Recently my wife and I went to a German restaurant in Kyiv. Why? Perhaps in gratitude for those Leopard tanks. Frankly, the bratwurst was bad and the sauerkraut worse. But the beer was excellent. It was Czech though.
The patrons were sparse and the mood was not particularly upbeat. That was until Nick walked in. We noticed him only because he spoke English to the waiter. He “eh’d” several times so we decided that he must be Canadian, maybe a Ukrainian Canadian.
I was about to pounce on him for neglecting his Ukrainian language. That's my routine in Ukraine when meeting people. He calmly responded that he was not Ukrainian at all but from British Columbia, the western province of Canada. I started a conversation about hockey but almost apologetically, he said that he not only didn’t play ice hockey and had very little interest in it. He was more of a football (soccer) fan. I made a bad joke, something like, do your parents know and we all laughed.
It turns out he was a Canadian with German roots. He had military training in Canada, but was bored with life. When he learned about the war in Ukraine, he became motivated to get involved. He came over, loved the people and asked to join the war effort. I asked whether it was one of the Ukrainian girls that made this experience even more special. It turns out he does love one of its people even more than others.
It turned out that this was Nick's 21st birthday. We bought him a German beer, sang “Mnohaia Lita” (Happy Birthday) and began calling him “Mykola.” We stayed only a little longer as he told us he was due back by 10 p.m. and that he would be going out to the front very soon. As he left we said, “Goodbye Nick and good luck.” “Mykola,” he said, correcting us.
For my wife and me, this was a very special meeting. We know that there are non-Ukrainians serving in Ukraine's armed forces. But meeting one, getting to know him, albeit briefly, was very personal and emotional. My wife cried.
Ukraine has made many friends during this almost two-year-long brutal ordeal. In fact, during the very first few days of Russia's invasion as I recall, many throughout the world flocked to manifest support for Ukraine. My home is in the US, in New York City, where I was astounded by the number of Ukrainian flags that were hung from windows, balconies and fire escapes. In particular I was highly encouraged by the response of New York City's cultural elite, Broadway and Lincoln Center celebrities, and even the average, every-day New Yorker.
Over the course of almost two years an element of fatigue has set in, fed in part by an acknowledgment by Ukraine's president and the military that the effort to save the civilized world from Russian barbarism would indeed be a marathon rather than a sprint.
The cost to Ukraine in terms of blood and infrastructure has been enormous. And still Ukraine, its people and others like Nick have resolved to go on. While fatigue in the West is understandable, it must be balanced by a recognition that war often provides an opportunity for good.
On Feb. 24, 2022 Russia was the single greatest threat to the security not only of Ukraine but the democratic world. The world is a much better place today because Russia has been exposed. Ss itemized by the International Criminal Court, Moscow has perpetrated acts of aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity and attempted genocide. Yet Putin has accomplished nothing in terms of achieving his stated purpose, losing more than three hundred thousand of his own soldiers in the process.
America and the West have spent money, not lives, to secure its own future and have begun to reinvigorate its defense industry. Ukrainians are fighting the world's battle to preclude the danger of a World War III.
My meeting with Nick was a reason to rejoice as I saw in him reinforcements. Nick is only one man, yet symbolic of the very fact that Ukraine is not alone. With friends like Nick Ukraine's victory is inevitable.
Dear friends and allies, stay with Ukraine not merely for Ukraine but for the sake of all of us – people who love and cherish freedom. This is the message we get from Nick, or perhaps I should say: Mykola.
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