The disastrous war in Ukraine is now approaching three weeks.
Reports vary widely according to the source, but we know that thousands of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers have died.
We also know that numerous crimes against humanity have been committed by Russian forces and that many Ukrainian civilians have died.
Friends of mine are fighting now in Ukraine’s army and female friends are in the volunteer corps assisting refugees and the emergency response.
Half of my family roots are originally from Ukraine and I was there two years ago. I love Ukraine and its people. I hate what has happened and this conflict is awful.
My best friend in high school was a very patriotic Russian and a great guy. I know he returned to Russia to work in the oilfield but haven’t kept in touch with. He may well be in the military now.
I’ve never been to Russia but I love writers like Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Ivan Turgenev. Russian history and culture has always fascinated me.
But Russians are violent monsters, right…?
These are dark days that can tempt even the most stable-minded and fair person to start stereotyping groups of people or buying into simple narratives.
The Western news tempts us to believe that Russians are more-or-less ignorant, racist fascists who swill vodka and rape random women while invading countries for fun.
The Russian and pro-Russian news tells their populations that Ukrainians are deranged Nazi genocidal maniacs who are trying to launch a nuclear war on Russia and killing thousands of women and children in the Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
As I said, no matter what “side” you’re on, this is a tempting time to just plug your ears to one stream of sources and decide what group to hate.
Instead, I want to suggest doing the exact opposite.
Here’s why it’s important – and possible – to show solidarity with both the Ukrainian and Russian people.
8 reasons to show solidarity with Ukrainian and Russian people
1) It’s not about sides, it’s about people
This article will not engage in both sides-ism.
Russia’s government started this war, regardless of the color revolution launched by the West to influence and install a Ukrainian government in 2014.
There were also the violent persecution and killings of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, including innocent civilians.
Regardless of Putin cynically cultivating these tragedies as a casus belli, these actions still have no excuse and are also unjustifiable on the part of pro-NATO forces.
But the fact remains that this war right now did not need to happen. And the suffering and murder of Ukrainian civilians is 100% wrong and horrible, bringing to mind the nightmarish scenes of Grozny and Aleppo.
At the same time as this horror unfolds…
It’s important to remember that even on a military level, one side is not angels while the other are heartless devils.
Many young conscripted Russians have died brutal deaths in the snow, mangled thousands of miles from home with mothers who will never see them again.
Domestically, Russia is on the verge of collapse.
Many young Ukrainians have been faced with a war they never expected and lost family members and friends as Kiev prepares for guerilla warfare in the streets.
Domestically, Ukraine is in an existential battle.
2) People are not their government
Let’s be real here:
Yes, many Russians support Putin. His supporters consider him to have reduced their economy and brought pride back to their identity. These are still humans with hearts and souls.
Many other Russians oppose Putin, including journalists like Anna Politkovskaya who was assassinated in 2006, or Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov, who was violently taken out in the spring of 2015.
But the fact remains that people are not their government.
Believing this is so reduces you to the level of terrorists who hate all Americans just for being from the United States, or Americans who hate all Somalians for being from Somalia.
Not only is it ignorant, it’s a very dangerous view that can quickly escalate conflict and destroy bridges that could have been built.
3) Ukraine and Russia are closely linked
Many Ukrainians have family in Russia and vice versa.
As part of the former Soviet Union (USSR), Ukraine has deep historical ties to Russia and Russia has deep historical ties to Ukraine.
Russia’s biggest rap star Morgenshtern recently released a music video that included audio footage of a Ukrainian woman describing life under Russian military bombardment.
Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova burst live on air on Russia’s Channel One several days ago as millions watched, shouting for an end to the war and to not believe the pro-Putin propaganda.
As she explained, her own father is from Ukraine and she wants this tragedy to end!
4) Ukraine is under attack
The attack on Ukraine is horrific. We’ve watched families mown down by shelling and cities like Mariupol become husks.
Humanitarian corridors have allowed over 2.5 million to escape, but neighboring states like Poland are running out of space and money.
