It seems like a different world today than the one in which I watched Kamiela Valieva skate. With the world, I was horrified as the abuse of that child was revealed. She was drugged by her coaches in a vile bid to boost her performance for their own gain. What kind of people give heart medication to a fifteen year old child? As a mother of teenagers, I was enraged. Russia was again revealed as guilty of cheating, but this case was especially horrific because they had drugged a child. Then, in the aftermath, Valieva was allowed to skate. It was a dicey situation because while she should not be punished for her abuse allowing her to skate ended up compounding the trauma. Under the incredible pressure from the controversy she humiliated herself with the worst performance of her career. Favored to win the gold, she didn’t get a medal at all.
And so the beautiful and talented Valineva takes her place with the other girls who have been abused by the Olympic system. I can’t help but see it as fundamentally exploitative at best, and blatantly abusive and harmful at worst. Even the United States has had problems with child abuse. Larry Nassar was allowed access to girls for years, so we are not without our own problems, but Russia is on another level and not just in sports.
Even before the Olympics ended, Russia began to put in motion its diabolical plan to invade Ukraine. I braced myself to endure another humiliating defeat for Democracy on the world stage. After Syria and Afghanistan, I thought I knew the plot of this story fairly well. The West fears an escalating confrontation, we retreat, and evil men seize power and victimize the innocent. The forces of tyranny get the upper hand because they care nothing for the suffering of the people and the forces of civilization don’t care enough to stop it. Enter Ukraine.
They refused to accept defeat in the face of Russian aggression. Their President, Vlodomir Zelenskyy, the man Donald Trump tried to exploit to hurt Joe Biden’s campaign, has become an unlikely hero. Refusing to evacuate to safety, he has stayed in Kiev. He has rallied his people and the world to the defense of freedom, insisting that the capitulation and retreat of the West must end. He has cast this battle for Ukraine as a battle for the survival of Democratic values.
Ukraine has suffered greatly in the past week. It is hard to comprehend what is going on because the reports and video clips are only fragments of the larger picture. There are millions of refugees. Men of fighting age are forbidden from leaving the country. They must stay and fight. Many are staying and fighting. The scenes are part horrifying and part inspiring as untrained civilians are handed high powered assault rifles. Video clips and images of brave Ukrainians have gone viral.
The Russian state has become a pariah with almost all nations rallying behind Ukraine and refusing to do business with it. Airlines won’t fly to Russia or allow Russian planes to land. Financial sanctions have caused economic devastation. Brave Russians have taken to the streets to protest the war. Russian soldiers are horrified to be fighting against civilians who hate them, taunt them, and thwart them at every turn. The Russian propaganda disintegrates in the sunshine of Ukrainian reality. This is no just war of liberation, it is a naked aggression against innocent people who just want to be left in peace. Putin’s position both at home and abroad has never been so weak.
It is an inflection point and we have Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people to thank. Large gates swing on small hinges and they have turned the tide against authoritarianism. Their fate as a nation is far from certain, but the movement they have set in motion is extraordinary. They have united the badly fractured population of free people and changed the world.
Zelenskyy in particular is a remarkable figure. He is a modern day David staring down a modern day Goliath. People will be writing songs, books, and movies about this for centuries. Only time will tell how the story will end, but even if they go out Alamo style, they will still be heroes and their story will inspire generations. Zelenskyy may die, but Putin will not outlive him long I think. And Zelenskyy has earned immortality with the courage of his leadership; Putin with his villainy.
I told my boys that I’ve never seen anything like Zelenskyy in my lifetime. The only comparison I can think of is George Washington, but even he wasn’t the sitting President during the war. Also Zelenskyy is a lawyer, an actor, and a neophyte politician. He’s never been a soldier. He’s the perfect projection for the everyman called to save the world. He’s small and inexperienced. His entire persona is comedic. He reminds me of Mr. Bean. And yet, he has managed to transform his persona in the past few days into a tough guy who makes Vladimir Putin himself look like an imitation. (And he is.) It is as though the monomyth has come to life; the hero’s journey.
