Watching From the Other Side: A Ukrainian American Perspective on the Invasion of Ukraine –

Posted By on March 24, 2022

Less than a month ago, my biggest concern was finding a dependable job in Brooklyn, where I live. Now Im spending every night listening to the news, hearing all about the ways Ukraine, the country in which the majority of my biological family was born and raised, is being bombed and invaded.

During the first few days of Vladimir Putins invasion of Ukraine, when I and most Americans first started learning about what was going on, there was a mix of reactions: outright shock, horror, resignation, and even some disturbing humor, in tweets that were sexualizing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as he stood strong in command of his country in peril, or by those who compared what was going on to scenes in Marvel movies.

For others, there was an understandable amount of complacency with Putins invasion. It would probably be safe to say that the Russian autocrat has never been a leader who has had the well-being of his citizens in mind, as seen in his continual legal attacks on human rights for various minorities, structuring a cruel oligarchy without any hope for democracy, and possibly having his opponents and detractors silenced in one way or another. And rumors of Putins desire to invade Ukraine, to seize control of a country that received official independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, have been happening ever since, even if they were never taken too seriously. Many have brushed them off as actions belonging to another century. Others, though, considered the invasion only a matter of time. Now, here we are, seeing the largest invasion and bombardment in Eastern Europe since World War II.

I grew up enmeshed in a Slavic American community whose home culture was an amalgamation of Ukrainian and Russian foods, films, and music. Both my parents and my grandparents decided that, after the Chernobyl incident and the limited prospects for social and economic advancement in Ukraine, they might be better off coming to the United States, to Brooklyn, hoping that it would provide better opportunities for education and jobs for me and my siblings. Yet even within an American environment, I grew up with a very strong connection to my roots, absorbing pop culture like the Slavic cartoon , ! (Well, Just You Wait!) and eating foods like blini, salat olivye, pirozhki, pelmeni, shashlik, and more. And all the while I was being raised by Ukrainian immigrants who nurtured a strong sense of scholarship, hard work, and sharp humor, especially during dark times.

I am now witnessing the devastation of my heritage from this side of the water, along with a community of immigrants watching in horror as their first home is being destroyed. Anecdotes of hope like the Russian soldier who surrendered and was greeted with tea and food by Ukrainians signify that there is still humanity, even in a country of people under attack, even among the opposition of so many Russian civilians who recognize the senseless violence they are suddenly enmeshed in.


And while it has been awe-inspiring seeing so many Russians protest against this war, it has also affirmed that this is a war that no one else but Putin wanted.

As a first-generation Jewish Ukrainian American, I have a complicated relationship with my familys land of origin, my voice carrying the influences of an accent from a country Ive never physically stepped foot in. There have been numerous times in my life when people have asked me, someone born and raised in Brooklyn, where Im from because my voice is made up of the influences of two languages, Russian and English, two countries, two lives.

There have always been various plans throughout my life to go visit Ukraine only for something to always come up, whether it was work or a busy schedule or other political tensions or, of course, Covid-19. Now I cant imagine a time when Ukraine would be ever safe to see.

Yet what Ive lost is more than the chance to play tourist in my heritage country.

I feel like Ive also lost the opportunity to know the land where my parents spent the first part of their lives, the place where they went to school and fell in love and started a family. Ive lost the prospect of visiting and learning from Ukraines historical heritage sites, like Babi Yar, the Holocaust memorial site, where I have ancestors who were reportedly shot and buried and which was recently bombed by Russian forces.

Its easy for me to lament what has seemingly been taken away from me something I never really even had. Yet I am not the one bearing the brunt of this tragedy among my friends and relatives.

My grandmother a woman who escaped out of Ukraine to survive World War II only to return home to an apartment that was taken by strangers she had never seen before, strangers who decided an empty apartment belonging to Jewish refugees was theirs for the taking is reliving her worst memories of war and displacement.

Shes now in her 80s, a time in her life when she should be reveling in her golden years after a life spent working her body to the bone, cleaning other peoples homes and looking after her family. Instead, shes now, from our sequestered home so as not to catch Covid, watching another tragedy unfold and witnessing her homeland ripped asunder.

My parents, though they have spent at least 30 years in America, are also battling grief and helplessness over Ukraine but they are also stepping up where they can. Theyve sent packages full of food and other necessary supplies across the Atlantic. Weve taken friends from Ukraine into our home, people who had previously been on vacation in Mexico before this all started, and now have been told they cant go back. Cant go back to the apartment that they live in, with the accumulation of a life theyve worked hard to earn, unable to return to the pets theyve entrusted with neighbors, who have now fled because of bomb threats.

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My father, a practical and stoic man whose favorite pastime is fishing, claims that if he were in Ukraine right now, he would pick up a weapon to go fight on the frontlines, like all the other fathers and brothers who are being pushed and pulled to fight now. He would defend his own, the Ukrainians living there, those who have yet to escape and the million who already have, the international students who came for education and are now fleeing in terror, the hundreds if not thousands of pets left behind, and the army so bravely and powerfully standing up to Putins assault.

And meanwhile, small instances of human grace and resilience inspire me.

Like my father currently working on sending care packages filled with food and other supplies overseas so that his former countrymen are provided for.

Like graffiti artists and illustrators around the world taking their pencils and stencils to paint blue-and-gold images of resistance and solidarity, donating their artwork to support refugees fleeing their homes.

Like my grandmother, who in her 80-plus-year life experiences, who even in her worry and distress over the situation in Ukraine, still has the energy to scold me about walking around the house barefoot (one of the worst superstitions) and to prepare warm meals for my family, her love an endless reservoir even during a war.

I practice my own grace, imploring myself and others who are not directly involved in the conflict to resist holding judgment, to have courtesy, respect, and compassion for the Russian and Russian American citizens who are painfully watching an invasion they never wanted. To have courtesy, respect, and compassion for them while also showing the same things to the Ukrainians and Ukrainian Americans who are involved by offering kind words, donations, and physical refuge when possible.

And to the people of Ukraine and my fellow Ukrainian Americans, I pray that the continued outpouring of kind words, donations, and physical refuge to those in need does not wane. But most of all, I pray for this to be over so that we all find some hope soon.

Michele Kirichanskaya is a freelance journalist and writer from Brooklyn, New York. A graduate of the New School MFA Creative Writing Program and Hunter College, when she is not writing, she is reading, watching an absurd amount of cartoons, and creating content for platforms like Catapult, Bitch Media, Salon, The Mary Sue, Electric Lit, and more. Her work can be found here and on Twitter @MicheleKiricha1.

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Watching From the Other Side: A Ukrainian American Perspective on the Invasion of Ukraine -

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