[Be The Change] Understanding the Ukraine Crisis + How To Help

Street artist MyDogSighs

Every so often, a world event hits us in such a wide eyed way that we have to dive down a rabbit hole of history and education we’ve delicately put to bed. Maybe it’s been the onslaught of chaos in the world these last few years that’s pushed you away from International affairs. It’s a lot. Or, maybe history was never really your thing. Admittedly, that’s what I thought – first in High School, then in college. It wasn’t until about 2008 that I came to terms with the depth of the reality I was living in. I realized that to prevent the past from becoming the future it’s my due diligence to understand the full story of humanity.

This is a story that’s happened before, and if we’re not careful – it very well could happen again. Our world is a reflection of the self, and our understanding of the world – doubly so. Good news is that it’s never too late to dive in; it’s never to late to educate yourself.


So, how the hell did we get here?

All things considered, the digestible timeline here is the one you have the time to stomach. If you thought “haven’t we been here before?” You’re damn right. It simply depends where you want to drop in on the wealth of Kremlin inspired misinformation and massive Russian influence.

Rewind back to the 2014’s Ukrainian Crisis – where some could argue, that the fighting simply never stopped these last 8 years. Or, you could look at 2004’s corrupt and Russian influenced Ukrainian elections which ignited the Orange Revolution and a massive shift in geopolitical rhetoric. Or, go further: back to 1991, when Ukraine – the second largest country in the former USSR and the second largest country in Eurasia – claimed it’s independence. Or, there’s the historical plight of the Jewish communities throughout the region that have gone on for centuries. So, let’s break it down:

December 1991: After the USSR was dismantled and the Soviet Union fell, the Ukrainian people voted for their independence.

1994: Ukraine agrees to make themselves a non-nuclear power, and the country transfers their nuclear arsenal of weapons to the Russian Federation in the Budapest Memorandum. Signed by the UK, Russia and the United States, The memorandum states that all parties agree to honor the sovereignty of Ukraine, and their right to the land. The total payload given away was 1,900 warheads – the third largest stockpile in the world.

2004 Election: During the 2004 election, there were two distinctly different candidates – both named Viktor: Russian sponsored Viktor Yanukovych and the western-oriented Viktor Yushchenko, who was suspiciously poisoned before the election. No surprise here that Yanukovych won – however, the Ukrainian people called bullshit and took to the streets wearing orange, the campaign color for Yushchenko and inspiring the Orange Revolution. Eventually, a re-election was forced where Yushchenko was finally proven to be the true winner.

Spring 2008: During a NATO summit, Putin opposes then eventually prevents Ukraine from joining. Remember this, as NATO itself is the military alliance between the two North American Countries and 28 countries from Europe.

Winter 2014: Well, who could have imagined, Russian sponsored Viktor Yanukovych was elected president in 2010; now, he wants to point the nation of Ukraine to reconcile with Russia. Widely considered a controversial move, this is one of the straw’s that started the 2014 protests along with the timely arrest of Yanukovych’s political opponent Yulia Tymoshenko. Ultimately, Viktor flees to Russia and puts Ukraine in a progressive position to discuss its future with the EU.

Spring 2014: The Russian military forcibly takes the Crimea, and essentially breaks all vows made in the Budapest Memorandum concerning Ukraine’s independence, as well as their borders.

Spring 2019: Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the current man-crush of the free world, is elected president of Ukraine on the platform of ending ties with Russia, as well as eradicating corruption from state government.

December 2021: Over the course of the year, President Zelenskyy has made good on his promises to get rid of government corruption, making moves against all Ukrainian oligarchs with Pro-Russian influence. By December, Putin places Russian troops at the Ukrainian border in addition to calling on NATO to deny Ukraine future admittance

February 2022: Russia announces they recognize the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states from Ukraine, and sends in Russian military personnel. These two regions have been hotbeds of separatists since the 2014 conflict. Eventually leading to full out engagement by Russians and the invasion of Ukraine from those provinces.


Whichever way you go back, you eventually have to bring that knowledge forward which gets us to where we are today. International timelines have been expedited and the global economy has been put on notice. Ukraine has become a stage, and Putin wants to put on a one man show; for Europe, and for the world. One of the biggest threats to both Putin’s Russia, as well as his legacy, is a unified European Union; through Putin’s actions and the events of the last two weeks, that unification has become a self fulfilling prophecy. Nations around the world are freezing assets of high value players, while countries like Norway, Finland and the notoriously neutral Switzerland have picked a side.


The world has lit a candle to drive out the darkness of this terror- here is the international response level:


We all have our own sorted reasons for the things that move us, the things that drive us and the things that open our eyes. On a personal level, my Jewish family line comes from modern day Lithuania, formerly the Eastern Block of Europe. For more of my life, I’ve been regaled with harrowing family stories of pogroms – where the translation from Russian is “to demolish violently”, of escaping SS persecution in a wheelbarrow before coming to America, and escaped persecution for being Jewish; and I full well know my story isn’t unique.

