So we went to Ukraine during wartime.
We went because for (almost) eight months, the Russian invasion of Ukraine had been nearly the only thing on our minds. For personal reasons and for general reasons we followed the news closely, agonised and fumed over the Ukrainian people’s suffering, spoke about it, posted about it.
We went to be amongst the brave, strong people we’d been watching from afar; to show them in whatever small way we could that they are not alone in this; and, if we’re being absolutely honest, to feel a little bit better about ourselves.
I wasn’t surprised by Ukraine.
I wasn’t expecting Nazi salutes on the streets, I didn’t harbour any myths that needed rebuttal, and I was mentally prepared for not wanting to leave once I was there. But I don’t think I had quite anticipated just how much I was going to fall in love.
The strength, the bravery, the patriotism, they aren’t shoved in your face; you aren’t overwhelmed by them.
They are in the air you breathe.
They are on people’s faces as they go about their lives – the constant threat and the constant fighting just being part of the routine.
And yes, they are in the posters and murals on the streets, commemorating heroes, encouraging and reminding people what this is all for.
They’re in the tip jars in the coffee shops, “для ЗСУ” (for the Armed Forces of Ukraine), on bags, T-shirts, in the ribbon in that girl’s hair, in every shop window.
In the quiet dignity on the women’s faces, while they weave nets “for our boys” and talk about this or that atrocity that’s latest on the news; in the pain intertwined with pride, a constant dance like their fingers around the fabric.
They are in the soviet-style buildings that remind me of my childhood, clashing with the country’s past and future. A past and future firmly rooted in Europe, in the West; in whatever we identify as western, European, human values.
We were swept off our feet, drunk on boozy cherries, captivated by the never-ending singing, dancing and just defiant liveliness and hope and joy. We couldn’t but fall in love with the beauty of the cities; with they beauty of the people, with the beauty of their hearts.
With the lady selling blue and yellow ribbons at the Independence Square to collect money for the army, that started speaking to Vasilis in English at first, but then turned to me because I looked local (наша).
With the most mature 20-year-olds that I have ever met and that put us both to shame with their ingenuity and decisiveness.
Some of these things might seem cliché, but frankly it doesn’t matter.
Ukrainians don’t need to be saints to not deserve a genocide against them; they do not need to earn sympathy and assistance. But they are true, and truth does still matter.
We couldn’t do all the things we had envisioned while we were in Ukraine, and we left in love with the country but disappointed in ourselves.
But this we can do.
Whatever you think you know about Ukraine: it’s a lie if you’re against it, and if you’re supporting it, it is even better than you can imagine.
I believed in its victory beforehand, and I am convinced of it now.
A country of such hard working, proud and resourceful people, vast lands and rich soils, is undoubtedly meant for greatness. And when that victory comes and Ukraine is allowed to reach its full potential, it will absolutely take its rightful place among the leading powers of the Free World.