Like so many of you, my family and I have been watching the war in Ukraine. We’ve been anxious, angry, and inspired – all in the same newscast. After two years of pandemic living, strong emotions and uncertainty are familiar feelings, but we hope and pray for solutions and peace. War, seemingly forever a part of our human story, continues to scar generation after generation, leaving countries in ruin. These tragedies are devastating.
I imagine many know the depths of this sadness – these scenes perhaps bring up painful memories connected to your family’s story, even your own personal journey. The images and videos from Ukraine are frightening and disturbing on their own, recalling to mind unsettling emotions. I know they did for us. In light of the present circumstances, I thought sharing our story might help others who are reliving their past as well.
In December 1939, my grandmother, barely 17, and her 13-year-old sister, fled Warsaw, Poland under a heavy Nazi bombardment to find and join their younger brother, also 13, who fled to Russia a few weeks before. Jews in Poland were persecuted and not safe. Nazi soldiers boarded their train and questioned the passengers. My grandmother denied being Jewish and was believed, ensuring safety for them both. Others were not as lucky. My grandmother returned to Poland after the war, a married woman, with two toddlers. The family was ready now to rebuild and create their life again. They did build a decent life there – my father and his sister were happy kids, attending school and playing sports, and my grandparents ran a successful small business. Nonetheless, they took the opportunity to leave in 1965 as part of the country’s Jewish exodus due to lingering anti-Semitism.
My father said the oppression of living under the suffocating cloud of communism, Russian influence, and everlasting anti-Semitism were the impetus for their departure. He was 23 when his family left behind friends and relatives to come to the U.S. to find a new, freer life. He understands why the Ukrainians do not want to live under Russian rule.
As we watch the scenes of families saying goodbye, young children pulling little suitcases, I think about my grandmother – so courageous. I think of how frightening it must have been for her to leave her home as a young girl, and then to do it all over again as an adult and come to the U.S. My family’s story is well acquainted with upheaval of flight from war or an authoritarian regime. The memories are still painful and emotional.
At the same time, the bravery and sacrifice of the Ukrainian people utterly inspires me. And to see so many countries giving refuge to those seeking safety, including Poland, is truly moving. It is reassuring to see support and action by both governments and ordinary people around the world, though I worry it is not enough. We are supporting our extended family as they, in turn, offer support to the Ukrainians and worry about their own future. This helps to counter my sadness, worry, and fear.
Our world is interconnected, and we are better off when we all live in safety. We must work together to fight murderous regimes and the conditions that create war. While we are supporting the Ukrainians in all the ways we can, we must also support each other. Reach out to those you know who might be especially triggered by the war and dealing with difficult emotions. Ask if someone needs to talk and listen. It has helped me to share my story, and I am grateful you took the time to read it. I hope it helps to know you are not alone if you are wrestling with these same feelings. If it would help you to share your story, I’m listening.
If you would like to contribute your support to those hurting in Ukraine, please follow the links to the organizations below who are fighting the good fight. Every good deed makes a difference.
UNICEF – They support health, nutrition, HIV prevention, education, safe drinking water, sanitation, and protection for children and caught in the conflict in Ukraine.
Voices of Children – The Ukrainian organization’s Charitable Foundation helps provide psychological and psychosocial support to children affected by the armed conflict.
International Committee of the Red Cross – This Switzerland-based organization is aiming to help people affected by the conflict and support the work of the Ukrainian Red Cross.