Bearing Witness


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My latest commentary on Ukraine. The KQED radio version can be found here

Since February 25th we have watched the Ukrainians hold back Putin’s invasion. The Ukrainians may yet prevail. Not because it will be easy. And not because it will end well. But because the opposite may be true. And that has proven historically to be one of the strengths of the Ukrainian people.

The Greek word ‘martyr’ literally means to bear witness, specifically through one’s own suffering or even death.

The Ukrainians bore witness during their forced starvation in the 1930s, during their occupation in WWII, during the Chernobyl disaster, and later in 2014 when over 100 civilians were gunned down during the Maidan Revolution. They know what it means to do this.

And now as Ukrainian teachers and mothers and storeowners and students stockpile their homemade Molotov cocktails, they continue to bear witness.

The Snake Island border guards did so when they stood defiantly as the Russian warship bombarded them.

Civilians have thrown themselves in front of military convoys to slow their advance. Ukrainian farmers have stolen stalled Russian tanks with their tractors.

A mother offered handfuls of sunflower seeds to invading soldiers. She told them to put the seeds in their pockets so that flowers would sprout from their bones.

When European leaders offered asylum to President Zelenskyy, he declined, stating that they most likely would never see him again.

Through all this, the unexpected has happened. This previously ignored country has reminded us what it means to defend democracy. They have reminded us what it means to be the principled and valorous human beings that we strive to be. They have borne witness not just for themselves or for Europe, but for us all.

With a Perspective, this is Andrew Lewis.

2 thoughts on “Bearing Witness

  1. Great perspective as always. During those four years of our country lurching towards the unthinkable I never had words for people who professed that their plan was to leave the country rather than fight for it. I hope as Americans witness the patriotism and courage of Ukrainians we become more resolved to re-dedicate ourselves to our own democracy.

  2. Beautiful piece. Even reading it several weeks later, it holds up the values these people are defending and shows the elemental importance of keeping our faith in democracy, and acting on it.

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