sadly, again

Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day, a yearly reminder of massive cruelty and death and an attempt at genocide against the Jewish people during World War II.

It is common to say “never again” but we have continued to see civil wars and government/military actions against civilians and particular groups across the world over these intervening decades, a list so long I will not attempt to compile it here.

Presently, most of the world is watching in horror as Putin’s invasion of Ukraine continues. Because of modern technology and press and residents on the ground, we see the bodies of civilians left in the streets, the cities bombed into rubble, the mass graves. We hear the first-hand accounts of survivors of what they have witnessed and endured, including rape, kidnapping, and torture.

So far, the condemnation of the the vast majority of countries in the United Nations General Assembly, wide-ranging sanctions against Russia, and supplying military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine have not stopped Putin’s aggression and escalation of atrocities. Over and over, Russia has said they will allow ceasefires and humanitarian corridors for evacuation of civilians and for aid to those who are staying but they have never followed through.

In recent days, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres met in person with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. Putin has agreed “in principle” to UN and International Red Cross involvement in humanitarian aid and evacuation of civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol. Talks are ongoing but there is at least hope that there will be some relief for civilians soon.

Meanwhile, Russia is continuing its saber-rattling, signaling that it wants to sweep from eastern Ukraine across the entire south along the Black Sea and into the neighboring country of Moldova. It is also threatening the countries who are aiding Ukraine and sanctioning Russia with retaliation and possible use of weapons of mass destruction. There is already massive evidence that Russia has violated many international laws and even committed war crimes, but, so far, the international community has not been able to stop the war, death, and destruction.

One tool that the UN has is action by the Security Council but Russia is a permanent member with veto power and has blocked all efforts at this. This week, there has been a resolution adopted by the General Assembly which will require any of the five permanent member states who exercises a Security Council veto to appear within ten days before the General Assembly so that all member states can scrutinize and comment on the veto. While they can’t override the veto, it’s at least a public and official action.

Here is a three-paragraph quote from the United Nations story linked above:

“Noting that all Member States had given the Council the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and agreed that it acts on their behalf, he [Liechtenstein’s Ambassador, Christian Wenaweser] underscored that the veto power comes with the responsibility to work to achieve ‘the purposes and principles of the UN Charter at all times‘.

“ ‘We are, therefore, of the view that the membership as a whole should be given a voice when the Security Council is unable to act, in accordance with this Assembly’s functions and powers reflected in the Charter,’ particularly Article 10, he said.

“Article 10 spells out that the Assembly may discuss any questions or matters within the scope of the Charter or the powers and functions of any organs provided for within it, and, except as provided in Article 12, ‘may make recommendations to the Members of the United Nations or to the Security Council or to both on any such questions or matters.’ ”

Meanwhile, we are all watching and hearing about the immense suffering and death every day and trying to be supportive but realizing that we don’t have the power to end this war with a just peace. Part of the tension is not knowing what the next day or week or month will bring.

I was not alive during World War II but wonder if the feelings of apprehension and helplessness are similar to what people felt then. The difference now is that we have much greater access to accurate information in near-real time than was available then. We don’t have to wait for the liberation of concentration camps to see the full extent of the horrors as we did with the Holocaust. We can see the bodies of executed civilians in the streets; the bombed hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings; the mass graves. We can hear the stories of women who were raped by soldiers, civilians injured by Russian bullets or bombs, people who are trying to survive without food or water in besieged cities.

It’s not “never again.” It’s now. In Ukraine. In Afghanistan. In Ethiopia. In South Sudan. In Syria. In Yemen. In too many places to list them all.

Perhaps “never again” at this point is a call to never again turn away from those who are suffering, to never again say it is someone else’s problem, to never again stay silent in the face of injustice and destruction.

A call to refuse to surrender to hopelessness that there will ever be an end to war and violence. A call to make that hope into reality.

One-Liner Wednesday: taking sides

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.

Elie Wiesel

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/04/27/one-liner-wednesday-bring-back-confucius/

“A Ukrainian Prayer”

Celebrated British composer John Rutter, moved by the plight of the Ukrainian people, set a prayer in Ukrainian and made it available free of charge to choirs around the world, so that they can learn, record, and share it as widely as possible.

I was honored to join in this effort as a member of the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton. (You can find my post about my first concert with them here.) You can view our recording under the direction of Bruce Borton here: https://fb.watch/co_j5FwNUm/. Although the recording is hosted on the Facebook platform, it is available publicly; you do not need to have a Facebook account to access and share the recording.

At this point, there are a number of recordings of this moving piece available online. If you listen to several, you may notice that the rhythm differs. On March 28th, Rutter released a modified version of the score to better align with the Ukrainian language. The Madrigal Choir sang this modified version. Rutter also has provided a singing translation in English. I’ve yet to hear a recording using the English text, but you may run across one at some point. The Ukrainian text is brief and a translation appears at the beginning of our recording.

