By: Eden Zorne
One month. How can it have only been one month? It feels like both eternity and no time at all has passed. Last week marked the first month of Putin’s renewed war effort in Ukraine. Millions have fled, thousands have died, and the global order has been completely usurped. But I’m not here today to talk about politics or IR, I’ve had enough of that. I’m here to talk about the raw emotions and reflect on what it means to be part of the Ukrainian diaspora right now, far away from my ancestral homeland.
Guilt. Grief. Anger. Confusion. These are the main emotions that have consumed me since February 24. First it was shock and anger when I saw the news. Then anger turned into pure fury, as I screamed into my pillow, not wanting to disturb my neighbors and get the police called on me. Then the anger turned into grief, as I cried, thinking of my friends and professors and their families whose lives were upended. Then it was grief and anger, as I was unable to eat or sleep for the next few days, not able to focus on my schoolwork. How was I supposed to focus on verb conjugations, literature, and 19th century history when history was being made in the worst possible way in Ukraine?
Then, the guilt began to creep in and the confusion about where I stand in all of this. Where was I supposed to belong? I’m pretty far down in the Ukrainian diaspora, only being about a quarter Ukrainian thanks to my grandpa, who was full-blooded Ukrainian, although American-born. But that Ukrainian heritage was always present throughout my life, in my physical appearance, the food we ate, the traditions we had, and the way that we thought. A deep pride in my ethnic heritage was always present. The bravery of my Ukrainian ancestors was never rivaled in my mind growing up, and the bravery of Ukrainians today will never be rivaled. I am proud to be Ukrainian, even though it physically makes up only a quarter of my DNA. And that’s where my feeling of guilt began—because I am safe here in Canada and was safe in America in 2014, while others in Ukraine were suffering due to Russian aggression. It just seemed so unfair, and it still seems so unfair. What gives me the right above others to be happy, safe, and secure inside my apartment in Toronto while those in Ukraine are having their apartments falling down on top of them?
More guilt began to burden me as I thought about my field of study. I study Russian language, Russian literature, and Russian culture as part of my degree. I love Russian literature and love speaking Russian. Some of my best friends, as well as my favorite and most well-respected professors, are Russian. I feel guilty studying Russian now, and even before the re-escalation of the war, I felt stuck in a sort of bind, being Ukrainian, being proud of it, relearning and reconnecting with the Ukrainian language that was lost in my family two generations ago, yet still studying Russian, the language of the power that had oppressed Ukrainians for hundreds of years. I had to struggle through my Russian classes: Russian literature suddenly became almost unreadable to me. It felt like I was being pulled in two different directions and going in either one felt wrong. That’s the confusion that’s reigned supreme in my mind for the past month.
But, at the same time, I’ve never felt closer to my heritage, nor closer to my friends. I’ve attended so many events in support of Ukraine, and I was never alone. Either my friends came with me, or I met people there. Riding the TTC to and from Etobicoke, I met so many other Ukrainians and people supporting Ukraine. I am so grateful for the support of the thousands of people in Toronto, both Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian, who have shown up in rain, snow, freezing temperatures, and at short notice to stand with Ukraine and its brave freedom fighters. For the first time, I have truly felt at home in the Ukrainian diaspora, connected with my heritage. That’s the one silver lining to all this.
Do I still feel guilty, confused, scared, and grief-stricken? Yes. But knowing that there’s people all around the world standing with Ukraine and that Ukrainians are fighting their hardest against the invaders, I feel a little bit better.