People have asked me if I have any relatives in Ukraine. I decided to reply to them by writing to let everyone know that we are no longer close. My mother was also born in Kiev and my father’s family moved to Kiev when he was a young boy. However, we moved away in 1975 when I was seven and have not stayed in contact since then.
It’s not a place I feel a strong connection to. To the extent I have a cultural link, it’s to Russia, because Russian is my native language; indeed, I don’t speak Ukrainian, and I don’t recall even ever hearing Ukrainian spoken—Kiev was a highly Russified city at the time. Due to my family’s deep relationship to Russian culture, I had strong cultural connections growing up. However, none to the Ukrainians.
My ethnicity is Jewish. In the past, Jews were an ethnicity. If I had any emotional connections with an ethnic group it would not be Ukrainians. In any case, I am connected to my forefathers and my memories, but not to those over there. (You might have noticed that I call the city of my birth the Russian-derived Kiev, not the Ukrainian-derived Kyiv, partly because that’s how I grew up thinking about it, and partly because that’s the traditional English-language term; we, which is to say we Americans, say Russia, Moscow, and Ukraine, not Rossiya, Moskva, and Ookraina—likewise with Kiev.)
This is why I approach it as an American and not Ukrainian-American, Russian-American, or Jewish American. My heart is with the Ukrainians. This seems to have been a senseless and unjustified attack on an imperfect, but largely democratic country by a dictator. This will be a terrible atrocity in human history. The Putin-Hitler rhetoric seems ridiculously exaggerated (though it is still early days). Putin is neither a Stalin nor a Lenin. Thankfully, today’s Russia isn’t the Soviet Union of 1938, 1970, or 1980. The truth is that strong countries invade their weak neighbors for the sole purpose of grabbing territory or imposing obedience is a common occurrence in human history. This has not been the case, however, over the past several decades.
However, even when you put things in perspective, Putin’s actions are inexcusable. And I really hope they don’t backfire. While I wouldn’t fault the Ukrainians for surrendering to the inevitable, I’m deeply touched by the courage and determination shown so far.
However, all of this seems pretty mundane, so I didn’t feel the need to write. My opinions on the topic are likely to be no different and definitely not more informed than that of many millions. However, some people wrote to me, to share their sympathy, so I thought that I would write back.