Talking With Ukrainians
There is something sweet about picking a dandelion from the emerald-colored grass and, after assessing its perfectly-formed fragility, quickly sucking air into the lungs and then ejecting that air forcibly forward. The nearly-translucent seedlings race frantically away, riding on the cooling air, and then once secure in their own little space, they elegantly freefall.
Sometimes the freed seeds, maybe even lucky ones, will catch a fresh wave of wind, and then off they go.
This is how the Ukrainians are these days. I have already written about them in an article a couple of months ago. In that one, I compared them to bees. Bees, however, seem more filled with purpose. They are on a very important and valuable mission.
Yesterday, in Salzburg, Austria, a woman, and her son heard my wife speaking Russian and assumed we were fellow seedlings. Ukrainians, blown out onto the air, she imagined that we too were seeking to ride a wave of fresh wind to a safer, newer life. Then, she learned “we” were Russians. An American who spent nearly three decades in Russia was, in her view, a Russian.
She told us rather matter-of-factly that her village was gone. They had been living with relatives in a larger town but her son, who was 17, would soon be old enough to go “defend the country from the fascist invaders,” she said.
“He’s my oldest child. I can’t let him go to be killed.” The boy listened without emotion and just stared straight ahead. It was hard to tell if he was in agreement or if he felt he should be back there. Nevertheless, there was a calmness about him that told me he was glad to still be “a little boy.”
The initial discomfort of “we are Russians,” representatives of the invaders, quickly faded. The two moms chatted about the lovely city and what might be most interesting for the kids. We decided to climb up to the top of the wall that rings part of Salzburg together. At the top, the famous castle, seen in all postcards of the city, is located.
More politically aware than my wife, and probably more informed than the Ukrainian woman about what her future held due to my study of European history, my usual…