War-Life Balance

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An emergency worker recently proposed to his girlfriend. Dressed in his first responder gear as his colleagues watched, he went on bended knee and presented his sweetheart with a ring.

The moment would not have been a big deal, except that it occurred in Ukraine as the former Soviet republic wages a life-or-death battle against Russia, which invaded the country in late February.

“This is our life now – we joke about ‘war-life balance’,” wrote Anton Herashchenko, a Ukrainian government official in a Tweet quoted in the Indian Express. “This rescuer was saving people, now he is proposing. The siren wails for danger, now it sounds in joy. It is all intertwined and no one’s life is untouched by war in Ukraine.”

A video of the marriage proposal went viral because it reminded the world of how life continues, even amid carnage and destruction. Performances still occur in Odesa’s 135-year-old opera house and Ukrainians still grab drinks at bars and cafes, for example, reported CNN. Living normally, they told the news network, is the best victory they can achieve over Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has maintained that Ukraine has no right to be a country because historically it has been part of Russia, as a London School of Economics blog explained.

The preservation of a semblance of normal life in Western Ukraine has led to a massive migration of Ukrainians from the east to the west, the Washington Post wrote, evoking the yearning that millions of East Europeans experienced during the communist period when defection was viewed as a path to the land of milk and honey.

Of course, as National Public Radio illustrated, Ukrainians living in Kharkiv’s subway system in order to avoid bombs and bullets would tell a different tale of their lives at present. But the Cold War comparison is apt because the Ukrainians who remain behind in Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine might as well live in a different world.

In some parts of the east, for example, billboards colored blue, white and red – the colors of the Russian flag – declare, “We are one people” and “We are with Russia.” Russian passports, mobile phone numbers and television have replaced Ukrainian services, the New York Times reported. Such measures have led many Ukrainians to fear a return to a way of life resembling that under the Soviet Union, added Reuters.

The shift is already happening. Shortages of medicine and other essentials have made life “hell” for elderly folks who have managed to survive until now, Agence France-Presse reported. Those who publicly oppose Russian rule wind up disappearing. Officials brand anyone speaking Ukrainian as a Nazi.

When the Ukrainians say they are fighting for the freedom of the Western world, they mean it.

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