A country of great strength, a people of great hope. I recently had the privilege of watching my wife play viola with the Gwinnett Symphony Orchestra, in a concert dedicated to raising funds and support for the Ukrainian people. As I sat in the audience listening, the music and emotion brought with it memories of the time I spent in Ukraine almost a decade ago.
I arrived in Kyiv the night of November 21, 2014, during the first memorial of the Maidan Revolution. Candles, flags, flowers, banners, music playing, people singing and chanting. Juxtaposed feelings of celebration and sadness, of loss but also of gain and victory. The people were so friendly and welcoming. “Where are you from?” “The States, I just got here tonight.” “Thank you for coming to my country! We are so happy you are here! Please, take our picture!” I tried to soak it all in as I wondered Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) with my camera.
Less than a year earlier these same streets I now walked would have looked devastatingly different. In November 2013, people in Kyiv had begun protesting their government's decisions to forgo possible alliances with the European Union and seek closer ties with Russia. In February 2014, what was intended as a peaceful march (inspired by the Orange Revolution of 2004) turned into a tragic, city centered battle between citizens and military/police. In the end, the people gained a new government but not without the sacrifice of over 100 loved ones.
My assignment was to document ministry work being done with local churches and universities as my colleagues helped answer difficult questions. “Where is God in tragedies like this?” “How do I reconcile my faith with having to violently fight for my country?” It was coincidental (or maybe not) that I had arrived the night of the memorial. Work didn’t start until early the next morning, but I wanted a deeper understanding of what had happened so I made my way downtown. It was a beautiful gift, this glimpse into the heart of the Ukrainian people, to experience for a brief moment the love they have for their country and for each other.
I stood there in the center of a city cleaned up yet still scorched and battle torn. Fences covered in photographs surrounded skeletons of buildings not yet restored. These were some of the most incredible photographs I have ever seen - so raw, so real, so human - all taken by locals, capturing both the horrific and joyous moments of this revolution that had taken place just months before. A monument of their courage and unity, a display of their great strength.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to live in a country amid war, but it breaks my heart having heard the fierce stories from the Ukrainians I met, of what they went through then, and to now see what they are facing again as an even larger force presses in on them. At the same time, I know there is hope. I saw it in their eyes and in their hearts as they mourned the loss of their fellow countrymen, as they sang and danced joyfully throughout their city in celebration. A hope like that, deeply rooted in love and sacrifice, never dies.
As the current war continues, my heart and prayers go out to the people of Ukraine, a country and a people of great strength, unity, love, and hope.