Optimism in Dark Times
A Ukrainian student focuses on his education so he can help rebuild his country
June 15, 2022
I am a US-born Ukrainian, and I and my family, many of whom were in Ukraine when Russia attacked in late February, have been heavily affected by the war. However, instead of looking at the situation in a fatalistic light, I am trying to make the necessary choices and make the best of it. I am looking past the war and into the future, when Ukraine is free and when it can begin with a truly clean slate, something that wasn’t possible after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 when corrupt leaders remained in power. Ukraine has progressed since then, electing officials and enacting policies to fight corruption and Russia’s influence in its domestic politics. The Ukrainian mindset of fighting even if the situation seems hopeless and of working together to achieve victory, with everyone eager to take part, be it serving on the front lines or providing humanitarian aid, has been key in the battle to save our country.
At the beginning of the conflict, my parents told me two things that stuck with me. The first was “War is like a game of football—you can watch it play out, be worried, and get gray hairs from it, but in the end, it is nearly impossible to change the score, which is where your true attention should be.” By that my father meant that as long as I am not in Ukraine under direct attack, I have no right to waste my time following the news and getting emotionally caught up in events and should instead be focusing on my college education.
The second thing I was told was that I should set goals for my future. “If your countrymen,” my mother said, “can defy all logic and expectations and make their country one of the strongest in the world, being able to hold off such a beast as Russia, I expect you to do nothing less.” That might sound harsh, but her words inspired me to think big and plan not only for my future but also for the future of my country.
I study international relations—a field not many Ukrainians have an opportunity to go into—and my education in this area will be critical in allowing me to help unravel Ukraine’s troubles when the war is over. I hope to become a connecting voice between the Western world and Ukraine, to make sure my country gets the resources, representation, and respect that it deserves after defending democracy. I am counting on myself to become the best diplomat I can be and to work with people rather than against them. I want to work to maintain the worldwide unity we have today as we battle for our homeland, not against a common enemy such as Russia but against a common enemy as a concept or challenge to solve, be it corruption, environmental issues, or economic and political integration of less developed countries into the modern world in a more organized fashion than is happening today. While I am sure that I will come to understand how difficult this feat is, in the immediate, it is important for me and other Ukrainians to keep our heads held high and to fight for a brighter future, be it on the front lines in Ukraine or at desks in universities.
In the past, many people considered other countries to be doomed to never recover, let alone become better than their peers. In 1939, Finland faced a scenario similar to Ukraine’s when the Soviet Union attacked. A grossly underpowered Finnish military stood its ground as long as it could, only falling after three months of harsh fighting during which many more Soviet soldiers were killed than Finnish soldiers. The situation appeared so hopeless that no other countries came to the Finns’ aid. But look at Finland now. Today not only does it have one of the most progressive educational systems in the world but it is also one of the happiest nations.
Ukraine has a similar destiny. It can become the center of the world, the connector between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, a center for progress and development. This is why Ukrainians around the world have to keep doing what they have been doing since February— keep their chins up, make their voices heard, and ensure the survival of their home and people so that they can return, rebuild, and surpass all expectations for their country’s future.
Photo: Igor Latsanych stands next to a Soviet T-55 tank in winter 2021 at the Ukrainian Motherland Monument in Kyiv. (Courtesy Igor Latsanych)