1 Peter 2:11  – Dear friends, since you are immigrants and strangers in the world, I urge that you avoid worldly desires that wage war against your lives.

Gratitude Day 737

In the past few weeks, several people have asked me about my insights with the current war in Ukraine. It may seem strange that anyone would ask me for my thoughts. I live in America. I have never lived in Ukraine. I am not a person who has deep insights into war.

But like so many Americans, my heart is breaking for the Ukrainian people.

The reason I may have been asked is because about 25 years ago, I lived in a country that was part of the former Soviet Union. For 10 months, I lived in Kazakstan, which borders Russia on their most northern border. While my experience of living in Kazakstan many years ago is very different from living in Ukraine today, there are some things that I have reflected upon since Russia invaded Ukraine. Because several people have asked me about my insights, I decided to share a few of my thoughts here.

Let me reiterate: these are only my thoughts and feelings. Other people have more knowledge about this topic than I do. Yet, as I watch reports about the war, I am taken back to the days when I taught English at a state-run Kazak university.

The most poignant report happened a few weeks ago when I saw an American journalist interview a 20-something Ukrainian student refuge who was now volunteering at a Polish train station. She was assisting other Ukrainian refugees as they arrived in Poland. As she spoke, I felt she could have been one of my English students, two-and-a-half decades ago. Asked why she is volunteering to help other refugees, she shared that her knowledge of multiple languages (Ukrainian, Polish, Russian and English) spurred her to assisting people from her native country. She feels this is the most important role she can have right now.

The reporter asked why Ukrainians are determined to defend their country. Her words sounded very similar to words of the students I taught. She said this is her home country. Yes, of course, she and other Ukrainians would do what was necessary to “keep their motherland.” They do not want to lose their language, their culture, their customs and traditions. These are so very important to Ukrainians, and they will defend them to the “very end” because they represent who they are.

The messages this young woman conveyed are so important to people who live in the former Soviet Union. During the U.S.S.R. reign, different geographical areas were known as republics. When S6talin came to power, he specifically moved people around so that no former people group (Czech, Ukrainian, Kazak, Uzbek, Polish, etc.) would maintain a majority of the people in their former territory. He believed dissipated power would prevent one republic from having enough power to try and gain back their territory. Under Soviet rule, it was unlawful for people groups to maintain their language, customs, traditions and culture. Everyone was to be Russian and follow Russian traditions.

When the Soviet Union broke up in the fall of 1989, heritage groups were determined to bring back their culture, language, traditions and customs within their individual re-established countries. They have worked tirelessly to bring back their original language and customs. Yes, some areas continue to speak Russian. But preserving their original language and traditions are high priority. While I was in Kazakstan, I visited the recently opened Kazak National Museum, established to preserve Kazak culture and language.

When the young Ukrainian woman said they want to preserve Ukraine, she is dead serious. One hundred years ago, they lost their country. They do not want to lose it again, no matter what some Russians say or want others to believe.

It had been just less than a decade since the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. when I was in Kazakstan. Still, there remained great fear of Russia. Some of the elderly wanted communism back because they were guaranteed a government pension. The students I taught wanted their country to re-establish itself. They yearned for Western influence as an alternative to Russian infiltration. Students were convinced the most important way for their country to move forward was to learn English very well. Period. They went to great lengths to learn English from a native American speaker.

As important as this was for students in Kazakstan, this influence is even more desired with countries closer to Europe, like Ukraine. While many of these countries have kept loose ties with Russia, they have developed strong ties with the European community. Ukraine, often called Europe’s “breadbasket,” provides a significant amount of wheat for Europe. With almost no wheat being grown in Ukraine this year, prices for food products requiring wheat will continue to increase worldwide.

Keeping families geographically together is a high priority in this part of the world. Students I taught found it difficult to understand why I lived independently and several hours from my parents, even though I was in my 30’s. Most females did not have a driver’s license at the time I lived in Kazakstan. One male student asked me who repaired my car. He knew my dad lived a few hours away. Based on their culture, he assumed Dad should be taking care of my car. The concept that I could take care of my own car was foreign to him. Family members take care of each other in their culture; especially single females.

As we hear of Ukrainian families splitting up and leaving loved ones behind, it is difficult for us to understand how unsettling this is. Most family members live very close to each other, often with multiple generations living in the same household. This might be the first time a family has ever been split up. Add in the anxiety of a war, poor communication, inadequate food, water and electricity and we can only begin to imagine how devastating these moves, and splits are for families.

When American media say that Russians only hear what the Russian government want the people to know, this is accurate. There is very little independent media in Russia, with even less during wartime. People accept what they are told and fear for their lives if they discuss or talk about an alternative opinion. What is really happening in Ukraine will not be shared honestly because no sliver of not winning the invasion will be shared on Russian media. Even when Ukrainian people they know speak of a different reality than what Russian media shares, Russians will continue to uphold what their government says. This is simply part of the Russian belief system.

While I know very little about the ins-and-outs of this war, I believe the Ukrainian and Russian history and belief structures greatly influence how each country is committed to defending themselves. The best we can do is pray that somehow, the fighting can deescalate, and peace be prioritized. There are few winners in war. I pray peace can overcome these wages of war.

For being able to share just a bit of my perspective, I am grateful.

Blessings –


Holy God – Our hearts are breaking as we see the images and hear the awful stories coming out of Ukraine. Right now, it feels like the only hope for peace is with Your intervention. Break the hearts that need to be soften so that peace can be secured. We lift up all the people who have been displaced, families that have been separated, those who have lost loved ones and the stress and anxiety felt by so many people. We turn only to You for help. Amen.

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