Each day of this conflict I have prayed that Zelenskyy would survive. Each morning, I unlock my phone to see if he lives and if Kiev is still standing. The words to the Star Spangled Banner run through my mind…..”oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave?” Have they been overcome? Each morning I have exclaimed, “Oh thus be it ever when free men shall stand, between their loved homes and the war’s desolation; blessed with victory and peace, may the heaven rescued land praise the power that has made and preserved us a nation!”
My prayers and the prayers of so many of God’s children have been answered. Putin has not overcome Ukraine. Yet. Today I am going to fast for Ukraine. I don’t fast. I haven’t fasted in over seven years. Because my depression medication has to metabolize, I must eat every day. Still, I must fast for them. Even if it kills me, I must do it. If my faith can be even a mustard seed right now, maybe it can make a difference. Ukraine must not fall to Putin’s Russia.
In a world of discouragement, Ukraine and her leader have inspired me to fight. Fight depression, fight cynicism, fight the voice that says I can’t make a difference. The American experiment isn’t over.
Watching the tenacity and resolve of the Ukrainians has healed a part of my soul that was broken when we betrayed the Kurds. That trauma, compounded by my mom and my aunts, birthed a stone in my heart. I felt like my patriotism died. It would stir a little bit every so often, but it was on life support. Ukraine has given it new life. We have rallied behind Ukraine as I wish we had Rojava. The Kurds were no less valorous and worthy, but they were stateless and so few people were aware of them. Also, we have a real President now and not a Putin sympathizer.
My country is not dead after all. It was gravely wounded by Trump’s betrayal, first of the Kurds and later of our Afgan allies. Biden handled the Afganistan pullout badly, but he never would have been put in the situation if it wasn’t for Trump. I am convinced Trump orchestrated the treaty with the taliban as a favor to Putin. There is a special place in hell for men like Trump and Putin and their ilk. They stand next to Satan and do his bidding as the rivers run with the blood of the innocent. They spit on the graves of brave and valiant men they cannot understand and secretly fear. They seize power they aren’t fit to have and use it to terrorize and destroy everything good and beautiful.
There is no legitimate compromise with evil like that. It sticks to the soul like tar to a shoe. Don’t touch it. Stay far away from it. Don’t fear it because it can smell fear and exploit it. The only solvent is resolve; the kind of determination that has no boundaries. What are you afraid to lose? Resolve that you sacrifice it if you have to in order to win because losing isn’t an option. Nothing can be held back. The Ukrainians understand that, but as Americans we have become soft. We have allowed our enemies to divide us and pit us against one another. Ukraine has shown us what real courage in a real fight for freedom looks like.
I couldn’t sleep last night. Even with sedatives and a sleeping pill, I still was up with my mind racing until after 1:00 am. I thought of how I would like to talk to the Ukrainians and tell them stories about the Marquis de Lafayette and the Baron Von Stuben; about the birthing of the first international fight for freedom in the American revolution. I would tell them about Washington and how he would ride out in front of enemy lines on his horse to rally his troops with courage. I would tell them about the Valley Forge where America was smelted in the bitter cold of that dark night; that from the hell of that winter, America rose in triumph. We surprised the world because no one believed we could win against a far superior army. It was an imperialist army of mercenaries and they were fighting the resolve of a people just coming into their own identity.
I imagined I looked into their eyes. I could see them and feel their pain, their fear, their discouragement. And then I prayed. I felt the sleeping pill taking effect and I don’t think my words were very coherent. I know they were probably slurred. I prayed for God to forgive me my sins. I prayed for Ukraine, and especially Zelenskyy. I prayed for the refugees. I prayed for the Russians that God would soften their hearts. I stumbled my way to my bed and fell asleep at last. In the morning, I could not get up. I couldn’t even pick up my phone. I just laid there and felt waves of despair and self loathing. Why can I not be strong like the Ukrainians?
But I am strong. I asked for help. I rested a few hours. I got out of bed. I put on my workout clothes and now I am going to exercise. I will fight the depression. I will win. I always do. I will fight the discouragement and self loathing. I am beautiful. I am empathic. I am sensitive. I was created by God to be who I am and I deserve to exist; just like Ukraine deserves to exist. I will stand up and fight another day against the monster in my head.