Ukraine isn’t as far away as you might think, and neither are the world’s bullies

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Cinthia Stimson, editor,

I’m sitting in front of the computer screen, trying to keep my mind on my work, but my eyes keep glancing at my phone to see if there’s a notification from my friend, Maryna.

She lives in Ukraine.

I met Maryna (pronounced like Marina, but roll your Rrrrs) online, in a global artist’s group where we share our creations with collectors and like-minded souls.

“Just call me Mary. It is easier for Americans. People not from here don’t understand how to say my name. I don’t mind,” she said.

I pressed her further.  “Okay, but what’s your actual name? I want to know.”

She told me. We’ve been friends ever since. She’s 20 years younger than I am (at least). She makes these incredible hand-woven beaded earrings with patterns she’s adapted from ethnic Ukrainian folk art.

One of the patterns she uses is called “One-eyed Lady.” It’s a stick figure woman with a flowered dress on, with one eye in the center of her forehead. She makes these with black, red and white Czech glass seed beads.

Another traditional pattern she calls “Ugly Bird.” Recently she put a pair up for sale with one One-Eyed Lady earring and one Ugly Bird earring. They make quite the pair in the same matching color scheme. And, because they’re both adapted from the Ukrainian folk patterns, they fit together perfectly.

I look at my phone again.

Nothing, yet.

It’s been 10 hours since anyone in our beading circle has heard from her. We usually speak a couple of times a week, catching up on life and one another’s families.

Maryna’s really funny, too, especially when we have challenges crossing the cultural communication lines. I bet she thinks I’m funny, too.

We were secret Santa exchange partners for Christmas. She sent me beaded earrings in traditional colors of her country, which I received mid-January. I mailed her earrings that I made just prior to the new year. She still hasn’t received them. I tracked them through our post office and can see that they made it to the Ukrainian Post, but got lost from there. I wanted to make her another pair but that seems so inconsequential now.

The imminent threat of Russia invading Ukraine has affected their country for far too long, but as of Feb. 23, it’s was no longer a threat – it’s a reality. Russia invaded Ukraine on several different sides. People are dead. Buildings are blown up. Several hundred thousand have gone to European countries to seek refuge from the Russians trying to take over their country. But the majority of the people in their country are standing as tall as their Ukrainian Army soldiers did on Snake Island over the weekend; they faced off a battleship and said, “Russian warship. Go **** yourself.”

There’s no way to sanitize war.

Maryna spoke so matter-of-factly about it a day ago: “Life is short. Use this (sic) expensive beads you’ve kept for special projects.”

We’re always saving something for that special day, that special occasion, aren’t we?

What if there is no tomorrow for Maryna or for her Ukrainian countrywomen and men? What if tomorrow never comes for any of us?

“Life is short – I feel it today, especially. I don’t know how often I’ll come out here (online). War already started,” she said.

“I looked at all I have and understand that I may never use this perfect expensive beads I kept for that special day. I’m staying calm and keep doing my every day things,” she wrote in our group last week after the Russian invasion had started.

I don’t pretend to have a worldly grasp on the politics of war. I understand enough.

I look at my phone again. Ah, finally! Maryna has put out a message in our group, although her words are bleak.

“I didn’t post anything last days. Was so scared and under bombing without any spot to hide, but I am in safe place now. Our army protecting us. Whole country is supporting them with supplies, information, emotional support. But lot of people dying. Chernobyl is under Russian control. It is not only about us. Whole world will be affected,” she said.

We are not as insulated from the war in Ukraine as we may think we are – not in this day and age. We’re moments away from our friends, even loved ones.

One day she says she feels safe, the next day she realizes no place in her country is safe. Maryna’s strength in the face of missiles just yards away is admirable. She sent us photos of plumes of smoke in the air from the explosions, showing us how close they were.

Problems are easier to deal with when they’re in someone else’s backyard, aren’t they?

“I’m afraid. But I am also strong and I will make it, survive. I will live. So our country will, too,” she wrote.

Her last post shows a shaky video of a town, much like ours, but with a missile explosion in the air above.

“I thought I moved to safe place but now all of Ukraine isn’t safe.”

Keep the people of Ukraine in your hearts and in your prayers.

The reality is, as long as the bullies in this world are allowed to get away with their ugly behavior, the behavior will continue.


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