Whether or not one follows a personal spiritual tradition, this music is a powerful sign of support for the Ukrainian people. I also urge people to send financial support, if they are able. There are many organizations helping in relief efforts. One of my favorites is World Central Kitchen, which is on the ground in crisis situations around the world, including in Ukraine and surrounding countries that are welcoming refugees.

Rutter’s intent for this piece is that it will spread around the world to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people. If you are so moved, share this post, the link to the Madrigal Choir rendition, and/or another recording you may encounter. If you sing in a choir and would like to participate in this effort, you can find details and procedures for downloading the score here: https://johnrutter.com/news-features/prayer-for-ukraine.

Lord, protect Ukraine. Give us strength, faith, and hope, our Father. Amen.

a just peace

Last weekend, after I published this post, I attended mass at St. Francis of Assisi, where we offered prayers for those suffering from the war in Ukraine and heard about the situation in the homily. There was also a lovely tribute to the people of Ukraine in the form of a framed artwork with sunflowers on a blue and gold draped table. We are also preparing to take up a special collection to assist the Ukrainians.

I have been continuing to reflect on the meaning of the “just peace” for which we hope and pray and what elements would be part of that. This post is a reflection of those hopes. I realize that it is not at all likely to be a practical course of action but I wanted to share what is in my heart and mind.

The obvious first step is the immediate cessation of all violence. This will enable desperately needed aid to flow to places that have been besieged or occupied, as well as making safe evacuation possible for the sick, injured, vulnerable, and those whose homes and communities have been destroyed.

All prisoners of war must be released so they can return home.

The Russians must withdraw from the entirety of Ukraine, taking the bodies of their dead with them. This includes Crimea which Russia invaded in 2014 when the current war began. Russia should not control any part of a sovereign nation that it took by force. Any residents of Ukraine who prefer to live under Russian control should be welcomed by Russia into its own territory. Any residents of Ukraine who were voluntarily or involuntarily evacuated into Russia or Belarus and wish to return to Ukraine should be repatriated immediately.

There is widespread devastation, suffering, and death in Ukraine for which there is no just remedy as they cannot be undone. The international community will certainly rush in with humanitarian aid but the responsibility for paying for rebuilding should fall primarily on Russia. Because so much of Russia’s wealth is held by Putin, his family, corrupt government officials, and Putin’s select circle of oligarchs, those are the funds that should be tapped to rebuild Ukraine. Some of those assets are already frozen under international sanctions, some of which should stay in place while the rebuilding process continues. I would hope, though, that the sanctions that make life difficult for the average Russian could be eased so that they don’t continue to suffer because Putin chose to break international law by invading a sovereign neighbor and extensively targeting civilians.

I believe that there will continue to be an investigation and an eventual trial for war crimes in The Hague. I also think that Russia should lose its seat on the UN Security Council or, at least, that the UN should change its policy so that a nation brought before the Security Council must abstain from voting on that issue.

There also needs to be redress for the environmental/climate justice issues highlighted by the war. Russia has long used its fossil fuels as a weapon. The best way to address this problem is to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible, blunting Russia’s power and moving the planet in the right direction in terms of the climate crisis. I wrote about some ideas for doing so in this post.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine also highlighted the security and environmental risks of relying on nuclear power, with Russia threatening the already contaminated site of Chernobyl as well as the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is the largest nuclear facility in Europe. While nuclear power does not emit carbon, the mining of uranium, the lack of secure long-term nuclear waste disposal options, and the vulnerability of the plants to natural and human-caused disaster is too great. As more and more renewable power becomes available and as efficiency gains reduce energy demands, nuclear power plants should be phased out.

The free flow of truthful information has also taken a hit in this war, especially in Russia. Putin has shut down all independent media in print, over the airwaves, and online and many journalists have fled the country. Protesters have been arrested. Apparently, some of the Russian soldiers were not even told what their mission was as they invaded. As part of a just peace, Putin must restore independent media and allow the free flow of information as well as free all prisoners, both Russians and foreign nationals who have been jailed for dissent or trumped-up charges. The Russian people should also have an independent judiciary and the rescinding of unjust laws, such as the recently passed one that can bring up to fifteen years in prison for calling the war in Ukraine a war or invasion instead of a “special military operation.”

The democratic government of Ukraine must have the freedom to choose its own path going forward. It should be able to apply for membership in the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or any other entity it sees fit. Because the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn Russia and support Ukraine’s sovereignty, United Nations peacekeepers should be assigned after the Russian withdrawal to help give security and support as Ukraine rebuilds.

