I am not Ukrainian. My mother was 100% Norwegian and my father, we don’t really know, but the name Greer and everything he knew about his family background, suggest a lot of English and Irish and not much else. David and I have been back in Europe since January and have been traveling in central and southern France for the past several weeks. The war is on everyone’s mind and, while I have yet to meet a Ukrainian, everyone we speak with is taking the invasion very personally.
I don’t claim to be a European expert, but it is my experience that, despite the strong political and economic ties of the EU, the countries of Europe are fiercely independent and extremely proud of their individualism. In general, they don’t like visitors to make too strong an association between their country, of whose culture and traditions they are extremely proud, and that of their neighbors. This is both because they rightfully defend the wonderful and stark differences of their individual nations and because their history books teach them that their neighbors have not always been allies, some conflicts are ancient, some less so. While the European Union is a practical and, from all indications I am aware, strong alliance, it is also a very complex union of disparate beliefs, world visions and philosophies.
Since the invasion, we have had many occasions to discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine with European friends, shop keepers, waiters, etc. and have witnessed the various ways EU citizens are vocalizing their opinions of current events. The horror, disgust and anger are not of those bearing witness to some distant atrocity. This is Europe. Ukraine is Europe. An attack on one, is an attack on all. Whether or not Putin will attempt to continue his advancement closer to their borders they watch with a wary eye, but it is not self-interest that unites them, it is a solidarity and pride of what they built together from the ashes of WWII and their steadfast unity to defend democracy in Europe. The fact that Ukraine is not technically part of the EU is of no consequence. Putin makes claims that historical ties between Russia and Ukraine, along with a bizarre misinformation campaign about the Ukrainian government being infiltrated by Nazis led by their Jewish president, give him the justification for his actions. I suggest he revisit these history books because, for the people of Europe, an evil dictator hell bent on destruction of their lands for a megalomaniacal and extremely distorted vision of a new world order is a horror in their very recent history they have no interest in repeating. I have never seen Europeans speak in such a single, emphatic voice. These are very scary times and I have no idea what will happen next, but everything I see around me thinks Putin is as wrong to test the European resolve for democracy and peace as he was wrong about the Ukrainians resolve to defend their lands. For now, we all watch and wait and hope.
As for the people of Ukraine, I have been searching for the right adjective to describe my feelings toward them. Respect, admiration, compassion. All of these and more of course, but none exactly capture it. I sat here this morning, on my comfortable couch in my short term rental in peaceful southern France and searched for the word. Pride. At first I didn’t think I could claim the word pride to describe my feelings because it suggests an extremely personal connection and I am not Ukrainian or even European. I looked the word up. Pride is defined as “an emotional response or attitude to something with an intimate connection to oneself, due to its perceived value.” That is exactly what I feel. The Ukrainians are not just defending their homeland, they are standing fiercely and bravely on the front to defend democracy for all. There is nothing more valuable and more personal. I could not be more proud.