Russia’s course of action in Ukraine and the following backlash in the international community is all that anyone can talk about the past week. Here and across the world, seemingly. Emotions such as frustration, anger, astonishment and distress have not been uncommon in this country.
A week prior, the 23rd of February was a Sunday full of tears, relief, sadness and hope as we welcomed back two friends – my mom’s best friend’s sons from Kiev. At the dinner table we spoke in Russian and Ukrainian as they told us stories from the battlefield of Maidan, all of us having no idea we would have a different kind of battlefield in our country less than a week later. The rest of the day was spent the day with my mom’s best friend (Luba) at Maidan in Lviv’s city center lighting candles for the Nebesna Sotnya (Небесної Сотні) or the Heavenly Hundred that died during the violent clashes at Maidan in on and before February 20th.
Standing alongside thousands in my city of birth mourning those that died for the promise of change, there was sense of hope and possibility. Even as the new government and the citizens of Ukraine faced obstacles in the coming days, there was a palpable aura of solidarity. “Everyone stands on Maidan so that they can speak any language in their country,” my friend said at dinner when we talked about language. Soon it would be too late, however. Soon, Russian troops would be on Ukrainian soil to “protect ethnic Russians.”
As days unfolded, Ukraine, and the world would see that there’s a lot at stake. Through the guise of endless propaganda, inadequate reporting and so much opinion from every possible angle you are suffocated and blinded. In some way you are time traveling to some other decade that is surely not this one. In this obscurity, you have forgotten that it was ordinary people that came out to protest against their corrupt government in peace, and that it was ordinary people – grandfathers, children, husbands, brothers that were killed in the name of greed and power.
Last night, I got an email from my little sister with an essay she wrote for her UC Berkeley Geography class – “Setting the Standard: How Colonialism and Imperialism Spawned from Europe.” As I read through the history that was all too remnant of my own time at Berkeley spent analyzing and dissecting development theories, I came back to the fact that we are just people trying to live, watching our world leaders fight over territory and supremacy with threats or violence or economic sanctions. Blood or money? Pick your poison, but know that they both have the equal capacity to destroy humankind.
I decided to call my grandmother in California – my sister’s grandmother and my step-grandmother but one I know the best. She left Lviv behind 18 years ago to come help raise me and my sister in Los Angeles. From across the world she told me she has been watching and reading the news nonstop, only leaving her computer for the kitchen a few times a day. She stayed up all night during the day of deadly clashes in Kiev, praying that Luba’s son’s names don’t get called through the microphone at Maidan. Much like us, she is on her toes, hoping for the best, criticizing Putin’s behavior and wishing that a serious war doesn’t break out. Despite the immense struggles that she was subjected to as a young girl in Ukraine during World War II and the difficult decades that followed, she still speaks of her country with sense of fondness – like she’s rooting for her team.
I couldn’t help think of my other grandmother – my mother’s mother, who passed away in the midst of this revolution. My last real conversations with her were in October and only on the days she had the strength to tell me stories, she spoke of the hard life she had to live here in Lviv. She told me stories of the battles that her mother and her aunts had to fight when Western Ukraine was starving and men were away fighting and dying. I went back to California in October, just weeks before protests began. I vaguely recall my grandmother telling my mom that there is a revolution going on, long before I began to think of it as a revolution. I made it back to Ukraine in time to have a few last words with my grandmother, share an ice cream and hold her hand, but not in time to talk to her again about anything that mattered.
Today I sit and wonder, if she was alive for all this – what would she think about the changes in her country that she lived in her whole life? A country that brought her a lifetime of hardship and pain. What would she have to say, and would her tone be hopeful or dismissive? If she was healthy, how would all this make her feel? Would she go with me to Lviv’s Maidan? What stories would the current circumstances evoke that I didn’t have a chance to hear while I lived my life across the world?
Today, on Woman’s Day, as I look back at my family’s intricate history that has taken me from Lviv to Beirut to California and back, I know that I’m here to see this through, to be here in whatever way that I can be. To write the stories, the events, to capture the moments that change history- be they good or bad.
We are all here today because of the women that stood by their husbands, brothers, children, friends, and did whatever they could not do. We’re all in this together – in Ukraine and across the world, fighting for something – love for our country, love for our families, love for each other, and most importantly love for ourselves.
All photos by Christina Monzer, Rights Reserved ®