Nearly two decades ago, during one of the worst times in my journey, I befriended a group of people in New York City who were a mixture of Polish, Russian and Ukrainian heritage. They became close to me out of a work friendship. They were a non-judgemental, supportive and caring group of people whose family histories and journeys embraced the notion of hardships, missteps and second chances. Over the years, I have remained close with those friends and become acquainted with others in Eastern Europe who have generations have felt the brunt of oppression at home and aggression from their neighbors. There is no question that loss of homes, family wealth and sense of safety has an impact, both positive and negative on the generations that follow.
One friend that I have who lives in the Ukraine was on vacation with her family in Dubai only a few weeks ago. Watching their pictures from the Persian Gulf beaches gave me hope that they would not return to their home in Dnipro, Ukraine until after the Russian servicemen amassed around their borders were no longer there. But, with the belief that even Russian President Vladimir Putin would not be as audacious, reckless and hubristic to invade their proud country, they returned home about a week before tanks crossed the borders from the north, east and Russian-occupied Crimea.
In what has to be one of the greatest Russian miscalculations since the Soviet-Afghan War in 1979, Putin ordered his armed forces into a country that I thought of like a porcupine — easy to catch, hard to swallow.
The invasion has led to condemnation around the world and a ferocious backlash that has included crippling economic sanctions, businesses not known for their human rights records like Exxon and BP pulling out of the country, oligarch’s yachts and villas being seized in Europe, countries as varied as dictator-led Hungary and Japan leveling withering sanctions. It has also led to a Ukrainian resistance that appears to be beyond what most of us anticipated. As a company that is driven by our values to help others, the crisis in the Ukraine — just like other human rights violations that represent caolous disregard for human life like the slaughter of the Rohingya in Myeramar and the Uyghur genocide in China — are something we view as antithetical to what we value most.
We are in the middle of a national and international expansion and Eastern Europe has been very much in my insight, both from the perspective of it being an opportunity to help improve mental health and develop stronger leaders who make the lives of others better. We have taken the position in the past that we will not do business with organizations that do not share our values. For example, while I have close friends who do wonderful work in U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services we have refused to pursue work with their sister agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, because we are of the mind that its enforcement tactics don’t line up with the American poet and Jewish activists call of America to “Give me your tired your poor; your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” While we have no work in Russia, we hope that our partners consider pulling back not to harm the Russian people, but to pressure their government to take a different approach.
I have been hearted to see ten of thousands of protesters across Russia calling for an end to Russia’s war of aggression in the Ukraine. Along with the resistance and resilience of the Ukrainian people, their bravery has been a shining light in this unnecessary darkness.
In the meantime, I will think of those Ukrainians on the Polish and Moldovian borders who are yearning to get aways from the bombing and tanks that threaten their families. I will think of my friend who is in a basement in Dnipro with her cats and siblings trying to avoid being killed by the Russian military. I will think of the Russian servicemen who had no idea that they would truly be asked to invade and kill civilians in another country.
In a recent conversation with one of my friends in the Ukraine, I mentioned that “no one should have to go through this” and added that I hoped others would soon see the wisdom of ending this soon. I told her about Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for freedom to ring across our country, and let her know that my one true home is that freedom soon rings from Lake Yalpug near Odessa to the Ukraiane’s Carpathian Mountains; from Sevastopol to Kyiv; from Donetsk and to Dnipro.
In the meantime, if you are interested in supporting the people of the Ukraine, here are a few avenues:
- Ukraine: How MSF is trying to access the areas most affected by fighting | Doctors Without Borders – USA
- NBU Opens Special Account to Raise Funds for Ukraine’s Armed Forces (updated) (bank.gov.ua)
- Children Are Bearing Brunt Of Intensifying Crisis Ukraine | UNICEF USA
- UKRAINE CRISIS | International Committee of the Red Cross (icrc.org)
- World Central Kitchen (wck.org)
This is the first in a series of posts we will be writing about the Ukraine conflict. The next post will be from my colleague on the effects of war on mental health across the world