in service of the
хай живе Україна (Long Live Ukraine)
There are no words to describe the utter depravity being inflicted on the people of Ukraine, nor indeed are there words to adequately describe the heroism of the people and their president. However, there were words, wonderful words, in the United Nations General Assembly last week from the Kenyan Ambassador to describe what is at stake here. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-60603232
The ambassador spoke of his own nation and its national boundary, carved, and bequeathed by its colonial master (Britain). What he said of Kenya equally describes most African countries as they emerged from the colonial era. “These are not boundaries we chose” he said. He went on to say: “people on either side of the boundary are the same people”. One could say the same for West Papua and PNG, or indeed for most countries of the Middle East. Having said that, he went on: “while they may not be the boundaries we chose, they are the boundaries which exist and define us in the present”. Trying to return to a romanticised past would only create endless turmoil and conflict. Instead, Kenya and most African countries are committed to cooperation across their boundaries through the Organisation of African Unity.
Much is being speculated as to the motivation of Vladimir Putin in prosecuting this cruel war. It appears he has a romanticised view of what he believes to have been the ancient people of Rus, from which Russia and Belarus derive their names. He apparently believes Ukraine and the Ukrainian people to be indissolubly part of this family – as perhaps he does of other nations previously part of the old Soviet Union. There may or may not be vestiges of historical truth in this romanticism. However, the people of Ukraine now live in a very different present, a present from which they have no wish to be forcibly separated.
The war in Ukraine is reinforcing awareness of the awful danger in which we place others when boundaries are not respected. We learned this bitter truth in Vietnam, the Middle East and Afghanistan. At a personal level we know its truth when personal boundaries are transgressed through abuse. Far too many people live diminished lives because their personal boundaries have been transgressed by others. On a global scale humanity is now reaping the consequences of having refused to acknowledge the boundaries necessary for the maintenance of a stable and a self-regenerating natural order.
The other side of the truth told by the ambassador is equally important – ‘those on the other side of the boundary are the same’. It is beyond comprehension that Putin and his army could inflict so much unbearable suffering on the Ukrainian people. If he genuinely believes Ukrainian people and Russian people are part of the same ‘stock’; how is it possible that he and his army can so indiscriminately hit schools, hospitals and residential areas and confine citizens within their city with no power food or water? What sadistic madness is at play here?
Respect through recognition of commonality must be foundational to a hoped for harmonious and peaceful world. Covid has painfully reminded us of our common, and vulnerable, humanity. None are superior or inferior. Greatness and weakness have potential within all humanity’s diversity.
It was Francis of Assisi who reminded us that ‘sameness’ and relationship extend beyond human boundaries. He referred to the sun and moon, animals, and plants, as brothers and sisters. We human beings must seek commonality not simply with all human beings but also with the natural order. Since the commencement of the industrial revolution, we have seen ourselves as ‘apart from’ the natural order over which we have sought sovereignty and control. Through natural disaster, the last few years have demonstrated how foolish this ambition has been.
In similar manner, Putin is being shown how foolish his attempt for sovereignty over Ukraine has been. Even if he gains control over cities through destructive force, this will not be over. Hopefully those around him will be wise enough to say that respecting others is strength not weakness, and bullying others is weakness not strength.
In the meantime, as we lift our prayers and direct our thoughts to the brave people of Ukraine, we would all do well to remember that respect for boundaries, wherever they are, builds trust and respect. At the same time, we must also remember that on either side of the boundary people are the same. The Russian people, themselves, must take their rightful place as significant contributors to a peaceful world order.