In a speech this week, President Putin reminded us of how easily the war in Ukraine could spread. By calling up around 300,000 reservists to fight, the President of Russia acknowledged what he has denied until now, the growing resistance of the Ukrainians. Or, said in other words: The failure of the Russian army. And yet, as news analysts agree, Mr. Putin cornered is Mr. Putin in his most dangerous state.

Although I speak no Russian, I could still understand that the man on television was a man full of anger and venom. His accusations against the West and Ukraine were mostly false. To him, though, they seem to be the words he is telling himself to justify the brutality he orders daily.

I must admit, this man scares me. The methods he is willing to use in order to get his way seem to have no boundaries. Are human lives so little worth to him, I ask myself. How can he sleep at night, knowing he is responsible for children having to watch atrocities no humans should have to see? How can he eat his breakfast knowing that tens of thousands of Ukrainians lost their loved ones because of him? How can he sit down to watch the news on his TV, knowing he is responsible for destroying the homes of millions?

There are days that fear cripples me. I admit it. I start to think that what I do means almost nothing. Against the big war machine, what is my feeble contribution? What does it matter that I help provide nutrition for children who have fled war, when Putin will still destroy them? What does it matter that we help children work through their traumas when Putin is just going to retraumatize them? Then I fear for myself, for my kids and my nation, for the world and all the people who might end up dead because one man cannot control his hunger for power.

This fear, I believe, is normal. I am sure many of us feel it, although we may not tell others. We feel fear when we are out of control, and not since the Cuba missile crisis has the world been this close to a nuclear disaster.

Which is why we cannot be bystanders. We cannot let fear keep us from doing what is right. That is when evil wins. The people protesting in Russia have understood this. Risking their freedom, and lives, they march the streets, letting the dictator know they are not OK with his leadership. My admiration for them is great. As it is for Ukrainians fighting on the frontlines, knowing every second can be their last. History is replete with people like these men and women. People who have given their own possessions, freedom and lives to stand for justice. The price they have paid has been great. Many have suffered and died. But was it not for them, the world would be in a different place today.

And, as Mr. Putin confirmed this week, the battle is still not won. He has bombs. But he cannot take our will from us. He cannot kill our thoughts and resolve. He cannot steal unity. The Russian poet, Bulat Shalvovich Okudzhava, gives us a challenge in words more beautiful and compelling than I could write myself:

Conscience, honor and dignity,

There’s our spiritual army.

Hold out your palm to it,

For this, one fears no fire.

Its face is lofty and wonderful.

Dedicate to it your short century.

Maybe, you will never be victorious,

But you'll die as a human.

We may not die victorious, but we will die as humans. Let that be the goal of us all in the Novi community as we seek to speak what is true and do what is right.

Photo: Sasha Avramchuk 2022


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