Many women and kids have had to leave dads and brothers behind. They may never see them again.
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My friends and their male family members were recruited into the army immediately and are training for combat.
Russian strikes have hit as far west as Lviv near the Polish border.
Westerners and those who aren’t familiar with Ukraine should understand something:
Ukraine is a gorgeous country full of amazing architecture, beautiful people and deep cultural heritage.
This war is a horrific tragedy, and it needs to stop as soon as possible.
5) Russia is collapsing
Russia’s ruble currency has lost more than half its value and Putin Western sanctions are certainly war by another name.
The goal is clearly regime change in Russia.
But here’s the thing about regime change:
As we’ve seen from Iraq to Libya, regime change tends to hit one group the very hardest.
And it’s not the elites or the folks who are getting rich off weapons stocks sitting in their Bermuda vacation residence.
It’s the ordinary people who lose their access to food, healthcare and all their savings that went up in smoke overnight.
It’s OK to have solidarity with these people. In fact, it’s good. The more they are otherized and demonized, the stronger Putin and his us vs. them narrative gets.
6) Check the meaning
As I said, I’m not here to say Russians are suffering equally to Ukrainians. Their country is not under physical attack.
Still, they are clearly being targeted for collapse. And the more we get permission and even encouragement to hate people for being Russian, the more we should be very, very cautious.
We know our governments aren’t trustworthy in places like the USA, Australia or Germany.
We know they lie to us constantly. We also know that when they try to stir up war fever against Iraq or Venezuela or anywhere else, there’s often an economic motive.
My research indicates Russia’s government wants to control potentially huge oil reserves under Ukraine and keep the EU in an energy stranglehold, while NATO and the West want to use Ukraine as a human shield against Russia.
These are innocent people with families, not geopolitical playthings. None of this should be happening.
7) Remember what Mark Twain said
In 1904, the author Mark Twain wrote a powerful piece of writing called “the War Prayer.”
We should all read it, in order to remind ourselves just how hypocritical it can be to be selectively compassionate and wish to kill others in the name of love.
If you are Ukrainian fighting for your survival, I understand that feelings and principles aren’t really what’s on your mind right now.
But particularly for media consumers and observers who are deciding they understand everything going on and feeling a surge of hate for all Russians, I want them to read these disturbing words which are sadly all too relevant still today.
“O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain;
“Help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief;
“Help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst…
“For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!
“We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts.”
8) It’s not OK to call for violence against someone because of their nationality
I’m not here to make excuses for Vladimir Putin or justify his actions in invading Ukraine.
There is no excuse, and ten pages of reasons still wouldn’t justify the horrific slaughter that’s ensued.
There’s just no way to look at what’s happening and remain unaware of what’s being done.
Our mainstream media is telling us it’s OK to hate Russians and demonize people for being Russian.
Even Facebook and Instagram recently tweaked their rules to temporarily allow hate speech and calls for violence against Russia. (Facebook, Instagram to allow calls for violence against Russians temporarily, March 10, 2022).
That is the start of a very slippery slope.
We have to be careful that we don’t slide right back into a world war and an endless cycle of hatred.
How would people feel if we were told that the situation in Israel regarding Palestine now means there is no bar on threatening harm against Israelis because of their citizenship?
As I said, this is a very dark road to go down.
Never forget that we’re all human!
One day we will all be dead in the ground.
Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, the fact that we’ll be physically deceased is hard – but vital – to face in order to truly develop as a human being.
When we hate someone for their country of origin, race, religion or the government they live under, we commit a grave mistake.
We forget that we are all human.
Ukraine is suffering under a horrendous onslaught of the Russian war machine.
Russia is suffering under the leadership of a vengeful and corrupt man and his cronies, and their economy is being systematically destroyed after only recently being rebuilt from a century of horrific bloodshed and human suffering.
Let’s never forget that we are all human!
When we break through the narratives and see the human suffering and mortality that we all share in common, we have hope to end this war and end the practice of equating people with the systems and governments they live under.