Five years ago to this day I was in Kiev, Ukraine. Two things struck me even then. First, the enormous suffering that has visited – and continues to visit – Ukraine through modern history. In the downtown area by my hotel was a long wall holding hundreds of photos of men who had recently died along the eastern border, fighting Russian separatists. The battle situation had devolved into trench warfare. It was ugly and raw. Flowers and candles sat below photographs; women wept before images of their fallen men: husbands, sons, and fathers.
Around the corner from my Kiev hotel I saw memorials to Ukrainians who had been shot by army snipers during the revolution exactly 3 years before, in 2014, when widespread riots broke out leading to the downfall of Ukrainian President Viktor Yankovitch and the overthrow of the government.
The recent loss of life in the past 8 years wasn’t unique. During that trip to Kiev I also visited the Museum of the Great Patriotic War (which we refer to as WWII). Ukraine incurred the greatest number of casualties on the Eastern front during WWII, with an estimated 8 million people dying (5.5-6 million civilians, and more than 2.5 million combatants on the front lines). This loss of life followed an estimated 3.5 – 7 million Ukrainian people who starved to death in the 1932-1933 “Holodomor” (literally “death inflicted by starvation”) holocaust, a man-made famine engineered by the Soviet government of Joseph Stalin, targeting rural farmers and villagers. The pain and death of millions of Ukrainian people in modern history is simply staggering.
The second thing that struck me about Ukraine was the deep spirituality of the people. I witnessed Russian Orthodox church ceremonies and also walked with believers deep into the Kyevo-Pechora’ka Lavra caves holding candles to illuminate my way.
I feel for the Ukrainian people who, once again, are facing the terror and destruction of war.