The other day, The Telegraph wrote to me to ask me to write a piece about Ukraine, and the events unfolding. ‘We want to know how you feel about seeing the flag unfurling so often, in the media.’ The Flock Magazine asked me similar questions.
How do I feel? How do we feel, as a people? It’s a complicated question to answer.
My grandparents on both sides survived escaping Ukraine in WWII, and their subsequent time in German labor camps. I grew up with Ukrainian as my first language, I grew up listening to their stories, knowing that Ukraine was always the borderland under the threat of war. And still, Ukrainians grow up with a solid sense of pride in who we are, but never really proclaiming it loudly and consistently on an international stage; we’ve never had the chance to. We display the coat of arms (the Tryzub) proudly in our communities, we know the meaning and history of the sky blue and gold flag, we look at the Mother Motherland statue, a monument to defiance in times of politics and war, we embroider our stories on our shirts and tablecloths and pillows. But the recent events have made us all take stock in truly how we feel.
A lot of us are parents. Many of us are business owners, artists, musicians, authors, students, and farmers. But every single one of us is a soldier now. The Ukraine you see on the news lately is the Ukraine that has always existed in all of us; we are always ready to defend who we are and what we want for our country. And while we’re taking whatever steps we need to make our voices heard, the rest of the world is gathering our flag and wrapping themselves in it with the same pride. It’s truly astonishing. Here Ukrainians are, regular people risking their lives to do battle with a country that has long been a shadow looming at their door… and the world is erupting in protest, updating their social channels with Ukrainian flag emojis, sharing videos of Ukrainians singing the national anthem in bunkers, saying how proud they are to stand with all of us.
“Would you risk everything you have to protect the thing you love the most?”
For the first time in my life as a proud Ukrainian, I no longer have to explain to people who we are and where we are on the map. There exists an acknowledgement that we are a people who just want our own piece of sky, our own independence; we want to take care of the country we’ve held so dear.
How do we feel? Well, imagine someone coming into your house and telling you they were going to tell your child what to wear, what to say, how to behave. Imagine the threat of someone taking away a part of your heart right in front of you. Would you stand there and accept it, knowing that life would always be just a little bit worse? Or would you risk everything you have to protect the thing you love the most?
In a way, this is the thread that binds us, even if we aren’t Ukrainian, which is why so many countries are standing in crowds and shouting Slava Ukrayini (Glory to Ukraine). We can all understand the fight, the fierce pull of hope and freedom. And maybe that’s how we, as Ukrainians, feel. It’s a kinship. It’s knowing that people are willing to fight with us. It’s knowing that we are all going to protect what we hold dear; we are all mothers.
Tetyana Denford is a writer, translator, and the author of the critically acclaimed Motherland: War and hope in Ukraine. Find her at @tetyanawrites.