Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, I have despised the phrase “new normal”…an oxymoron for sure. There is no such thing as a new normal. There is the here and now we are living in, and life inevitably changes. No, I’m not going to talk about the pandemic. Most would disagree with what I have to say anyways…so it’s a moot point.
The war in Ukraine has been raging for over a month. I’m going to pause here for a moment and ask that everyone make a conscious effort to NOT say, “the Ukraine”. Those 3 little letters can make people from that country cringe. Ukraine is a country, a nation, a recognized state, it is just Ukraine. We don’t say “the” Poland or “the” France. Okay, yes, I know we say the United States and the Netherlands. I can explain, plural names get “the” tacked on. “The” Ukraine is the way Russians referred to that part of the country during Soviet times. Before becoming independent, the official name was the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and it did have those 3 little letters. If you have asked yourself how you can help, drop those 3 little letters when referring to Ukraine. I have done it myself and in this part of the world, I have been corrected. Another small change would be to refer to the capital by its Ukrainian spelling, Kyiv, rather than the Russian transliteration Kiev. Two simple things you can do and make a difference.
Why did I bring up that dreaded phrase, new normal? Over a month into the war, I fear that soon, unless you are directly impacted, it is going to become “normal”. The world is going to become complacent. Merriam Webster tells us complacent is marked by self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies; unconcerned, apathetic, indifferent. As the days turned to weeks, the weeks to months, and the months turn to the unknown, will we become apathetic and indifferent to the plight of these people just like we have so many times before them? I’m not pointing fingers because I am guilty as charged. When the war broke out, everyone was gung-ho to help. I rushed to the train stations, scurried around passing out juice boxes, asking what was needed, and hurried off to a store to fill these needs making purchases with contributed dollars. Then I found out about Pawel and the #pinball4ukraine initiative.
My friends, my family, and my hometown newspaper all got on board and soon we had thousands of dollars to help. Pawel is still working hard to find out where and what current needs are. You can still contribute by sending contributions to PayPal@flippery.org.pl. This is all great, but what next? What can I do from here on out? The mass exodus from Ukraine into Poland has slowed but refugees are still arriving daily.
Wandering through the train station it is “normal’ now to see people sleeping on the floor waiting for a train to somewhere. We are still living “it” in Warsaw and across Poland, but my guess is that in the west people were shocked, they donated, they did what they could and now life goes on. I’m not condemning this because I don’t have an answer for what’s next? The pace of the first few weeks of the war couldn’t continue. I’m thankful for people like Pawel who haven’t slowed their pace but who are searching for new ways to help besides just being a people mover.
An internal conflict in Afghanistan began in 1978 between anti-communist Islamic guerrillas and the Afghan communist government (aided in 1979-1989 by Soviet troops). A US-led invasion launched in response to the 9/11 attacks in 2001 was the beginning of the Afghanistan War (2001-2014). Everyone (both for and against) was up in arms when we pulled our troops from Afghanistan (completed August 30, 2021), yet the conflict continues, and it only seems to come up as fuel for the fire in political debates.
A peaceful uprising in 2011 against the president of Syria turned into a full-scale civil war leaving an estimated half a million people dead. 22 million have fled their country and 6.9 million are internally displaced with more than 2 million living in tented camps with limited access to basic services. Although Russia was involved in a ceasefire in March 2020, it doesn’t appear the war will end anytime soon.
A few short days ago Azerbaijan has said it is ready for peace talks with Armenia. I’m going to hazard a guess and say most people probably don’t even know about a conflict between those two countries. I just happen to have a flatmate from Azerbaijan and a student from Armenia. “In 2020, Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a war over Nagorno-Karabakh which killed more than 6,500 people. A ceasefire deal brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin saw Armenia cede swaths of territory to Azerbaijan and Moscow deploy a peacekeeping contingent to the mountainous region. Last week, Yerevan (capital of Armenia) and Moscow accused Baku (capital of Azerbaijan) of violating a ceasefire in the Russian contingent’s zone of responsibility. A significant flare-up in Nagorno-Karabakh could pose a challenge for Moscow, at a time when tens of thousands of Russian troops are engaged in Ukraine. Moscow has deployed about 2,000 peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh and a land corridor linking it with Armenia. Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The ensuing conflict killed about 30,000 people.” (Aljazeera, March 29, 2022) And…the conflict continues.
