Writing of War

The revolution in Ukraine, which began on the Maidan in Kyiv over nine months ago, continues, and to be frank, it has become increasingly more difficult for me to write about it. I never was nor aspired to be a “war correspondent”, and having spent most of the past year writing primarily about political and social upheaval, rioting, revolution, burning tires, snipers, death, kidnappings, torture, “green men”, mercenaries, undeclared war, death and destruction, I am approaching a state of what I can only call emotional and psychological fatigue.
For most of the fourteen years that I have been writing this column, I have enjoyed covering a wide spectrum of subject areas – history, art, culture, literature, music, folklore, travel, satire, food, politics, and much more. The only common thread in my writings was that they provided some insight into the Ukrainian identity and experience of not only me as an individual, but those of my generation that grew up as Ukrainians within Canadian society. Being a Ukrainian Canadian is a complex reality, and I have relished the challenge of analyzing and making sense of that reality.
It is true that I have at times delved into those aspects of Ukrainian history such as the Holodomor, the Internment of Ukrainians in Canada during World War I, and the heroic though futile struggle of many different Ukrainian rebellions against foreign exploitation or oppression. These touched on the darker or more tragic side of the Ukrainian experience. However, for the most part, as difficult as they must have been for the participants, and as moved as I may have been at their consequences, I was able to maintain a certain detachment, as they did not involve me personally or directly.
The events of the past year however, have hit me in a very personal way. This is largely because I have lived in Ukraine and personally trod on much of the very ground where these tragic events are taking place.
During the Orange Revolution, my wife and I too stood on the Maidan, day in and day out, with many of the same individuals, activists and politicians that were prominent on the Euromaidan these past nine months. My experience then was fortunately much more peaceful and bloodless, but it forged an emotional tie that lasts to this day. I stood on those very same cobblestones near the Maidan that are now stained with the blood of the “Heavenly Hundred”.
I also spent some time travelling through that part of Donetsk and Luhansk regions where much of the fighting and killing has been going on these past few months, and have personal friends and acquaintances that live there. I visited many of those villages that now lie in ruins from the fighting that has been raging throughout the Donbas in the past few months. This struggle is not something abstract or distant to me. It is something that reaches directly into my own personal experiences and psyche.
It is therefore not surprising that the pain, which Ukraine has been suffering of late, resonates strongly in my own consciousness. Their pain is my pain. John Donne’s classic observation of “Each man’s death diminishes me for I am involved in mankind” becomes less of an abstract notion and more of a personal wound as I realize that it may be my young cousins and fellow Ukrainians, which I know personally, that are dying out there at the hands of Putin’s amoral and brutal mercenaries.
As a journalist, I am expected to rise above the fray and to analyze and report on the events happening in Ukraine as objectively and dispassionately as I can, regardless of their traumatic nature. That, as I am finding out, is easier said than done. I realize that, increasingly, I am writing about what is happening now in Ukraine not as a detached observer, but as one who senses all the pain, anger and frustration of those who are directly involved on the scene, and that cannot but exact a toll on one’s well-being.
Yet, as difficult as it may seem to me, the challenge pales in comparison to what my fellow Ukrainians are facing on the front lines in Donetsk and Luhansk. My “fatigue” is a nit in the face of the bullets, shells, tanks and missiles that they have to face daily. While I spill virtual ink, they spill blood in defense of their country and the right to live in dignity and freedom. I must and will persevere. It is the least I can do in honour and respect of their bravery and sacrifice.