Like many of you, our friends, my wife and I have been literally rooted to our chairs as we watched events in our beloved Ukraine roll out, ever since those terrible days in Kyiv last November when Ukrainians began to die because of the brutality of Yanukovych’s Berkut. Since then, many, many more innocents have sacrificed themselves to protest injustice, tryanny and corruption. Ukrainians have been incredibly brave throughout all this. They have withstood freezing cold, Militia attacks, titushki beatings, kidnappings, torture, murder, Berkut Molotov cocktails and finally, an ultimate horror, the cold-blooded, merciless snipers of their own government’s security forces:
(WARNING - GRAPHIC)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kg9fjOfPZyE
While parts of the beautiful city certainly suffered too, with burned out buildings and ruined streets, for the most part protesters showed restraint and extraordinary care for property and especially for human life. Perhaps you too have seen the live stream images or video recordings from the battlefield of Maidan and Dynamo Stadium, where medics and priests risked their lives to rescue others and save lives. Maybe you thrilled with us as we watched ordinary citizens use their very bodies to block the advance of robotic Berkut troops, keeping them from the defenseless still huddled around the stage at Maidan. Hourly we listened to the stirring sound of a thousand or more voices singing the anthem of Ukraine in the face of those who would deny them a say in their own future. And also like us, you may have sat shocked and with tear-filled eyes as you witnessed Yanukovych’s armed thugs killing defenseless protesters by the dozen as events reached their awful, bloody climax earlier this week.
One little known fact most Americans are not aware of is that Ukraine’s 40 million citizens legally possess more than 2 million private firearms: 400,000 of them are in Kyiv alone. And yet, even in the face of murderous provocation and killings by the police and Berkut, very few of those privately owned firearms were ever raised in anger, even against their tormentors: the ratio of citizens killed to police casualties was over 10 to 1. It tells us that Ukrainians are a people possessing extraordinary restraint and respect for life, because if every private gun in Ukraine had been fired in anger, the dead would be in the many thousands by now. But Ukrainians are not ordinary people. With few exceptions, they are gentle, friendly, kind, loving and welcoming to strangers. They understand firsthand what it is like to suffer at the hands of others. In short, Ukrainians define what it means to be a civilized people. They paid for this label with the endurance and restraint they demonstrated even as they suffered injustice after injustice.
And what do we have to show for all this suffering? A series of events that amaze us and leave us feeling like we are witnesses to history: Yanukovych flees Kyiv like the coward he truly is, leaving behind gold bullion, incriminating documents and unfed animals in his private zoo. Then we see the Rada grow from a collection of squabbling yes-men into a focused deliberative body intent on changing their country before it is too late to save from riot and ruin. We watched as Yulia Tymoschenko, weakened by 30 months of confinement as a political prisoner, wheeled out triumphantly into freedom, then whisked away to lay flowers at the site where so many brave people died for their country in Kyiv. Finally we listened to her words of love, comfort and encouragement to the people she once wronged, and now wants to do right by. We think she deserves another chance. For who else is there in Ukraine that has even a remote chance of uniting the country in this difficult time?
There is still so much to be done: the ex-president to be impeached, prosecuted and brought to justice for his many crimes against his own people; buildings, streets and lives to be rebuilt; new laws to be passed and new independent, fair and incorruptible judges and prosecutors appointed to carry them out; an economy to be rebuilt virtually from scratch; bodies, minds and hearts to be mended…indeed the list of tasks ahead for Ukrainians to tackle is as daunting as it is long.
But we have absolutely no doubt that Ukraine will rise from this chaos and bloodshed to be the country that it always was meant to be: a reflection of the superb people who live there and who deserve so much better than they have been dealt in the past. Now, for the first time in years, they have the keys to their own future in their hand. We wish them well with the confidence that Ukrainian men and women can do ANYTHING that they set their minds and hearts to.