About 4.30 this afternoon, preparing to finish my day at work, I flicked open the SMH website on my computer. The headline that leapt out told of Russian invasion of Ukraine. The worst fears of the Ukrainian people and the world have come to pass.
Reading stories of the developing crisis over the last couple of weeks I have felt sick and tense – that combination of apprehension, powerlessness and helpless anger at the wrong being done. It takes us back to those same feelings, magnified by terrible grief and pain, when our son Jack was murdered, along with all the 297 other passengers of MH 17, when the plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine by a Russian Buk missile crew. This war, now being waged openly by Russia against its smaller neighbour, is the same war, the same bullying aggression, the same disregard for human life and the rights of others, that killed our son.
Our hearts go out to the people of Ukraine. We think of the agony they are going through now. After MH17 was shot down and our lives were changed forever, shattered is not too strong a word, we tried to make sense of the conflict that had killed Jack. Where had this come from, what was at the heart of it? We didn’t know very much about Russia or Ukraine. We ended up speaking with a Russian Orthodox priest and his family as well as two Ukrainian families. Later we were invited to a Ukrainian church in Lidcombe. We experienced, amazingly, great compassion from the Ukrainian people. They expressed great regret and sorrow that our family has been caught up in the old conflict between Russia and Ukraine. We also did not know anything about the roots of this conflict. The two sides told us very different stories about the relationship between the countries. The Russian family emphasised the common bond between the peoples, they are one and the same people really, they said. The Ukrainian people told us a different story and gave a different history- this story was about decades if not centuries of oppression, exploitation, violence and terrible atrocities visited upon one people by a stronger and larger people. Maybe not all Ukrainians think that way, and we know there are different views, but the people we spoke to had no doubts about who was the instigator of the conflict.
When MH17 was shot down, 298 people died. The undeclared war in eastern Ukraine has killed a reported 15,000. Who knows how many of these were also innocent civilians trying to live their own lives, just like Jack and the others on MH17? Now a whole nation of 44 million people faces the horrific prospect of war. How many tens thousands of people will be killed to fulfill the distorted patriotism and narcissistic ambition of Vladimir Putin? There can be no winners here. The violence that killed Jack has grown and threatens to engulf a whole country. The Russian people, despite the enormously courageous efforts of independent media and opposition leaders, are subject to the same relentless misinformation and deceit about the situation in Ukraine now, as was the case with MH17. The US, European nations, Australia and others have threatened and commenced strong sanctions. But we wonder what impact they will have in the face of such reckless hate and distorted ideology. It doesn’t seem nearly enough. Putin appears to have gone mad. But how can meeting military force with military force be the answer either, in a conflict that could easily lead to all- out war and the unthinkable use of nuclear weapons. I pray and hope for wisdom, courage and strength for national leaders as we face this crisis. But part of me despairs. Is this what human beings are like really? But then I remember seven years ago, the understanding, compassion and solidarity that Ukrainian people extended to us, and I resolve to try to return some of that now, and keep believing that violent power will not have the last word.