By Leslie Grossman, Founder, Her Circle Leadership
My two-year obsession with COVID media updates has been replaced with an obsession on news about what’s happening in Ukraine. I’m as upset about the war on this blooming democracy, as I was about COVID. It’s like groundhog day all over again. Only this time, instead of an out-of-control virus, there’s an out-of-control madman trying to kill everyone in his path to take over the peaceful democratic country Ukraine.
Again, I feel helpless like I did two years ago, but instead of reaching out to doctors, I reached out to my colleague Kateryna Pyatybratova at The George Washington University’s Center for Excellence in Public Leadership. Kateryna was born in Ukraine and still has family there. Who better to answer the question: “What can I do?’
“My own family is representative of how this crisis is affecting our loved ones. It has torn my family apart,”Kateryna said. “One cousin, still a teenager, enlisted today as a volunteer, and another barely escaped with his family before a bomb exploded in front of their apartment in Kiev. We are now trying to help them seek refugee status in America.”
She continued: “My grandparents, now in their 90s, are in Lviv, Ukraine, while my grandfather’s brother is in Russia… Their worst fears of war, a war that still lives in their memories from 80 years ago, came true… And yesterday I finally connected with my half-sister in Ukraine, who had to give up her children into the care of family friends, so they could cross the border to go to Germany, while she stayed behind to support her husband, who is visually-impaired. I cannot imagine what it's like for her as a mother and wife…” Kateryna invited me to an interfaith service this past Sunday where leaders from across major faith and spiritual traditions gathered via Zoom to pray for the people of Ukraine. They called for peace and showed solidarity for the emerging refugee crisis in Europe. Members of the Ukrainian-American community shared stories from friends and family trying to stay alive in Ukraine. According to the United Nations, as of March 1st, more than 600,000 civilians - mostly women, the elderly, and children - have fled Ukraine since Russia started an unjust and catastrophic war against the law-abiding citizens of Ukraine. According to news reports, thousands have been waiting for up to 60 hours in the freezing cold to cross border points. Lines have been up to 10 miles long. Families with nothing more than one suitcase, have been forced to abandon their homes to protect themselves and their children. In this brave country, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians stayed behind or returned to Ukraine from other countries to fight against the Russians, at risk of losing their lives. They are standing up for their homeland, which they love, inspired by their courageous leader President Zelensky, and are willing to give their life to democracy and their freedom. This should not be happening. The world must stop this war. I met many of these courageous Ukrainians when Kateryna invited me to participate in a leadership development workshop she put together with the US-Ukraine Foundation for visiting delegations of civic leaders and entrepreneurs. As part of the leadership training, delegates were asked to do a values exercise, during which they could chose a set of values cards, representing what is dear to them. The group stood in a circle, and together, we simulated an experience where they were asked to give up these value cards, one by one, due to life changes and calamities. The exercise was meant to clarify what is truly important to each person, what makes them who they are. However, many clung on to their last values cards, which, in their words, represented connection with loved ones, honesty with themselves, and dignity. A few shed tears during that simulation, when asked to give up their final values card, refusing to go through with it. Given the events of the past week, I cannot help but think about all of them, and what they, and their families, are going through. What if an aggressive nation like Russia threatened our country or state or town with their military, and we were forced to leave our homes and find protection, a safe place to sleep and food for our children, abandoning all that we worked so hard to achieve? It could happen to us. Ukrainians and Americans must stand together. We must identify with these hard-working people, who are no different than we are – peace loving citizens, trying to create a better future for their families. Kateryna is now leading the work with faith-based organizations in Ukraine that are helping internally-displaced people and refugees fleeing the war zone. 100% of the funds collected go towards those needing help. As one example, the first $1,000 collected through this event went to a family center in Zhytomyr, Ukraine, that served over 200 people in the last few days. The family center is located 70km from Kiev and became one of the first stop points for families moving from the capital region westward. A small team works 24/7 to help prepare meals for all who stop by, launder sheets and towels to ensure clean living conditions. They need resources for food, including children’s food and diapers, blankets, and medical supplies. You can donate to this effort, Razom (Together) With Ukraine here. Donate as much as you can afford here.
I also urge you to join the “Let’s Welcome Refugees” Facebook group, moderated by Kateryna and other coordinators of the interfaith event. Let us all pray for peace and push our legislators to do what is necessary to stop this humanitarian crisis and this world war. -Leslie Grossman, senior fellow and faculty director, Executive Women’s Leadership, The George Washington University Center for Excellence in Public Leadership, and founder, Her Circle Leadership