Six months ago I hardly knew anything about you. I remember waking up early on a cold February morning. My son stopped at my bedside before he left for school. While he walked out the door he announced without any emotions : “Russia invaded Ukraine, true story”. Initially I thought it was his idea of a sick joke. Since that morning, a country I could hardly find on the world map found its way into my heart, and stayed there.
Now I recognise the colours of your flag wherever I go, I am heartened by the sight of an Antonov flying over, I have developed a fondness for sunflowers, and I only befriend people who support you. Ukraine, the country on the edge, the border land, has become a land marking my own life, and the day you were wrongfully invaded was a day I will never forget.
I am a sucker for coming of age stories. Those where the main character finds her way after long search, or finds her strength and voice to stand up for herself and defeat an arrogant bully. The worst ones are those where a grave injustice is perpetrated and remains unpunished. Those few days at the end of February were the stuff of nightmares. I waited fearfully for the bullies to win, and watched that ominous column of tanks rolling towards Kyiv. I opened my eyes every morning to check whether Ukraine’s wartime president was still alive. I had never heard of Volodymyr Zelenskyy before, but for a while he became my hero. The man who deserves win against all odds. Many world citizens, with no connection to Ukraine, felt the same. Regular people all over the world assembled in city squares, and cried with rage at the injustice of the invasion, while governments just made some noise and hesitated to act. Nobody wanted to shake the world order and unsettle Russia. But the resilience and resistance of your heroes was decisive. You found your strength and your voice, and even those who hated to mess with the neighbourhood bully had to show some support, or risk their image. Nobody dreamed you would hold on this long. And while the privileged complained about what this did or will do to the economy, or trembled in fear of not getting enough oil and gas, one the poorest countries in Europe continued fighting. And yes, it wouldn’t have been possible without foreign aid and huge defence packages provided by western countries, but Ukrainians are still the ones who are offering the greatest sacrifices. They are risking their lives, their safety and the violence of war, because they did not want to swap the future they dreamed of with the bleak reality that Russia planned for them.
And today it has been exactly six month since this unjust war started. It is also 31 years since you gained your independence. You still inspire. You are able to mobilise people all over the world. Your people are showing up for you, picking up arms, crowdfunding drones and technological equipment, and taking your voice to the world. You are perhaps the first country in the world whose war effort is partly funded by individuals, Ukrainians in the diaspora and world citizens who believe.
Ukraine has become a moral refuge and a symbol of self determination against all odds. We are all outsiders, pushed towards the edge in our lives, desperately seeking meaning. And those refugees and outsiders have found a cause to rally around, to bring us all together. We the people believe in the right of Ukraine to all its territory, and the right of its citizens to choose their path. This is the true story
Happy Birthday Ukraine. Slava Ukraini. One day I would love to meet you in person.
Photos (left to write): Anti war slogan and Ukrainian flag at St. Stephan Cathedral in central Vienna. Ukrainian theme at the entrance of the Tiki Bar, Diani Beach, Kenya. .Ukrainian flag ribbon and card at Augarten Vienna today: “1/2 year war: Enough killing, maiming, bombing and lying: Russia out of Ukraine. Slava Ukrajini”