It was challenging to adjust to my second-time-around life in the Ukrainian capital. But eventually, the city has grown, or regrown, on me. In the last decade, Ukraine was moving in the direction of democracy, freedom, and tolerance. I felt no real presence of antisemitism. Being a Jew in Ukraine is different now. It’s even kind of cool. Even a few of my gentile friends have gone looking for their Jewish origins and go around with Magen David necklaces while learning about Judaism and Hebrew.
Kyiv is a beautiful European city with centuries of rich history, picturesque parks, and a thriving art scene. Just two months ago, you could take your pick from dozens of operas, concerts, museums, Dnipro River tours, and art exhibitions. I was among many fashion experts giving lectures at local universities, and this was just one subject among a wealth of educational programming open to the public. The restaurant industry was booming.
Kyiv is no longer lively, yet it is still alive. However scary it is to remain here, there are many Kyivites, who stayed to stand against Putin’s attempts to terrorize people. While many have escaped the city, many locals are staying. We are keeping the city breathing.
Of course, my husband and I could have left–and not as Ukrainian refugees. We could have gone back home to the U.S. Yet, putting our galloping fears aside, my husband and I have decided to stay in Kyiv. By being in the midst of the disaster, we can better identify the needs of the families around us and try to be as helpful as we can. The people of Kyiv are our inspiration and they are the main reason we stayed. Now, we feel we are on a kind of mission. Moreover, we feel that our commitment to remain in Kyiv shows American solidarity with Ukraine.
When we venture out foraging for groceries and communicate with people while standing in line in a supermarket or run into others on the mostly empty streets, we don’t talk to each other about horrors; instead, we try to support each other and keep each other’s spirits up with jokes. People surprise me sometimes and not just with their kindness, but also with their sudden ability to express things the right way. It reminds me of how people interacted in New York after September 11th.
It’s heartbreaking and impossible to comprehend what’s happening in Ukraine at present. The situation elsewhere is unfathomably atrocious: a starving population cut off completely from food or clean water, dehydrated children, shelling, mass graves. The Russian soldiers brutally raped and killed women right in front of their children, and young girls after killing their parents. This monstrosity is not just heartbreaking. It’s paralyzing. Russian authorities are blocking information about the war from reaching their own population, but the rest of the world must see their crimes. And I can feel the pain of Ukrainians better because I understand the language. I hope I can make their screams heard.
From the Lilith Blog, May 2022. Read the full article here.