Take or make some time to reflect on the privileges that you have and the freedoms that you have -and remember: an injustice somewhere is an injustice every where. Right now, more than ever, it’s important that our global society stands up – and stands together. Whether it’s a small act of service like supporting local Ukrainian businesses and artists, learning the Ukrainian language or buying Ukranian – there are ample ways that we can show our solidarity to the Ukrainian communities both domestic and abroad.

I’ve spent the last few days compiling lists…of…well…other lists. If you’re looking for resources to help you understand the latest international events, or simply show support for Ukraine during this uncertain time, here are some things to get you going.


[📚 Read] For all the education we can glean from reading the news, there are some books I’ve seen recommended time and time again to understand the brevity of the Ukrainian situation. As well as a few other blogs, websites and Reddit forums I greatly recommend browsing. They’ve helped me broaden my horizons as well as deepen my understanding of the past that’s brought us here, as well as the future implications of current events.

Why Is Russia Invading Ukraine

Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine [Anne Applebaum]

Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine [Anna Reid]

The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine [Serhii Plokhy]

All The Kremlin’s Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin [Mikhail Zygar]

r/Ukraine on Reddit

[Foreign Affairs Magazine] How to Understand the Ukraine Crisis


[📞Engage] Call your local politicians and ask what they are doing to show their solidarity and support for humanity; ask your employeer to make a public call to action. I was proud to be a Washingtonian last week when our governor Jay Inslee spoke out with his support of Ukraine, and I’m a proud Acosta employee today as they made a formal statement to their employees.


[💸Give] There are dozens of international organizations that are pledging their support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people; if you have the ability to share more than just your time and your heart, please pledge some support to one or more of the following agencies.

UNICEF

International Committee of the Red Cross

UN Refugee Agency

Doctors Without Borders

International Medical Corps

State Specific: Ukrainian Association of Washington


Please remember that though these acts of war and acts against humanity have come from Putin’s Russia, they are not indicative of how the Russian people think or feel. In fact, there have been loud cries from its citizens for ‘No War‘, whether it’s via social media or written on a camera during a televised tennis match. Take care of each other, take care of yourselves – and slava Ukrani.

Flag: Ukraine on Apple iOS 14.6

[Self Discovery] Holding Space for Grief

For the most part, I consider myself an upbeat rationalist, a positive pragmatist of sorts. I try and take the world as it comes: framing things in a true and positive light, holding myself accountable for understanding uncomfortable feelings and holding space for my emotions. But it’s not always rainbows and butterflies; from time to time – life can get my down and out and the grey cloud that lives in the corner of my mental state overrides the good feelings I try and project. Depression and anxiety start getting in the way – and whisperings of pessimism start to rain on my parade. In moments like those, I turn to my support system.

Half due to my childhood and my parents having split custody right when the internet was coming into being, half due to moving across a thousand miles over the course of the last three years – my life has evolved me into someone adept at processing emotions with a distant support system. It’s not exactly a skill set that’s wanted, or typically needed – but I’ve found that in quarantine this past year, it’s a skill set worth sharing.

I’ve feel – a lot. I feel deeply, often uncontrollably, and am affected often for days by sensitive information. Growing up in therapy, I realized that I simply feel the underpinnings of depression and grief in differing, unique and novel ways than most – and I’ve learned the best way to cope with them when you feel out of touch, physically, mentally and emotionally. In all, it’s also taught me better tools for how to deal with, hold space for, and transition out of emotional states which no longer serve me. I should preface this by saying that no, I’m not a therapist, I’m not a licensed psychologist and am in no way a professional grief counselor; however, I have been through my fare share of trials and tribulations, and sincerely others on their journey to brighter days and simply hope I can do the same for others.


From unshakable life experiences to minor disturbances, grief is an unavoidable truth that knocks us off our personal paths and often into uncharted, or at the very least – chaotic, emotional territory. An unfortunate tenant of living, grief afflicts us all at some point – no matter who your status, friends, family, or vocation. It’s essential that we have a mental tool kit that allows others, as well as ourselves, to hold space for important emotions.

Quarantine has done a number on many people, from the loss of family, friends and significant others down to the loss of their jobs, or semblances of normalcy. We’re all distant from each other, and it’s human nature to pine for human connection – especially under duress; being able to hold space for grief is an important facet in our relationships, and to discover new ways to do so in our “new” normal seems doubly important.

All emotions deserve equal mental weight, and there simply ‘bad’ emotions – the idea of a bad emotion is a personal pejorative we place on a moment in time; what can in one second be viewed as a ‘negative’ can easily be transmuted over time to be a ‘positive’. For example: you were unhappy in your vocation and have had to re-evaluate your job, maybe quitting – possibly being let go; in the moment, it’s stressful to find a new position – but months later, after you’ve found a new gig that you truly care about – you view the transition in a positive light.