As I said at the outset, this is my own thoughts on some elements of a just peace for Ukraine. I know the reality is that Putin hasn’t really been willing to negotiate, although a swap of ten prisoners on each side is a very small beginning. My fear is that Russia will eventually force Ukraine to accept Russian control of the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine connecting through Mariupol to Crimea in exchange for not bombing all the major cities of Ukraine into dust. If that happens, I think that all the international sanctions should remain in place. The world must let Putin and Russia know that it will not recognize or tolerate countries taking the territory of sovereign nations by force.

Ukrainian Ekphrastic Writing Challenge

The Ekphrastic Review‘s editor, Lorette C. Luzajic, chose Carousel, a 1906 painting by Ukrainian artist Olexandr Murashko, as a prompt for a recent Ekphrastic Writing Challenge. I am honored that my poem In Kyiv is among those chosen for publication. It is the third response listed. I encourage you to read all the responses, as well as Lorette’s poignant opening note. As always, comments are welcome.

SoCS: Compassion

There is so much in the world right now for which I feel compassion. I’m sure many others are also joining in this sense of compassion, too.

Media is filled with the heart-breaking situation in Ukraine. So much destruction. So much death and injury and hunger and lack of shelter. The incomprehensible targeting of civilians in their homes, of food warehouses, of people who are trying to flee besieged cities. The deaths of so many soldiers on both sides, compounded by the fact that Russia is not bringing the bodies of its dead back home to their families. The millions of internally displaced people and the millions who have become refugees in other countries.

Meanwhile, the pandemic continues to cause suffering. The omicron subvariant is sending cases higher in many countries, just as most had relaxed their preventative strategies. Now into the third year of the pandemic, the accumulated losses are staggering. Millions dead, their absence felt by their families, friends, and communities. Many millions more dealing with lasting damage, some with long COVID, others with lung, heart, vascular, and/or neurological damage that they don’t discover until after recovery from the initial infection.

There are other armed conflicts, droughts leading to hunger, other disasters that cause suffering, and always the unfolding disaster of climate change.

All call for my compassion.

There are personal things, too. The neighbor who just lost his mother. Friends and relatives in medical battles. On and on.

I try not to be overwhelmed or succumb to compassion fatigue. I offer help as I can and support efforts for peace and justice. I don’t know if the people for whom I have compassion can feel that support or not. Perhaps, with so many sharing in compassion, they can and feel a little less alone in their suffering.

I hope.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is to write about a word that contains “comp.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/03/18/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-march-19-2022/

Evacuation Day

I’ve written in other years about March 17th being celebrated in my family as both St. Patrick’s Day and Evacuation Day, a commemoration of the evacuation of the British military from Boston in 1776, ending an eleven month siege and marking the first major victory for General Washington.

My father-in-law always brought flowers to my mother-in-law on March 17th, a tradition we took up after his death. Since her death in in 2016, we’ve kept up the tradition. Daughter T even sends flowers to her sister E in London, which, given the origin of the commemoration, adds an extra twist to the observance.

This year, the Evacuation Day bouquet at our house has a special message. The sunflowers represent Ukraine and our sincere wish that they will soon be celebrating their own version of Evacuation Day with the Russians, who are currently besieging so many cities and towns, evacuating back to Russia and leaving Ukraine as an intact, sovereign democracy.

May it be so very soon and may the vast majority of countries around the globe continue to support Ukraine as they fight for their nation and then face the daunting task of rebuilding after such horrific damage.

One-Liner Wednesday: freedom over tyranny

Tonight, we meet…with an unwavering resolve that freedom will always triumph over tyranny. 

U.S. President Joe Biden, near the beginning of his State of the Union address to Congress last night

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday! Find out more here: http://lindaghill.com/2022/03/02/one-liner-wednesday-snacks/

SoCS: Ukraine and the rest of the world

Like much of the rest of the world, I’ve been watching coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I’m horrified at the destruction and loss of life and at the brazenness of the attack against a neighboring sovereign democracy.

I’m in awe of the courage and resolve of the Ukrainian people to defend their homeland. There are many ordinary citizens who have been given guns to defend their cities and villages. Apparently, some are making homemade bombs from instructions given on television. I don’t know that I would be able to do that myself and pray that I am never in such a terrible position that I would have to find out.

I’m also amazed at the courage of some Russian citizens who are protesting Putin’s aggression against Ukraine. There have been protests in 54 cities and many arrests. Some prominent people have spoken out publicly, including sports heroes. They are risking their careers and their freedom to speak out against the war.

I wish there was more that I could do to help the Ukrainians but I know I have no power to do so. I understand that the US as part of NATO has taken many actions to try to punish Putin and his oligarchy for this attack but they won’t directly intervene to protect the Ukrainian population. I’m worried that Russia will assassinate Ukrainian President Zelenskyy with the rest of the world looking on and unable to stop it. That they will put in place a Kremlin-backed dictator. That millions of Ukrainians will suffer from violence and deprivation for years as they try to reestablish themselves as an independent democracy.

And the rest of the world will be powerless to stop it.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “rest.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/02/25/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-feb-26-2022/

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