What is just now sinking in – in the deepest way – is that the Ukrainian refugees left everything behind and none of it will be there when they come back.
At first, the scene seemed one of people leaving ‘just in case,’ thinking they’d be back soon to swing by the coffee shop for a latte before heading back home. One writer described doing the dishes and taking out the trash before she packed up to leave her home to head to Poland. She didn’t want to come back to a messy kitchen.
The early pictures of people waiting for trains to go west included dozens of people with their beloved cats. The world loved that – Ukrainians and their cats. It was a meme made in heaven.
Aren’t they something, those Ukrainians, so resilient, so photogenic?
This was before whole blocks of apartment buildings were bombed, before civilians embarking on what they were told was ‘safe passage’ were shot, and before pregnant women and babies were hustled out of a destroyed maternity hospital.
Before the pregnant woman on a stretcher carried by four soldiers lost her baby and then died herself. There isn’t a meme for that.
I admire the toughness of Ukrainians, their fierceness, and their never-ending determination to keep what is theirs. It is the stuff of movies, the incredible resourcefulness and camaraderie of The Great Escape, the ‘no matter how many times you stop us we’ll keep digging escape tunnels’ attitude of the POW’s in the German prison camp. If you’ve watched the whole movie, you know that no matter how gallant and inventive the POW’s are, most of them end up getting shot in the end. Before that, their quirky bravery charms us. Sort of like now.
No one need be impressed that the bottomless horror of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is just now sinking in for me. I saw what I was able to see, what I wanted to see. A bad situation that would resolve itself quickly, where people could come home and make a pot of soup and talk with their children about how brave they all were and then they would wash the dishes and take out the trash. And hold their cats on their laps.
It’s not going to be like that.
I wish I knew more or had a more sophisticated analysis, but I don’t. I only know that what is happening in Ukraine is horrible and going to get worse. And I have to keep paying attention.