Sure, one could just dismiss bad feelings and move on from them, but that means you’re choosing to avoid further knowledge of self and spring load your evolution. The fear is that by ignoring, passing over or not holding space for important emotions will create a negative feedback loop where you’re eventually out of sync with your mental space, potentially re-creating the same problems for yourself because you haven’t chosen to reconcile those very emotions.

One holds space for grief, so that they can rebuild emotionally – remember the lessons, accept their new truths and move forward with the mind, heart and soul in tact. In it’s most basic sense, to “hold space” for anything means that your intention as an outside influence is simply to exist with the other person, and let whoever is going through the emotions flow through them at their own pace. As the old adage goes, ‘one does not drown by falling in the water – one drowns by staying there’ and that can be extrapolated onto holding space for emotions that seem to get in our way of daily life. By holding space for others, we accept them for everything they are, for their humanity, their brilliance in handling life, and their beauty in wishing to transmute through their emotions. We actively build a more open and honest relationship, built with integrity and without judgement – and through those relationships, we evolve into better versions of ourselves.


While negotiating our own grief is one thing, it’s important to acknowledge that helping someone else with theirs is a bird of a completely different color and no two people are identical in the way they need to process their individual traumas and truths. Helping others in times of need instinctually reminds us of our own needs, for comfort, for closeness, and for community; and while learning the love languages of others, we can be reminded of what our own needs are in times of trial and tribulation.

First and foremost, the best way to be there for someone is by – well – being there. Being available, and being authentic and asking questions without judgement. Sometimes, just being in their ether and letting one know that they’re simply not alone can be the most helpful thing you can do. Here are a other few ways we can ‘hold space’ for others

  • Ask without prying; let them explore their emotions on their own accord and at their own speed
  • Give permission to others to explore their own innate wisdom and intuition without guiding or steering them through yours
  • Empower others to create their own reality, don’t take that power away by applying your own judgements or opinions
  • Reserve judgement and opinions, even if explicitly asked. What works for you on an emotional, mental and spiritual level doesn’t always translate into the life of others.
  • Remove your ego from their situation; this is not about you, it’s about them
  • Create a safe space to explore difficult emotions
  • Remind them that it’s okay to feel, and fail at moving forward from feelings, what’s important is understanding the feelings – not the speed at which we get over them, but the value of getting through them
  • Don’t force anyone down your own rabbit holes. It’s human nature to believe that we have the ‘best’ of all possible ways, mechanisms, etc to get through this life – what’s good for us, isn’t necessarily the best for others. Allow space for others to explore their unique paths and truths.

Now, back to love languages for a moment – there are essentially five types of love languages: sharing emotions and words of affirmation, sharing physical space and quality time, human touch, gifting and acts of service. So, how does this translate to a digital world? Thanks to quarantine and COVID, three of those five are a bit harder to do than before. Those who desire to be held and physically loved, or who need to be physically surrounded by others are feeling the hit much more than others. It’s important to acknowledge when that love language is being ignored. Thankfully, our current technology has allowed us to reach out to others and keep in touch – more or less; sure, the digital world we’re living in leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to holding space for our emotions and mental space but lately I’ve found it to be more helpful than hurtful.

Helping someone who needs physical touch? Send a written note, a stuffed animal, stress ball, or even some of their favorite snacks. If you’re assisting someone who could use quality time, set up a Zoom or a FaceTime call to check in – smiling is contagious, and we could really all use a dose of actual connection every now and again!


The human condition is a complex web, it would be remiss to say that grief isn’t part of it – but it’s only a part, it’s not the whole. As my mom used to and still tells me, ‘This, too, shall pass.’ The totality of the human condition, the complete nature of it, is one of love, one of perseverance, one of beauty – however ephemeral that might be. Emotionally, we are not islands – our human nature means that we thrive on communication, culture and connection. It’s in our human nature to reach out, to feel down to our core and to explore every facet of ourselves. If we’ve disconnected from our authentic selves, disallowing ourselves to marinate within our mental space and avoiding our emotional truths – that human connection becomes impossible, because our self connection has disintegrated. How could we possibly be kind to others, love others, and hold space for others – when we’ve declined to do so for ourselves? Having others around to remind you that you are enough the way you are, you are accepted the way you are, and that you will get through whatever you’re facing is an incredible feeling, a formidable bond, and tantamount to our experience on this Earth.

What are some ways that others have held space for you that have been beneficial? How have you held space for the grief of others?

Leave some helpful hints for other readers in the comments below.


Resources

For those looking for a bit more assistance, knowledge or both – I’ve put together a small list of resources to expand your emotional repertoire.

Reads:

Websites and Hotlines

One thing about living in 2021: the internet provides – there are ample support groups on every corner of the internet, if you know where to look. Here are a few that I recommend: