Watching the horror of Russian aggression in Ukraine – the long lines of refugees, the children carried by their frightened mothers fleeing violence, the fathers left behind to fight an enemy who does not respect international law – we remembered a timely and powerful phrase:
Freedom is not free.
A photo taken by New York Times photographer Lynsey Addario that went viral showed two children among four killed by a Russian mortar attack. The suffering in any war is unimaginable; the hell inflicted on Ukrainian children and the massive destruction of residential buildings by Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s army is a war crime worthy of a Nuremberg tribunal.
The determination of the Ukrainian people to resist the Russian onslaught gives a whole new meaning to “freedom is not free”. They make those Americans who complain about losing their “freedoms” seem petty and petty.
Last week, we spent time watching volunteers in the basement of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Riverhead, packing boxes of clothes, sleeping bags and warm blankets to ship to Poland. to help the nearly 2 million people who have fled the war.
Two of the volunteers were Ulyana Zyulkouska and Julia Brativnyk. They pulled out pants, shirts, sweaters, winter coats and blankets from the bags left by dozens of people who wanted to help. They repackaged them and taped and labeled the boxes. By the end of the week, everything will be in overcrowded refugee centers in southern Poland.
When asked if she had any family in danger in Ukraine, Ulyana’s eyes filled with tears. “All we can do is pray for them,” she said.
In a church basement in Riverhead, an ongoing war halfway around the world, the idea that “freedom is not free” was on full display. But it takes effort, a conviction to work for the common good and a conviction in something bigger than oneself to be realized. That’s what Ulyana and Julia were doing. Putin’s regime knows nothing about it. Its state-controlled media lie to the public every time they open their mouths. This is what happens when citizens actually lose their freedoms – the ones that really matter. He has imposed prison terms on anyone promoting what he calls “fake news” about the war in Ukraine. Fake news – a colloquialism among a certain crowd in America.
This week’s news featured a line of truck drivers near Washington, DC, who had come from across the country to protest vaccine and mask mandates. A driver interviewed on a news channel said she would never allow anyone to inject a foreign substance into her body that would turn her into a robot. She would have done better not to say anything.
The juxtaposition of Ukrainian soldiers resisting the Russians – and American veterans volunteering to go there and help – with Americans who think their “freedoms” are in danger because their children might have to wear a mask in school or read “To Kill a Mockingbird” in English Lessons is shocking.
Europe’s largest ground war since World War II is underway, and an ally’s future as a democracy is in serious jeopardy. Putin threatened to use nuclear weapons. Much worse could be to come for Europe. Meanwhile, in America, some people stand in front of television cameras and complain that their “freedoms” are being taken away from them. The media should stop covering them. Politicians who flatter them should move on to something more critical.
Last week, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo went public and complained about his own personal grievances: how badly he was treated by Attorney General Letitia James, how he was forced to quitting and how his brother Chris was boxed at CNN. Cry Me A River.
Compared to images in the news of dead children on the streets in Ukraine, it was an embarrassing display of self-pity and horribly inappropriate. Perhaps those Americans prone to complaining that their “freedoms” are being attacked and their careers “cancelled” could give him pause while this war is on.