Former American diplomat, mother raises her children in kyiv
My family and I lived in Ukraine for a year and a half before being evacuated by the US Embassy in late January 2022. We lived side by side with Ukrainian families on the outskirts of Kyiv. My son attended Ukrainian kindergarten, my husband worked with Ukrainian colleagues, and we had Ukrainian music teachers, other Ukrainian scouts and Ukrainian friends.
Eight months ago, I sailed the Dnipro River in the heart of Kyiv, Ukraine, with my family. Our boat captain, Sasha, was reserved but polite. When the English words came to him, he told us about the landmarks along the shore – the beautiful Orthodox churches, the islands, the neighborhoods just beyond.
Summers in Kyiv are remarkable: long days, the most beautiful strands of clouds stretching out against a brilliant blue sky, vibrant greens adorning the city’s streets, parks and sidewalks, people taking the time to enjoying the natural beauty of the season after a long winter. This summer day was no exception. Sasha left us to enjoy the day in peace and quiet, watching Ukrainian families pulling their cars to the riverside, gathering with friends, picnicking and swimming. Tents were pitched, coolers were out, dogs fetched Frisbees thrown into the cool water, proof of a whole day in full swing.
After an hour of sailing, Sasha dropped anchor and suggested that we go swimming ourselves. It didn’t take long to convince my Michigan-born, cold-water raised husband to jump in, but my daughters, ages 7 and 9, were hesitant. After seeing this, Sasha joined us on the side of the boat and quietly and confidently took my youngest daughter’s hand, showed her where to stand and gently helped her jump off the side of the boat into the waters. dark Dnipro. He then did this with my eldest daughter and son over and over again creating lots of laughs and lots of joy. It was my favorite day during our stay in Ukraine.
The quiet confidence, gentle kindness and national pride we discovered in Sasha that summer day exemplify what it means to be Ukrainian: strong and secure, patient and proud, with a willingness to help others.
Without my having to ask, Ukrainian men always took the front of my stroller when I had to climb stairs.
And if the world was previously unaware of the indomitable spirit of the Ukrainians, there is no doubt now that it is their greatest strength. Our lives were intertwined every day with these intensely strong and proud people. Here is a small sample of what we learned from them:
- Smiles are earned, not free.
- Simple things create happiness: gardening, having a coffee, walking in the forest.
- Long, harsh winters have made Ukrainians resilient. If you manage to successfully spend a Ukrainian winter, you can do almost anything. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen old women in their Sunday best walking on the ice in the freezing cold to get to church, to the bus stop, to the store.
- The cruel story only reinforced the Ukrainians’ strong sense of belonging to their independence. What we are witnessing in terms of the heroism and willpower of ordinary men and women willing to fight for their country is a sense of duty.
- Ukrainians do not seek recognition. They are enterprising. Their creative and entrepreneurial spirit has led them to create some of the trendiest restaurants, cafes and wine bars in Europe.
- They are resourceful. These same restaurants are now feeding Ukrainian soldiers on the front line.
- They’re nice. Take, for example, my son’s kindergarten, which had never had a non-Ukrainian student. Despite our language and cultural barriers, the teachers embraced him and our family and loved him as one of their own.
- They are thoughtful. Without my having to ask, Ukrainian men always took the front of my stroller when I had to climb stairs.
- They are unwavering, consistent, and adamant in pursuit of what is important to them. It has never been more obvious than now.
Related: Voicemails from Kyiv: Survivor Who Stayed Describes What War Is Really About
Reflecting on the friends we left behind
One of our closest Ukrainian friends, Galyna, is a 72-year-old former kindergarten teacher and nurse. She had two sons; one died in a gas explosion aged 20. She gardens, is an active member of her church, and is a shining light in this world – full of laughter, full of stories, full of life.
A few months ago, when I asked Galyna what she would do if Ukraine were forced into war, she told me that she would volunteer to cook for the Ukrainian army. She kept her promise and now leaves her house every day to cook for Ukrainian soldiers on the outskirts of kyiv, one of the most dangerous places in recent weeks.
“I will be in kyiv until the victory. I will fight against Putin,” she told me. “Every day we hear explosions. It’s terrible. But we keep fighting.
Our kind friend Sergei, a gardener who is never without a kind word or a smile on his face, immediately took up arms and joined a battalion of volunteers. “The enemy wants to surround kyiv, but our army is fighting well,” he said. “Don’t worry. Everything will be Ukraine.
I am also thinking of Ksenia and Alex, a young couple with whom we became friends. She dances. He is boxing. At the start of the war, she moved east to shelter with her grandmother; he joins a battalion of volunteers.
“We feel the support from all over the world. (Putin) thought he would destroy us. Instead, he united us all,” Ksenia wrote to me.
How lucky were we? That we were able to be among these people for a year and a half. That my children learned from them. See their heart. Understand their struggle.
It’s amazing to see the willingness of ordinary people to do their part, and to do it with courage. This formidable spirit is the reason why Kyiv did not fall in a day. That is why the Russian army failed to capture and hold the main Ukrainian cities in the north, east and south. The price will be high, but the Ukrainians will not be defeated. Their will to be uniquely and uniquely Ukrainian will not be broken.
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Every minute of every day, I have a heavy heart about what is happening in my old home, a place where many of our friends, teachers and classmates still reside – in bomb shelters, in pennies -sols, displaced. This is where our home and all of our belongings stay.
But then I think, how lucky were we? That we were able to be among these people for a year and a half. That my children learned from them. See their heart. Understand their fight. Feel so deeply for them now as they fight for their freedom. As deeply as we suffer, may we just as deeply appreciate the tremendous strength and courage of these people who, in the end, are just ordinary citizens like you and me doing extraordinary things.
Do what we can to help from a distance
While we keep in touch with our friends on the ground in Ukraine, our children intend to do something to help. Together with a group of two dozen of their friends, all of whom evacuated kyiv with their families, they planned a fundraiser for Ukraine. What started as a simple local bake sale has raised over $30,000. All proceeds were sent to Save the Children, which helps Ukrainian refugees with critical needs upon arrival at the Romanian border.
At dinner this week, our family discussed how we can do more to help. Car washes. Lemonade stands. Sale of flowers for Mother’s Day. Sale of handicrafts online. Races. Because we, like the Ukrainians, do not want to back down. We want to help others when they need help. We want to stay positive. We want to learn from their strength and recognize their bravery when we see it.
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The woman who shot down a drone with a jar of tomatoes? Legend. The soldier who sacrificed his life to blow up a bridge? Legend. The older couple who told Russian soldiers to get out of their yard? Legends. The 11-year-old boy who traveled 620 miles alone from southeast Ukraine to Slovakia with only a phone number written on his hand? Legend. The Snake Island border guards who reprimanded a Russian Navy ship? Legends.
Ukraine is a nation of 44 million legends. Let’s not forget any of these ordinary citizens in what is the worldwide struggle to show that sovereignty matters. Independence matters. Democracy matters. And that the children we raise see and understand the importance of unity, resilience and helping others by their example.