They brought one of Nazi Germany’s bureaucrats to Cleveland after the war, and he toured The Flats, gazing in astonishment over an endless expanse of steel mills. The man said that if Hitler could have stood here and seen this infinite source of U.S. production, he would have done whatever it took to avoid going to war with the country that contained it.
I’ve been thinking of that story, told to me by my father, today—in a less industrial way.
First off, do you realize the size of Ukraine? You’re going to rule an unwilling country that size, full of people built like the ones I know here in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood?
Even after 10 years of living here, I don’t know any one of my Ukrainian neighbors deeply. So I don’t want to overstate my cultural knowledge here. But every bit of knowledge I do have, gives me ultimate confidence in the future of an independent Ukraine.
We exchange food and booze around the holidays and sometimes on random summer evenings. Occasionally we can be found in one another’s yards—usually us eating their food or them instructing us on gardening or some other practical matter. We share sympathy with each other’s losses. We share good humor, over the fence.
We’ve not shared much lately, it being February in Chicago—just grim nods over shovels.
But, here’s what I think I know: When it comes to life around the home front, Ukrainians seem to know everything: They are farmers deep in their culture, and so they are tremendously and insistently self-sufficient. In fact, the Ukrainian bank in the neighborhood is called the Selfreliance Federal Credit Union.
Every single Ukrainian I know might be described as: capable, practical, tough, realistic, clever, independent—and some potent, and to-me unfamiliar combination of passionate and unsentimental.
The are also stubborn and fierce, and I’ve seen how they defend their neighborhood and I presume they’ll defend their country the same way: in any way they see fit, and not necessarily by any established rules. (And maybe not necessarily through the Ukrainian military.)
Again: My sample-size is small, and the intimacy of my knowledge is limited and I realize the cultural history with Russia is as complex as it gets.
But my experience tells me that these are serious people, not to be fucked with, even by Russians.
And they’re fine and loyal and generous people who have accepted me and my family as neighbors.
This is going to be a terrible time for them and their people in Ukraine.
But ultimately, I can’t help but believe Russia made a really bad mistake.
Because these people aren’t going anywhere.
And meanwhile, in solidarity with our neighbors, we stand.