A Distant War that's Close to Home and Heart
The war that few expected drags on, and a country that many of us could not immediately find on the map is now as familiar as the house next door. Our 24-hour news cycle delivers constant details of perilous life and senseless death in Ukraine.
Confronted by stories of pain, loss, and inhumanity - we are emotionally affected. How can we not be? Many of us have neighbors and acquaintances with ties to Eastern Europe. Some of us have family roots there. America feels personally connected to this independent country in the dark shadow of Russian President Vladimir Putin's visions of building a renewed Soviet empire.
The man who would be president-for-life made many mistakes in his assumption about Russia's military prowess. Aside from underestimating Ukraine's extremely competent President Volodymyr Zelenskyy – Putin never considered the commitment of the country's people to stand strong and fiercely resist. Or how governments worldwide would react by sending military equipment and financial support moments after the invasion began.
But one of the most telling stories is not about tanks, planes, and guns – it's about how Putin's actions rallied companies and nonprofits around the world. The list of corporations denying services to Russia is long – major tech companies like Microsoft and Accenture shut down access. Mastercard won't honor any Russian-held cards, Amazon isn't taking or delivering any orders, FedEx won't pick up or deliver in Russia or Belarus. Hundreds of global corporations are doing the same.
But what we, tucked away and safe at home, hear the most about are nonprofits and NGOs whose volunteers put themselves in the middle of Ukrainian towns that are under siege with bombs reigning down both night and day. When I read those stories of compassion and sacrifice, I also want to help - in a meaningful and personal way. If I was closer or wealthy or younger or ....? But I'm not, so I follow some of those who can, and do, make a difference. Here's just one among many NGOs that are there, on the ground, saving lives and giving hope.
World Central Kitchen is is an NGO started by Jose' Andres' and his wife, Patricia. The Andres' philosophy is simple and essential: "When people are hungry, send in cooks. Not tomorrow, today. Everyone knows that food is central to life and family all over the world. What we learned very quickly was that food is even more essential in a crisis."
The organization started out in Haiti – responding to the 2010 earthquake and then growing to address needs around the world. The couples' approach, however, was different. They learned to cook meals indigenous to the cultures they visited with their program. Why? According to Andres - "You see, food relief is not just a meal that keeps hunger away. It's a plate of hope. It tells you in your darkest hour that someone, somewhere, cares about you."
Now in Ukraine, WCK has delivered 300,000 daily meals in some of the most devastated parts of the country. Their army of volunteers went to small towns outside of Kyiv where families had been trapped for a month. Andres says his team was the first inside the besieged town of Irpin where they gave away "hundreds of hot meals" and 6000 kilos (13,227 lbs.) of food for families to prepare. They've delivered food to "bomb shelters, hospitals, churches, seniors, and people trapped on the front lines," according to a recent report. WCK coordinated deliveries by truck and train. The group is active in 75 shelters in Lviv, where 200,000 evacuees fled their homes.
So, I am reading about this remarkable program, its staff, and volunteers who put themselves in danger minute by minute – in and for a country a lot of us didn't know how to spell a month ago. And I am feeling helpless to help. Outside of sending money to groups like WCK, what's to be done when we're not wealthy, powerful, and able to jet off to become a volunteer at ground zero?
I talked a bit with Dr. Captane Thomson – an accomplished psychiatrist whose life has been spent caring for the well-being of others. After xx years of practice, Cap is pretty much familiar with every human injustice and pain. "It's terrible, the suffering of all the civilians – a massacre, a real disaster," he laments, admitting that many of us feel powerless to do anything meaningful.
He says that reaching out and helping people in our own community may be the closest we can come to "doing something." He suggests that some people have particular skills that might be useful to the Ukraine cause – organizing, disseminating information, raising funds, helping Ukrainian volunteers from a distance. Outside of that, self-care in the midst of feeling powerless is important. Do what we can, rather than lament what we cannot do. Get out an envelope and write a note to a friend you haven't seen in a while (U.S. mail, folks, no texting), do a kindness for someone - bake bread or cook a meal and give it to a neighbor, offer someone a ride to a medical appointment, pull weeds and plant something beautiful. It's in the doing of 'something' that we find our power over doing nothing.
So – today’s ‘doing’ for me: I've got a dog walk in mind, followed by working on a website for a community group that directly helps my neighbors. You likely have your own coping strategies when awash in that 'helpless' feeling. And that's a good instinct - it's part of how humans survived from knuckle draggers to evolved saints and sinners.
And, in case you want to read more about World Central Kitchen, here's a link to current updates on their work in Ukraine and another to their donation page. I'm going there myself.
Thanks as always for reading my rambling thoughts! And for letting me know about what's happening in your world. I loved reading about some of your special, outstanding memories last week. Write to me at email@example.com - I read and respond to you with interest and gratitude.
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