By Anna Synakh || Staff Writer
I wrote one of my best essays ever in the first semester of freshman year. A sad thing to admit as a second-semester senior, but things only get sadder from there. The best essay of my college career was the best because it was filled with honesty, saturated with the reality of my being. It spoke about the side of me I have learned to hide in the shadow, only to reveal in the form of an icebreaker fun fact. This nagging feeling of the diluted identity I struggled with for years finally came out in the open…
I wear ripped t-shirts and leggings on a daily basis, to my mother’s disappointment. I drop ice into every drink I have year-round. My accent has vanished, and can only be heard on the darkest of days, many all-nighters deep. My liberal attitude can be smelled from miles away. I have become the definition of the American youth over the last six years. Yet, here I am in my kitchen hearing my best friend question the preserved spoilt milk1 on the counter.
But, yes, freshman year for the first time in six years I spoke of the conflict within my head. The conflict of preserving spoiled milk, of having a sour cream addiction, of not being able to pronounce or spell eighths, of being fascinated by the word “squirrels,” and loving all things pickled just a little too much. The six years before that? I spent them Americanizing myself.
I learned early on after moving from Ukraine that it was best to hide my origins, as none of my classmates could place it on a map and even fewer of them would know anything of its history. It was just easier. I got so good at not being Ukrainian that the phrase “I never would have thought you’re not from here” became the standard and praised reaction to my big fun-fact reveal. And I took that phrase as a little chip on my shoulder and wore it with pride.
The phrase slowly but surely erased an essential part of my being for six years. I have been trying to retrieve it for years now, chasing after it, pursuing a career that would allow me to speak Ukrainian again, looking for internships related to Eastern European foreign policy, maybe diplomacy, because maybe I could be the one who would really help put Ukraine on the radar. As if that would make up for years of not going home, not visiting my family, not preserving childhood friendships as well as I now wish. Sounds god-awful on paper, doesn’t it? Feels even worse. When the opportunity to see much of your family gets snatched out from under your feet, it is so much worse.
Seeing your sister, who has grown to represent everything good about the new generation of Ukrainians, what really is your generation of Ukrainians, may now not happen for months. To hug your grandparents may not be a possibility ever again. To turn your weekly phone calls with Grandpa into a weekly breakfast together is now but a dream.
For years, I used to say the American part of me had started to outweigh the Ukrainian one. I became myself here. I established my values here. I was only thirteen when I moved. Now, now I feel more Ukrainian than ever. Reading the news in the language I buried to make space for a new one. The new goddamn language that was full of promise and hope, one that in 2014 spoke of peace and sanctions, and one that promised to help then, and saying it will help now, often with nothing but words. The language which for years now has been betraying me and my family.
But, now I sit and read the news in Ukrainian. After only a few days, it feels like home again. It’s been cradling me, leading me through the darkness of this week. No other language could compare. I have missed the softness of the sounds, the flow of each syllable. Even when it speaks of war it does so enchantingly, soothingly, with solace English could never offer.
War. In my home. Can I call it home, despite not having been there in five years? Do I have the right to speak out? I hope I do because I want to. I want to do much more than just speak. To you, this all might sound a bit dramatic.
But this is the time for drama, or at least it feels that way. When you don’t know when you’ll see some of your closest family again. When your literal childhood home may be forever inaccessible to you. That’s when the drama starts to creep up on you. That’s when every bad scenario your head assembles, gets torn down and replaced by a much worse one. That’s also when your worst nightmare becomes your reality. That’s when you don’t sleep all night to avoid the said nightmares but they follow you well into the morning, into the present world. That’s when you find out your sister is driving your family’s first car, a little Toyota Auris, through Ukraine with no particular destination, just West, with a half-dead phone battery and a gas shortage, through the smoke and the beautiful wheat fields, not panicking, just “slightly worried.” And somewhere in the middle of this nightmare, she sends you a lifeline, a picture of your brother-in-law stuffing himself with matzoh ball soup in some house in the said West, and you find peace for just a minute. Pause from thinking about what could happen tomorrow. Tonight they are safe.
My sister, my family, and my childhood friends are like that. Hopeful, well-fed, frustrated, angered, blunt, and funny even in the worst of times, and ready for whatever comes their way. They need our help, desperately, but they’re unbelievably strong. They’re good people too, some of the best. You’d love them. I love them very much.
So what’s the point of this, you may ask? Honestly: No clue. Is it going to get better just because this little essay, op-ed, or whatever you want to call it, causes more people to learn about what’s happening, and start speaking out about it? Probably not. Is the drama of war in my country, in my head, on my social media accounts going to push one of you to change the world for the better and somehow magically resolve this? A girl can only dream because, honestly, a girl thought she would change the world just a little bit, a girl dreamt of a career in diplomacy, but she is tired and has cursed every “diplomatic” statement said in the past week and all she can think about is her sister’s face and her grandparents’ voices.
The point is, I have no idea how to really help my family, but I had to put my hands on something, so I wrote.
The point is, my country is at war. On land, online, socially, politically, you name it. And Ukrainians can’t do this alone. So, since you’re wasting your time reading this already, you might as well do something useful: report accounts that support Russia, report any type of Russian propaganda you see, do some research, find Ukraine on a map, maybe memorize a couple of the names of our cities (happy to help with proper pronunciation), and please kindly fuck off with the World War III jokes, they hurt, a lot. Do better. Extra brownie points if you can reach out to your representatives, bug them a little regarding the US response to the war in Ukraine. You could also donate to one of the organizations listed below.
Where to Donate:
Senior Anna Synakh is a staff writer. Her email is email@example.com.
1 Spoilt milk is your key ingredient for that fluff factor in oladyi. If and when you Google what the fuck oladyi are, please skip over all of the Russian recipes, and go for the Ukrainian or Polish ones. Thanks. The least you can do.