As I walk past the heavily guarded Russian Embassy up the long, winding hill past Bratislava’s Parliament, some distant, female voices reverberate through the blue and yellow crowd. It’s a haunting, Ukrainian tune I hear, so faint and ethereal I start to wonder if I’m imagining it.
When I fail to locate the choir among the moving crowd, I find myself looking up at the sky. Twilight is quickening its transition into darkness tonight, so saturated it must be with prayers and pleas for peace.
That was last Thursday, the day Vladimir Putin launched an unprovoked assault on Slovakia’s eastern neighbor, the sovereign nation of Ukraine. The days that have followed have surely been the longest six days the modern world has ever seen.
We’ve seen the footage of missiles blowing up apartment and administrative buildings in Kyiv and Kharkiv; the satellite pictures of Russian military convoys that span over 60 kilometers in length heading towards the borders. We’ve heard the bomb sirens and the pained appeals of civilians forced to leave and those forced to stay. We’ve seen a strong global response and even stronger resistance among the people of Ukraine — grandmas taking up arms, young women confronting Russian soldiers, one man taking on an entire Russian tank.
We’ve seen the stark differences between two leaders in crisis: Putin, the harbinger of violence and destruction who expected an easy victory; and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the actor-turned-wartime president who keeps the flame of hope alive for his people as the country endures this never-ending night.
The sovereignty of an entire nation hangs in the balance; the rumors of an unprecedented war have been realized. The world was flipped on its axis on a Thursday, less than a week ago.
Has it really only been six days?
Putin has launched this invasion in the name of Slavic brotherhood and the restoration of the “Ancient Rus” motherland. How ironic it is that the familial sentiment to which he appeals to justify this unprovoked attack represents the complete destruction of every value that defines a functional family: peace, love, mutual respect. Putin’s deluded sense of unity is marked by bloodshed and ash.
Even the majority of Putin’s people believe in Ukraine’s basic right to sovereignty. Russians have flooded the streets of their own homeland in protest of this brutal attack that is being carried out in their name. They do not dispute their close ties with Ukraine, which is exactly why they risk arrest and even their lives to stand in solidarity with their beloved sibling.
When and how will this end? The entire world is under threat; the basic values of democracy and international law have been trampled on and destroyed by heavy artillery.
I’ve wondered this since last Thursday night when I marched with so many others from the Presidential Palace up to the Ukrainian Embassy. It was an inspirational and emotional night filled with singing, chanting and desperation.
As I followed the crowd up the hill, I heard the cries of a young woman just ahead. Her phone glued to her ear, she crumpled into herself, swaying towards the comforting arms of a stranger.
I dread to think what kind of news she had received and I can scarcely imagine the emotional burden she and the people of Ukraine continue to carry. Our lived experiences are worlds away and yet she was just a few steps ahead, hands shrouding her face, feet still moving forward.
Yes, despite everything, her feet were still moving forward. And the Ukrainians among the crowd were still signing in their own language with their own flag raised high above.
Let us hold stock in these moments of solidarity and bravery and match symbolism with action. As some of you may know, the blue band of the Ukrainian flag represents the blue skies that promise freedom while the yellow represents wheat fields — “sky above grain”, or “freedom above bread”.
Let’s answer our call to arms by using our resources — our grain, so to speak — to help Ukraine find those blue skies, their promise of freedom finally fulfilled.
Here are just a few NGOs and charities in Ukraine, Slovakia and elsewhere that are providing direct help to refugees fleeing Ukraine as well as those that remain. If you know of any others, please add them in the comment section below:
- Caritas Internationalis (the Catholic international charity)
- Depaul Ukraine (aids homeless and displaced people in Ukraine)
- #KtoPomozeUkrajini (initiative of more than 30 organisations and NGOs who use your donations to help people directly in Ukraine through the provision of basics like food, drinking water, hygiene products, medication and firewood).
I’d like to leave you with a beautiful song of peace sung by the Technik STU choir of Slovakia.
Slava Ukraini! (Glory to Ukraine!)