Although my student from Armenia has been in Poland for several years, he told me he has times when his emotions run the gamut regarding the war in Ukraine. He told me he must admit that sometimes he gets angry. He explained that he does want peace for Ukraine, but when he sees basically the whole world trying to aid the Ukrainian refugees, he gets angry and wonders where “the world” was when Armenia needed them. He said he feels that people think it is normal for there to be war in “his” part of the world.
Today, chatting with a student from one of my classes, she said she has felt a bit down lately. As she goes about her day-to-day life, she fears the fate of Ukraine and its people is becoming part of our normal routine…that we are accepting that this is just the way it is going to be. She said it’s not that people don’t care anymore, but can we or what should we be doing? I told her I have been feeling the same way. I’m not sure what else I can do except support the efforts of #pinball4ukraine. If there are people in Poland, where well over 2 million refugees have settled, who are feeling like this, I can only imagine the rest of the world can easily push it from the forefront of their minds.
I don’t have any answers to my questions. My comments are merely my opinion and the stories I tell are factual. I can’t wrap my head around the things I have been exposed to in the last 5 weeks. My emotions have taken a roller coaster ride but the one emotion I haven’t had is fear… I can’t fathom the fear some of these people, especially the children have felt and not only Ukrainian children.
I had a student tell me she took her daughter, age 5, with her to a shelter to deliver children’s clothing. Alice cried. She couldn’t understand why these children had to live with 400 other people and didn’t have their own homes. She had questions her mother wasn’t prepared to answer. Another student told me his young sons were very scared when the war broke out. His older son who I believe is 10, is quite a history buff about WWII. He was fearful about what could happen to Poland. Again, young children with questions he wasn’t prepared to answer. He said now they won’t even talk about what is happening.
Some mornings, recently, I wake up with little on my agenda and wonder what I should be doing. I always have things I can do for myself, but is there a need at some shelter or the train station I should consider? Frankly, I simply want to do nothing but curl up with a book. Then a little bit of guilt creeps in. Sometimes I can push it aside, sometimes I check the websites to see if help is needed anywhere, sometimes I put the pen to the paper which is where I have been the last couple of days. It doesn’t answer the whys or the what’s but it does help me put things in perspective. It helps me think, it pushes me to research things happening in other parts of the world that when you think about it are really all intertwined. I have decided that accumulating knowledge can make a difference. By understanding what is happening around the globe, maybe we can become a bit more empathic.
We are one human race. War may not be the answer, but it has opened my eyes to the plight of people in Syria, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and other places around the world. I heard a comment, “I don’t care what happens in that part of the world but it’s terrible what is happening in Ukraine.” I knew it wasn’t worth it to get into a heated discussion over this comment because I would get angry, and the other person would still feel the same way. Will I soon hear, I don’t care what’s going on in Ukraine or is Ukraine enough like the “west” that people won’t stop caring. I know it is starting to feel like a normal state of living. I don’t like that feeling but I’m not sure what to do about it. Maybe it is the natural evolution of feelings. I know I’m not the only person feeling like this.
I guess all I can do is continue to educate myself, do what I can, where I can, and when I can. I can remind myself this isn’t “normal”. I remind myself there are still people fleeing their homes and soldiers and civilians are dying for their country. If you made it this far, thanks for reading my random thoughts as I try to clear my head. If you use those 3 little letters when you talk about Ukraine, try to check yourself. Remember the capital of Ukraine is Kyiv and most of all remember war isn’t normal. I know that together, we can still make a difference.