A few weeks ago, I wrote about Wilmington developing sister-city relationships with three communities in Ukraine. As I wrote that column, Russian forces were beginning to encircle and threaten the safety and freedom of our Ukrainian friends.
In the past couple weeks, we have seen the result of Russia’s aggression.
There is a seven-hour time difference between Ohio and Ukraine. On the night of Feb. 24, Debbie went to bed shortly after 10 p.m. As usual, I stayed up to watch the nightly news.
The news was horrible.
As Americans were preparing for bed, our friends in Ukraine were suffering the first rounds of bombings and missile attacks from Russian forces. After weeks of bullying and threats, Russian President Vladimir Putin, for no conceivable reason — other than pure, naked aggression — decided to attack the peace-loving, non-aggressive country of Ukraine.
As missiles flew and bombs fell, I could not stop watching the carnage on international news.
Around 3 a.m., I shut off the TV and started climbing the stairs to go to bed. I stopped about halfway up. I’m not sure whether I said it out loud, but the words, “Oh, my God. I have just seen the start of World War III,” sounded in my head.
In history, world wars have started over less than the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, is also a sister city to Cincinnati. That relationship was established in 1989.
As I explained in a previous column, in 2013, a delegation from Cincinnati and Wilmington traveled to Ukraine to establish similar sister-city relationships with three communities near Kharkiv. They are Solonystkiva, Chuguev and Merefa. It was a great trip.
Now, those wonderful people — our new sisters — are in a battle for their lives.
I have seen emails from some of our Ukrainian friends since this war began.
From Sergey: “My children are in Uzhhorod. I put my wife on a Vynnitsya train today. I am staying home with my elderly parents. It’s a nightmare around here.”
On Friday, I heard from Nadia: “We woke up at 4 a.m. and went through the tunnels to the train station. At 6:30 there were many people at the station. Andrew (my husband) is staying in Kharkiv. We got on the train to Khmelnitsky.
“We got lucky and are very happy to leave Kharkiv. We are dreaming of a shower and a soft bed. I hope to arrive at our destination by tomorrow morning, but nobody knows for sure. I think we will need two days to relax and figure out what to do next. I don’t think we will stay here. We want to go further from Kyiv. Maybe Chrnivtsy or Uzhhorod will be the best choice.
“This trip is not an easy one as we have to spend 20-24 hours in a sitting position in a crowded compartment (of the train). We won’t feel good tomorrow, but we are not going to be bombed (hopefully).
“Do you understand this war? Do you have any idea how long it is going to be?”
A few days earlier, on Wednesday, Nadia wrote: “I am not good today. I think I have had enough. Tomorrow we will get to the train station and will try to go away somewhere. I wish I had better news, but it gets worse and worse. The whole center of the city is ruined. Where will we go?”
Wilmington native and professor of history at Yale University, Timothy Snyder, wrote a book in 2017 entitled, “On Tyranny – Twenty lessons from the twentieth century.” In was the last and shortest of the 20 lessons. Snyder wrote, “Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die under tyranny.”
Throughout Ukraine today, people are refusing to live under tyranny and are dying for their freedom.
In Wilmington, Mayor John Stanforth issued an official proclamation stating that we stand in solidarity with Ukraine. He condemned the aggression of Vladimir Putin and praised the courage of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
Last Saturday many local citizens gathered at the corner of South Street and Locust Street to show support for Ukraine. They plan to be there this coming Saturday as well.
On Sunday, prayers were lifted for Ukraine in every church in this community. We must show our support for freedom everywhere. We must ask God’s blessings on those who are being attacked and killed. We must support the Ukrainians in any way possible.
When the only things you can do are symbolic, then symbolic gestures become important. Fly the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine.
Russia and the entire world must see that we care.
Randy Riley is a former mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County commissioner.