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March 1, 2022

A Heartbreaking Truth about the Crisis in Ukraine (& Other Parts of the World).

*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.

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On Saturday, I read an article in The New York Times about refugees fleeing Ukraine.

I started to cry when I saw a picture of Polish people standing, awaiting refugees to come over the border. The article stated that Ukrainian refugees “have been greeted with welcoming smiles, hot drinks and transport to the nearest railway station.”

It made my heart feel so warm, so touched by the beauty of humanity.

Two lines later, though, the article said how this differed to previous situations—for example, last year when those on the Polish border beat back Afghan refugees. At least a dozen Afghan refugees died in the woods. Belarus also mistreated Afghan refugees.

Then I cried for two reasons: the beauty of humanity, how Ukrainians are being welcomed, and for the discrepancy in treatment of people—because of where they were born.

Why were refugees from Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries met with such resistance—and even violence—yet Ukrainians are welcomed with open arms?

The prejudice is obvious. And it’s wrong.

Just as the Ukrainians have been embraced—so too should have been the Afghans and Iraqis and any other person from any other country.

Which includes the Syrians and Iraqis and other Middle Eastern people who fled their homes in 2015—which sparked so much of the nationalist, anti-migrant rhetoric throughout Europe, much like what happened in the United States with the rise of Trump.

We are all just humans. We cannot help where or to whom we were born.

Why shouldn’t people be welcomed into other countries when they are fleeing for their lives?

Why should someone born in the Middle East not be able to go to Europe or the United States? Why should someone be denied access to a country simply because of where they were born?

I haven’t been able to get the pain of this discrepancy out of my heart.

It reminded me—on a more intense level, of course—of something I’ve had on my heart for a while.

I had a conversation with someone who told me it took him five years to get a visa to move to Sweden. I couldn’t stop thinking about this after he said it. Because it’s so different from what my experience is or will ever be.

I’m American and Swedish. I have dual citizenship. I can travel or live anywhere in the United States or in Europe with ease. The privilege became so obvious to me.

Most people will never travel out of their countries or states or towns or places where they were born—and even if they can, even if they want to, they can be denied, simply because of where they come from.

Why should someone even be allowed to be denied access to travel somewhere because of where they are born?

The truth is, borders are all socially constructed anyway. And they have changed all throughout history. It’s not as if with the beginning of existence it was set in stone that the countries would look the way that they do now.

The land is just the land. We humans exist upon it. We draw borders and claim ownership and think it’s ours. But it is all a social construct.

I have so many different thoughts and feelings about this “invasion.” So many tangents that have been triggered in my mind, some of which do not relate to Ukraine at all.

I don’t really have many answers. Just lots of questions. Wonderings. Musings. Thoughts. Opinions. And feelings.

There are many things that have moved through me. Here are just a few things that this has triggered within me:

1. What is the difference between war and terrorism—truly? Why is war “legitimized”? Just because a “real country” has made the provocation? Why is this invasion seen as an invasion and not an act of terror? To me, Putin is a terrorist.

2. This is not “Russia” invading Ukraine—it’s Putin. Many Russians may agree with him, but many do not, and many who do, probably would not if they had not been propagandized.

3. Those who are protesting in Belarus and Russia are beyond-words courageous—because they understand the consequences of what they are doing, jail or worse, and yet, they stand. It’s easy to protest and speak up when we are distanced—it takes a depth of courage to do it in a space where you know you will be punished.

4. I understand the sanctions. I understand wanting to do everything possible to avoid war—further escalation—however, I can’t help that a part of me feels that Europe and the United States are not doing enough. I have conflicting feelings because I also do not want to see World War III, but how can we just sit on the sidelines watching what is happening unfold? Europe and the U.S. have taken greater steps in the last few days, pledging to provide more military aid to Ukraine, but I still feel discomfort in my chest. It still doesn’t feel like enough. But I still can’t feel what feels right either. In a way, nothing does.

But, how will European and U.S. leaders and people feel if the Ukrainian president is killed?

5. Those who will be hurt the worst from the sanctions are normal Russian people. Putin and other Russian oligarchs and officials will feel it—but they undoubtedly have money stashed away. And if it comes to a shortage of food, who do you think will receive it first?

6. The U.S. should have helped Afghan U.S. embassy workers flee after the Taliban took over—instead of leaving them to find their own way out of the country. They should have done the same with the Ukrainian U.S. embassy workers.

7. I can’t help but see parallels to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. He justified the invasion by saying that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction,” which were never found. It may not be exactly the same as Putin’s invasion; however, Putin has gone in on lies, and so too did Bush (although he claimed it was faulty evidence). There may have been other motives behind Bush’s invasion. There was no conclusive evidence that Iraq had the weapons when he invaded. In 2002, he said himself that he was unsure. I’m not saying it’s exactly the same thing—but I can’t help but feel a similarity.

And a few other thoughts:

1. I read this in a New York Times article, “Three-quarters of Afghanistan’s population had plunged into acute poverty, with 4.7 million Afghans likely to suffer severe malnutrition this year, according to the United Nations.” Over 90 percent of healthcare clinics are predicted to shut down in coming months. Funding was frozen with sanctions placed on the Taliban. This has led to a near economic collapse, which, of course, hurts poor people the most.

I understand not wanting to support the Taliban; however, people are starving, dying, don’t have access to medical care. Biden just decided to redirect the $7 billion in frozen Afghan funds to the families of the victims of 9/11 and humanitarian groups helping within Afghanistan (split between the two)—all of that money should still go to humanitarian relief efforts in Afghanistan. Period. Those are the people—humans—who need help. And they are dying.

2. Which brings me to: we barely hear about Afghanistan anymore. Why is that? It’s as if the country doesn’t exist now that we don’t have active troops there.

Will the same one day happen with Ukraine? Probably.

3. And something I’ve wanted to articulate for a year: discrepancy in COVID-19 vaccine distributions. Rich countries are monopolizing vaccine doses. In 2021, the U.S. bought enough COVID-19 vaccine doses to vaccinate its adult population three times over—while many of the poorest nations may not get mostly vaccinated until 2023. How is this okay? Why does the U.S. need to hoard so many when other countries don’t have enough? (Especially when so many Americans are blatantly refusing them.)

Many months ago, workers wanted to deliver vaccine doses from California to Mexico because they weren’t being used and would expire—but they were denied by the Biden Administration. Why? If there are people in other countries who want and need vaccines, why can’t we share them?

Not all of these thoughts are directly related to the situation in Ukraine, but they have arisen within me because they also show inequity, inequality—and painful truths in this world.

What is happening in Ukraine is heartbreaking.

And what is happening in other parts of the world is also heartbreaking.

And amidst the pain of what we see happening, and even the beauty of seeing humans come together, lies a layer of inequality that isn’t talked about enough.

And it should be.

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Another must-read: Why calling Ukraine “Relatively Civilized” is Wrong on so many Levels.

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