I am a Ukrainian-American Mennonite: I was born in Lexington, Kentucky, and raised by a Mennonite father and Ukrainian mother. 

"Ukraine is the land of my ancestors, of my people, of my cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. It hurts me to see it being destroyed, to see people running and hiding for their lives."

I feel personally connected to Ukraine even though I didn’t grow up there. Ukraine is where my mama, my babooshka (grandma), my great-grandparents and all my ancestors lived for as far back as I know. It is the place where me and my brother jumped on our babooshka’s feather bed, took baths outside in tin tubs, and played in the huge potato garden in the back of her house. It is the place where my cousin Ulia taught me how to draw the sun peeking out from behind two clouds and my cousin Alena made me a knitted hat with a flower on it. 

It is a place of many memories. I remember the time my Babooshka didn’t peel the potatoes well enough and some ants got into the borsch. I remember walking two miles to my mama’s church and wanting to stop at a playground on the way but not being allowed to because we were in our good church clothes. I remember visiting my dyedushka’s gravesite and seeing the plot where my babooshka would be laid to rest some years later. 

Ukraine is the land of my ancestors, of my people, of my cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. It hurts me to see it being destroyed, to see people running and hiding for their lives. 

The recent Russian invasion has caused shock, horror and chaos in the lives of Ukrainian people. Unfortunately, however, living through war and violence is not a new experience to Ukrainians. The current situation is an extension of what has been happening in Donetsk, the region where one of my uncles and his family and grandchildren live, for the last 8 years. In this eastern region, shelling, bombing and unrest has not stopped since 2014. Beyond the current conflict, the calamities of WWII and the impact of the Soviet Union are not far gone. Almost every Ukrainian knows someone who lived or died through Stalin’s Holodomor (a famine which killed millions of people), Nazi work camps (my babooshka was in one for two years when about my age), concentration camps, exile to Siberia or conscription into the Soviet Army. 

Despite the horrors of the Soviet Union and the aggressions of present day Russia, the divide between Ukrainians and Russians is not always so simple. Many Ukrainians have friends, siblings or family who live in Russia, and many Russians have friends and family in Ukraine. There is also a linguistic continuity between the two countries which was created by actively privileging Russian over Ukrainian during the Soviet era. Currently, almost all of Ukraine is bilingual, with many Ukrainians speaking Russian as their native tongue. Additionally, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian economy struggled, making the Russian economy attractive and stirring pro-Russian sympathy amongst many Ukrainians. 

With increased Russian aggression over the last 8 years, Ukrainians have become increasingly polarized. Members of even the same family take opposite sides. People on the Eastern side of the country have gone so far as to take up arms and declare themselves a seperatist state from Ukraine with the backing of Russian forces, while those on the Western side speak almost exclusively Ukrainian and tend to have strong anti-Russian sentiments. With the recent war, most Ukrainians have become more patriotic of their country and many are clearly ready to fight for it with their lives on the line. 

As someone who is Ukrainian, I am extremely grateful for the humanitarian aid and sanctions that are being put into place by the United States to aid the people in Ukraine. As someone who was born in the United States and raised with a Mennonite pacifist perspective, however, I cannot help but feel skeptical of the political ideology behind this U.S. support. The decisions being made by the U.S. government are made in the interest of the U.S. government, not that of the Ukrainian people. This effort looks noble because the United States and NATO are working to defend a nation and its people. In reality, however, Western nations are using this opportunity to expand the White, Western, capitalistic sphere of influence in the same way that Russia is working to expand theirs. 

The United States has done this in many ways over the years, from the injustice of land treaties with Indigenous peoples to backing Israel as they occupy and take the land of Palestine. In the end, empires do what they are made to do, whether it is good for the people or not. The motivation that spurs the United States to send troops to the bordering countries of Ukraine and to impose huge economic sanctions on Russia is the same nationalistic “interest” that has been used to kill and oppress millions of people around the world and in the United States under the guise of freedom, protection, expansion and economic gain. 

War happens for the defense and expansion of nations, but it is those living in the contested lands who suffer. I condemn all war and all violence, both in Ukraine and around the world. I demand the political figures who have caused these wars to cease fighting at once before more innocent blood is shed. I pray for the families — Ukrainian, Russian, and others — who have lost and who will lose their sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, and sisters and brothers to injustice, and I pray especially for the 22 members of my family in Ukraine, that God will keep them safe.