Speak Now by Columnist Maddie Raymond: Help save my grandmother’s homeland

  • AP PHOTO/VADIM GHIRDA AP PHOTO/VADIM GHIRDA

Published: 3/13/2022 10:51:17 PM
Modified: 3/13/2022 10:51:04 PM

Russia has invaded Ukraine, and I’m Ukrainian. Well, sort of. My grandma was born in a place called Dnipropetrovsk, which from my grandma and mother’s stories I always imagined as a teeny little village where the people squabbled and my great-grandma Fay bought discs of milk to feed her family. I did a Google search when I was older only to find out that Dnipropetrovsk is actually a major industrial center of Ukraine, and someday if I worked up the guts I could fly across the Atlantic and visit it. Except now I can’t, because it might get destroyed soon.

It’s strange to see something like this happen to a place that’s supposed to be my ancestral homeland. I proudly proclaimed in last month’s article that I’d be leaning into my own identity, but this isn’t exactly what I was thinking of when I said that. Regardless, I have a personal stake in this world event, so I must lean in and do what I always do: get you readers fired up to use your privilege so I can help save my grandmother’s homeland.

Growing up, I didn’t even know my grandma was Ukrainian. Due to all sorts of fears surrounding certain kinds of Eastern European heritage (think Red Scare), my grandma didn’t even tell my mom about her true heritage for years, and for a while I just accepted I was some sort of Russian. When I found out, I shrugged my shoulders, thought about the famous painted eggs for a while, and moved on. I heard something about the annexation of Crimea back in 2014, but I was a child — it didn’t matter.

Now, I’m worried it’s not mattering enough. I’m doing all the same things I always do when a crisis like this hits, but I can’t bring myself to truly feel linked to Russia’s invasion in anything but a cursory way. Yes, Russia has pushed into eastern Ukraine to back the separatists and invaded the country. Yes, people are suffering. Yes, my grandmother’s little not-village could be devastated. It doesn’t feel real.

I’m telling myself to sit with this lack of feeling. It’s hard to conceptualize things like Russia’s invasion precisely because they’re so horrible. It’s purposefully hard to think of things like this because it’s so counterintuitive to how we think as humans. This even goes for those who are linked to it. But what I want myself and all of you to do is not let this stop you from doing something anyway. I know we’re all tired of crises in the world. Tired of being told of suffering and tired of having to take the same actions again and again even though we know another crisis somewhere else will just pop up next week.

That’s the thing: society tells us that to serve a cause we have to feel the right way for it — we have to be emotionally stirred by it. But sometimes our minds don’t work like that. Every day we’re bombarded with news stories about another horrible thing in the world. We can’t possibly feel the full weight of emotions for every single one. Humans were never meant to know about this much suffering all of the time, so our lack of comprehension is not our fault. But we can still do something. Even if you’re struggling to feel, you can send money to GoFundMes and mutual aid funds supporting Ukrainian people. You can volunteer to help out refugees when the time comes, and raise awareness for the issue. And you can do this all without the expectation that you or anyone else should have to feel a certain way about this issue.

Maybe I’m just writing this to assuage my own guilt about not being able to feel an emotional connection to a crisis in a country that I technically come from. But the truth is, I’ve never seen Ukraine; I have no idea what I’m losing. What I do know is people out there are suffering, or will be soon. I may or may not have a connection to them, but I can help them regardless.

With this article, I’m giving you all permission to feel however you feel about the crisis in Ukraine and crises that will continue to come. It’s OK to not break down over every little thing. If we did that, we wouldn’t be able to function. So I’m asking you all to step up in tangible ways: with your money, with your time, with your resources. The feelings will come, or they won’t. Actions remain.

Madeline Raymond, who lives in the hilltowns, writes a monthly column.


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