It felt so inconsequential.
We had pulled on long johns, winter coats, caps and gloves and walked 10 minutes to the front steps of the North Dakota Capitol Building. Someone was passing out yellow and blue flags, which we gladly waved as news photographers took pictures and video. In her native Ukranian language Nataliya Tello chanted “Glory to Ukraine.”
After about 45 minutes, the North Dakota wind has caused an uncomfortable chill. Mirabela Punga, who’s family operates Little Odessa eastern European food store in Bismarck, thanks us for coming, and we start the short return trip.
In a few minutes, we are back out of the elements and into the comfortable warmth of our home, where a recliner and a blanket beckon a retiree for an afternoon nap.
A bit later, internet searches show that the national papers are replete with stories of people who are fleeing the shooting and shelling in Ukraine.
Alex and his family, and Eureena and hers, are typical. Fearing Russian retaliation, neither family felt safe telling reporters their surnames. Both, anxious and afraid, left their homes with but a handful of belongings and travelled for several days without sleep to reach the border with Poland, then spent 22 hours in a line to get across the border.
There, the men dropped off the women and children, hoping they would find safety, and headed back to their home regions to meet their obligation and desire to help defend the mother country.
Thousands of others arrived by foot, their walks likely much, much longer than ours and their destination offering no blankets and recliners and electronic devices.
Just as 45 minutes at a chilly outdoor rally seems inconsequential, calling the situation in Ukraine a humanitarian crisis doesn’t seem sufficient until you hear the names and see the bloodied faces of innocents and watch the tears run down the cheeks of a 4-year-old saying goodbye, perhaps forever, to daddy.
All of it because of an egomaniacal despot more concerned with his own chest-thumping than with human life and dignity.
“It’s impossible to understand and believe that in present time someone can take part of your country just because he wants to,” Maryna Pustovit told The Journal last week.
Still, how can any of us do anything about it that isn’t futile or inconsequential?
People like Nataliya and Mirabela don’t care about consequential. Just do something, they say.
Pray. Hang a Ukranian flag in your window. Shop at a place like Little Odessa. Attend a rally or protest. Better yet, organize one.
Tell people like Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, and Rep. Kelly Armstrong, and President Biden to respond immediately to support the people of a free country before an unreasonable and unrepentant dictator takes what isn’t his.
Donate to independent journalism like the Kyiv Independent and the New Voice of Ukraine to stop the Russian invaders’ assault on truth and information.
There are hundreds of reputable aid organizations with boots on the ground in response to the humanitarian crisis, ranging from Lutheran Disaster Response to Doctors Without Borders to GlobalGiving to the International Rescue Committee.
The most encouraging result of Putin’s invasion is the reminder that what unites us is so much more important than what divides us. The ideological divisions that have dominated our social and political landscape in recent years are trivial in comparison to the tragedy that is spreading out from Ukraine, through Europe and even into the United States.
As a result, most of the rest of the world, in ways large and small, has joined the opposition to Putin’s aggression, understanding it as an affront to decency, humanity and world order.
Putin has brought the world to a crossroads, betting that the rest of us won’t have the stomach to risk nuclear war to stop him.
He needs to know that we have the stomach. We’ll pay higher gas prices, we’ll spend our hard-earned tax dollars, will donate our personal resources, we’ll even sacrifice some lives, because the price of not doing so will be even higher.
Besides, it’s the right thing to do.