What does it mean to love one’s country? In the current crisis, it is blazingly clear that the Ukrainians love their country; their determination to hold on to their land against a Russian take-over makes the patriotism of many of us, by contrast, seem lukewarm. Who is not inspired by the courage of President Zelensky and all the Ukrainian soldiers and civilians who are risking their lives for their homeland?
But what does it mean to love one’s country? When cities have been destroyed and thousands of Ukrainians killed, including hundreds of children, what does the heart counsel then? I imagine a Ukrainian mother looking out over the wreckage and weeping at the sheer waste—of precious human lives. I imagine her sorrow embracing Russian soldiers as well, for in the depths of the heart, there are no national boundaries.
Indeed, there have been many women who have invoked versions of this sentiment, from Julia Ward Howe to Jane Addams right down to a persecuted union of Russian and Belarusian women leading a dangerous, principled opposition to Putin's invasion right now.
What would it mean for a national leader to have a mother’s heart? Surely, he or she would want the destruction of human life to end. Better some territory ceded than the scourge of endless war. A country’s autonomy vis-a-vis other nations is a good thing, but whoever said, “Live free or die” had not distinguished his soul from his national identity. When you live from your soul, preserving a socially constructed identity is secondary to cherishing human life.
President Zelensky needs to know that there is no shame in exchanging land for peace, of choosing a temporary loss of land over a permanent loss of life. He has demonstrated to the world that he is willing to die for Ukraine; now he should lead his people to a new way of living for their country. Will Ukrainian identity be negated if Russia takes over the Donbas? It is hard to believe that the fierce patriotism we have observed in the last six months will simply disappear. When the guns of war are silent, maybe it can be transmuted into a love of country that allows peaceful co-existence with the “other.” Ukraine, after all, has been both independent and a part of the Russian empire and then the Soviet Union in the past. Ukrainians always manage to regain their freedom eventually, sometimes without firing a shot, as happened 31 years ago.
All of us have mothers’ hearts. This is not a gender-exclusive trait; it is a human quality. We must reach down into them and call for peace in Ukraine—no more shipments of arms to the country, no more talk of weakening Russia with missile attacks. Then we must support the Ukrainians in re-building their lives, whether they find themselves in the area controlled by Kyiv or in the Donbas. A proud people will not forget their national identity; indeed, if they seek peace for the right reason, it can be re-rooted in them on a deeper level. To my way of thinking, that would be even more awesome than their current display of bravery.
Crossposted from PeaceVoice