A midnight arrival to Kiev and my tired eyes were happy to see two smiling Canadian faces waiting for me. It would be my first time to be in Ukraine and I wanted to learn and be a blessing if I could. Driving through Kiev felt oddly familiar, like I was going through some downtown neighborhood in Toronto. It felt homey. I wondered if the many Ukrainians who had moved to Canada had similar feelings to the ones I was having, only in reverse.
The conversation in the car moved quickly to the main language spoken in Kiev, was it more Russian or Ukrainian? I tried to go over my knowledge of history about the Russians who made Ukraine part of the Soviet Union in the 1920’s. They changed everything, the signs, added nondescript buildings, but could not destroy the people’s hunger to be independent and Ukrainian. Now the Ukrainian language was coming back strong, signs and all. Some regions hung on to the old ways and of course old ways die hard. Cory, who spoke Russian, was convinced that Russian was spoken more but Ryan disagreed. They argued good naturally; I saw in them an example of today’s Ukraine being played out before my eyes.
Off to bed way past my bedtime but my mind was not able to shut down. I wondered again how I got to live in this history-filled Europe. Not just ‘my france’ but most of Europe brutalized by all its wars to extend or protect borders. So much bloodshed, bombs and bayonets. Religion played a part at the heart of some of those battles. In a couple of days I would walk to a high point in the city overlooking the river a viewpoint well chosen by Russia’s elect to erect the Motherland Monument, proud and high. But Ukraine was independent, 26 years now, and actually my own country of Canada was the first to recognize their independence. (We Love Ukraine 🇺🇦 !)
Besides my ministry obligations, I had three full days to explore. The orthodox churches awed me with their artworks, architecture, and history. We walked into a wedding like I’ve never seen, replete with symbolism that I didn’t fully understand. I will remember the walks through the old city and see where the Dignity revolution took place, about 100 innocents shot down by snipers at the order of the ex-president. Then there was that 62′ meter high Motherland Monument built by the Soviets and called by some of the locals as ‘Brezhnev’s daughter.’ Some people wish it were torn down. Just below was an outdoor war museum consisting of statues and tanks and warplanes.
I remember Ryan pondering out loud about why we actually needed such monuments. We had talked about the USA wanting to tear down historic statues of men who impacted their world. Even Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, was under attack in Canada. “We need to be reminded of where we came from and how we got to here and now,” both of us agreed.
That led further to a conversation wishing that ethnic groups everywhere in the world could finally settle their past and move on with hope and respect. “Wouldn’t it be cool if every Canadian,” I added, “would join a movement to heal the wounds of our First Nations?” I listened carefully to hear Ryan’s response to my statement. “Yeah, but too many people are still misguided that our natives have been coddled, they would never jump on a healing train!” Maybe. I thought of the words of Christ, “You are in the right place when you are truly a peacemaker.” I want so much to be that.
I had come to Ukraine to share something with young people. My topic dealt with walls. Walls do more than demarcate, they divide and isolate. They scream hateful words. The dreamer in me would say to those young souls “imagine all these people living in a world unwalled!” I wanted to point out the invisible walls between the Russian and Ukrainian but chose to go further than two nations.
Invisible walls don’t need blocks, bricks and mortar; all they need is for someone to bump your books all over the floor and then call you an idiot for their mistake… and inside of you an invisible brick is laid. It’s that easy! A harsh word is spoken by someone, another brick. Someone laughs at us, one more brick. Walls are made of a few bad experiences, a betrayal, a few foiled expectations, biases passed down from parents, politicians and peers and the wall grows. There’s no shortage of material for us to build invisible walls.
If only we could be bridge-builders and not wall-makers. Thank God there are those doing that in our world. Ryan and Ashley from Canada are doing that in Kiev, so is Cory. I shared a small moment in their lives. Thank God that in a walled world that is increasingly biased, separated and isolated there is a growing group of people that can imagine another way to be in this world. We are the revolutionaries of love that understand that true worship is not simply raising our hands, eyes closed, to good music, but by walking hand in hand eyes wide open with love and respect for all other creatures on this planet. It’s that simple!