This is not Rowena. Rowena has very kindly allowed me to use this platform to try to reach as many people as possible.
Let me start over.
Hello, friends. My name is Anna. I am a friend of Rowena’s from university. Right now, I live in Scotland, but I am originally from Kharkiv. You may have heard of it on the news lately. If not, I shall briefly explain: on the 24th of February 2022, my home country of Ukraine was invaded by Russia. Since then, my grandparents have been living under constant, relentless shelling. One of them has already had enough and left. The three others remain. I am in touch with them every day and I try to make each phonecall count because I do not know when it will be the last.
These last two weeks have been a particular brand of agony I do not wish upon anybody. Places I once walked among now only exist untarnished in my memory, while what remains are ruins, hollowed out by missile strikes and fires. I have had to be a rock for my mother. I have felt rage and despair the likes of which had never lived in my heart before.
At the same time, I swell with pride for my homeland. The way my country has come together to fight, how our foolish president has blossomed into a true leader, the world’s overwhelming support and response; all these things bring me joy in these dark times. The only thing I have not yet allowed myself to feel is hope. The situation is far too tenuous.
In many ways, this is the most epic (in the literary sense) conflict since the Second World War. There is a clear hero whose record on the world stage is relatively clean (Ukraine has its flaws. This is not the time or place to discuss them). You have an almost cartoonishly evil villain. The hero fights for noble concepts such as freedom, the rule of law, and the ability to decide one’s own fate. Said hero exhibits courage and resilience in the face of overwhelming odds, but also graciousness towards the enemy (such as establishing a hotline for Russians to help find their loved ones) and has easy, charismatic, personable face, embodied by our president. Meanwhile, the villains in this conflict do everything to make themselves seem as vile as possible. They bomb schools and hospitals, they commit crimes against innocents, and worst of all, they lie about it, brazenly and openly.
The fact that their fight is so reminiscent of an epic novel has not been lost on Ukrainians. It does not take much searching before a person with any knowledge of literature starts hearing some very familiar words.
Russian troops being called “orcs”.
Russia being called “Mordor”.
It’s all a bit familiar, isn’t it?
(Found on the Internet. Source unknown.*)
Given his hatred of allegory I am sure Tolkien would disapprove. But the comparisons are easy to draw. A great power that has arisen in the East again that now threatens the world. Hoards of corrupted, twisted beings ravaging once peaceful lands. This evil having a less powerful but equally destructive ally that has been similarly corrupted, who may yet be overthrown first. An alliance of all the free peoples coming together to stop it. A great battle being waged at the doorstep of an ancient capital. A leader stepping up to the throne, to lead their people to (hopefully) victory. Perhaps we may also get our Gollum, who destroys Sauron by trying to grasp at power. It is possible.
Fiction is a wonderful thing. It gives us hope in dark times. It gives us a way to escape reality, even for a while, when it gets to be too much. It allows us to make sense of the world, either by reflecting it back to us or inviting us to connect the dots between it and the real world. I, like many Ukrainians, have found solace in seeing echoes of Lord of the Rings in our war. We remind ourselves that “in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach”. With this in mind, we go “…forth now, and fear no darkness!’”
The good thing about a book, however, is that if it gets too much, it can be put down. You can walk away, and the world will not change. What is happening on the ground, however, is very much real. It is impossible to walk away. Even if you do, it will still be there. “The fires of Isengard will spread. […] And all that was once green and good in this world will be gone. There won’t be a Shire, Pippin.”
(I know this is a quote from the film. But it is too appropriate for the situation, so I had to include t.)
But unlike with books, reality can be influenced. A book, when written and published, cannot be changed, or can only be changed by the hand of the author. People across the world have looked on, helpless, and wondered what they can do. The answer is more than you think.
You can donate. The Bank of Ukraine has set up two accounts, one for the army and one for humanitarian causes. Pick whichever suits your sensibilities. Another one for the army is Come Back Alive. There are also appeals by the Red Cross and others, depending on your region. Money is best right now. Items put pressure on already stretched logistics lines.
You can learn. Stories play a big part in this conflict. Learn which are true and which are false. Learn about our history, of what led us to this moment. Maybe started in 2014 with Euromaidan…or 1991 when Ukraine became independent…or in 1933, with the brutal genocide by hunger of Ukrainians known as Holodomor…or 1054, with the death of Yaroslav the Wise and beginning of the fracturing of the Kievan Rus’, which eventually gave birth to Muscovy, AKA Moscow. There are a lot of arguments to be made.
You can fight misinformation. Right now, Russia is doubling, or even tripling down on its lies. Do not fall for them. Research them with independent, verified sources.
You can use all this information to educate your friends. Especially those who believe this war is justified, or Russia is right. There are more than you think.
You can support any Ukrainian friends. It may not seem like much, or like virtue signalling, but seeing a Ukrainian flag or having a kind word from a friend means a lot. Food, or ways to make our lives easier help a lot. It is difficult to summon energy to do anything these days, so easing the burden of day to day life is appreciated.
You can protest, or lobby governments to do more to help. If you are in the UK, start by putting pressure on the Home Office to waive visas for refugees and keeping that pressure up. It works. They have already changed their policies twice in response to public pressure. For more regional things, look up what your country is doing and think about what more you want to see.
And those are just things anybody can do. If you have skills you think are useful…well, it’s up to you. I am using my words, for example. What can you do?
Thank you. This may not be the last you hear of me, depending on Rowena’s grace, but if I can reach even one person, I will do my job.
Do not despair for us. We are not despairing; we are angry. Despair is a cold sea that seeps all heat from one’s bones and pulls you under. Anger is fire, which when channeled properly, can transform rocks into a shining blade.
“Men are better than gates, and no gate will endure against our Enemy if men desert it.”
We shall not desert our gates. We will stand until the last Ukrainian.
Stand with us.
Слава Україні. (Glory to Ukraine.)
Героям слава. (Glory to the heroes.)
Слава нації. (Glory to the nation.)
Смерть ворогам. (Death to the enemies.)
*If you know the source of the image please let us know and we will update the post.