As we find ourselves on this side of the pond with war underway in Europe, it is a strange feeling to be this close. Growing up in the US, while there were wars during my childhood, war heroes and the memory of war, no war had touched American soil in any recent period of time. War always seemed a long way away. While this war is not quite at our doorstep, we do feel a bit closer, see a bit more of the effect, I believe, and especially being part of an international community with our school and friends, see many more angles than if we were currently in the US. So, I thought I might outline a few of our observations from our situation:
- As a part of an international school within driving distance of a war zone, our children have war on their minds in a bigger way than if we were in the US. Yes, I believe that if we were in the US there would be discussions about the war, it would be on the news, and there would be donation and relief efforts. However, I believe that most kids in the US right now are probably not harboring fears that the war could end up at their door and are not worried about how it is effecting friends and their families. In addition, I think that our kids may be engaging more in relief efforts and considering how they and their school community can help. In fact, kids in the US just may not be having discussions about it quite as much as we are. Kids are discussing it every day at school; we discuss it and the school discussions in our home every day; it is coming up in all our conversations with friends and colleagues and some are really scared: scared that this could involve more countries soon, scared that invasion could spill into other European countries and scared because it is personally affecting them, their family members and friends.
- Of course, Ukrainians are experiencing the worst of the war and their situation in unimaginable, but war affects so many. Our Russian friends are hurting too. There is uncertainty with their families back in Russia and concern for them (the family members often being elderly parents), there is uncertainty with their economic situation because of their assets in Russia, and there is fear over how they will be received simply because they are Russian (one thing that we have seen many times since moving here is how people often get unjustly lumped together in these situations-during WWII not all Germans were at fault (Nazis were) and in this war, average Russians are not at fault (Putin is) and don’t deserve to be treated as such). War affects the mental state of everyone as we listen to one another’s fears and worries. And, of course, we all worry as costs begin to rise even further as the ripple effects of the war begin to make their way into our daily lives.
- The effects of the war, at times, feel a bit more “in your face” than they would in the US. Every day on our expat group on Facebook, there are requests for people who can house specific Ukrainian women with their children. The government is making provisions and assistance opportunities for refugees. There are local people collecting items that they will personally ferry to the Polish border for refugees, not just an opportunity to donate money online that will be handled through an agency. There are local people driving to the border to transport refugees. There are local people who are going to Ukraine to help fight.
As just a small example of the way war feels more present here, let me tell you a few snippets from our past week. We saw demonstrations, large amounts of signage and flags supporting Ukraine, and refugees being transported while in Poland; we packaged up a bunch of outgrown clothes and shoes and took them to a local butcher who is taking them to refugees in Poland; we had many conversations in our home about how several of our friends/classmates are being affected and our concerns for them; we had conversations with some of these friends about how they are doing; we made an assignment in the school newspaper club to write an article about the war and how the students feel and are personally affected as many in our school community are; and finally, every month the sirens that signaled an air raid during WWII are tested on the first Monday at noon. This past week, there were many reminders in various groups and news outlets that these would be tested (though we all know this to be the case), and that it didn’t mean there was a problem and to especially communicate this to any refugees so that they would not be afraid. All of that really makes things feel pretty close.
- Finally, there is something hard to explain about a war underway in countries that, just 80 years ago, had large scale war on their soil. Already, the sense of WWII is different in Europe than in the US. The remembrances here, the scars, are not just from soldiers who fought, the families left behind or the economic sacrifices that had to be made. The scars here belong to almost everyone in a personal way, to the cities and the land that was destroyed or rebuilt, to the physical reminders of an unimaginable horror. And those scars live in the people in a way that they just don’t in the US. To now have another war on European soil, to see the similarities to the past: the lands and cultural landmarks that are destroyed, the people trying to be subdued and oppressed, the people who are rising against the invaders, the people who are trying to help even at their own risk is sickening and frightening and opens old scars.
Having shared this, I am by no means trying to say that no one outside of Europe is worried or feeling the effects of the war or doing their part to help and support those being violated. Of course, we all are and we all will. I just thought I would take a minute to record a few of our personal observations and encounters with the situation both to record this moment in history and to share a little about different experiences in order to help us all to consider different perspectives and viewpoints, understand one another better and unite in the face of tragedies such as this.