War is terrible, and unfortunately a great revealer. Here are 5 things the war in Ukraine teaches me about humanity.
Like most of us, February 24 2022 rolled around and I found myself checking my phone every few minutes of every day to see what on earth was happening in my lifetime.
It marked the beginning of the “special military operation” (Russia’s words) by the Russian Federation into the nation of Ukraine. President Putin had been repeatedly demanding his issues of NATO be resolved, and launched a sudden campaign to “denazify” Ukraine and free the eastern self-proclaimed (ish?) republics in the Donbass region.
However most shockingly, the invasion actually primarily focused around Kyiv. In 2022, a major world power tried to invade and capture the capital of another major world power, even via the lands of another world power in Belarus. It’s like the ghosts of Hitler and Stalin came back for another round.
It’s been devastating for so many people. The Ukranians of course, but also for the citizens of Russia. Whether it’s by bomb or economic sanction, life on both sides has been devastated.
There have been many conflicts and many ongoing conflicts around the world – Israel/Palestine, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Armenia, these and more – but the scale of this one just has seemed absolutely huge. Oh sure, I remember Chechnya and Crimea and South Ossetia being on the news, but this has been country-wide from one of the largest world super powers with some of their largest weapons, including consistent and repeated nuclear threats to surrounding parties.
Like Grozny and Aleppo, it looks like various cities in Ukraine will be vying for the title of “most destroyed by Russian military tactics” in recent memory.
In fact I watched a few short documentaries on the Russian invasion of Chechnya and you could simply replace the word “Ukraine” and get all the same headlines. Or even on Korean and Vietnam proxy wars, only now it’s not just the US getting in on supporting a particular side, it’s almost everyone.
And I’ve just been at a loss about the whole thing. I personally am more on the side of Ukraine but have been actively trying to understand the Russian side as best I can by listening to every interview and reading all news outlets of theirs that are still accessible to the West. I know the Azov battalion are real but it seems strange to kill 40 million people for 900 proported neo-Nazis. And the attack is everywhere, not just the places that “need liberation”.
And the rape. And the mines. And the cluster bombs. And the ignorance about sanctions on civilians. And the attacking and delaying humanitarian resources. And the refusal to negotiate anything short of acquiring land from another nation. Although Putin has said multiple times in the past that he believes Ukraine is Russia and Ukraine doesn’t have any history or identity on its own.
And then I watched an interview with British Channel 4 with a Russian diplomat who absolutely said there was no invasion or attack anywhere on Ukranian soil. And my brain and my heart just died.
Try to watch that for a few minutes without going into an absolute rage. I cannot believe the willingness to pretend nothing is happening. And it seems to be all the diplomats and politicians towing the company line.
War is a great revealer. All of us have opinions and perspectives on humanity, but I think the war in Ukraine teaches me about humanity things that I have understood but have had confirmed or highlighted in the worst ways possible.
#1: Old wounds don’t heal on their own
One word that keeps coming up during the invasion of Ukraine is “Crimea”. Because in 2014, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, forced an election, and is actively trying to get the world to legally recognise it as territory belonging to the Russian Federation. In 2022.
NATO keeps saying their treaty with Russia was severed after 2014 when Crimea occurred.
And nothing has been done about it.
Or the distrust for NATO. Or the US. Or the “West”. I keep seeing from Russian politicians at all levels that the “West” is seen to be an enemy to the Russian way of life.
And here I was thinking we had all been friends the whole time and 1991 actually mattered.
I know this to be true personally and corporately, and on a macro scale the war in Ukraine teaches me about humanity that unresolved issues remain unresolved.
Dr John Gottman and others write extensively on the phenomenon of negative sentiment override. Unhandled and unhindered resentment results in continual expectation of evil or harm from the other.
It happens on the world stage, but it also happens in our homes. Hopefully the war in Ukraine teaches me and all of us really to deal with resentment before it destroys everything.
#2: How willing are we to defend someone who is being beaten up?
Sanctions. Humanitarian aid. Angry tweets.
All the while the Ukranians are dying. Two thirds of their children are displaced. Women and children are raped in the street before being shot between the eyes and hung around like a trophy.
And we watch. We hit that like button. We check what else is going on.
Granted, Putin threatened to nuke anyone who would intervene. Maybe?
But I can’t help but feel we’re all kids at school again, with our class of 30 watching the big kid bash up the slightly smaller kid. Or a husband that everyone knows is beating up his wife but does so unopposed.
In fact, the Ukranian people have even highlighted this has been their experience. It must be so frustrating on their end to hear of all the support, and yet to still be being beaten into submission with everyone watching.
President Zelensky said the world keeps saying “Never Again” to things like this, and yet here we are again. A devastating comment I saw from one of the Ukranian ministry was that “the world is watching us silently die online”.
Greater love has no one than to lay down their life for their friend. I guess we see how much we’re willing to really risk when violence is introduced.
#3: Too much isolation has ruined people’s perspective on truth
This one is the worst of the things that the war in Ukraine teaches me about humanity.
When unredeemed and disconnected, we can be absolutely disgusting people.
The comments sections are usually terrifying places for any topic. But on this war, I have seen and been reminded of how deep our depravity really goes.
For the social media sites of several news sites, Laugh reacts are the main ones for any news on the suffering of the Ukranian people. Comments saying it’s all a joke. Civilians being blown up by indiscriminate, unaimed, unfocused, scattergun artillery and the most liked comment is about what a joke it is that Ukraine asks for more weapons and aid to support their people.
Or worse – that the war or events aren’t real, or that they’re staged.
I realise the mainstream media isn’t always accurate. I recognise bias and don’t agree with the spin on a lot of things. But when we have multiple countries with both heavily left and heavily right leaning news sites all reporting the same information, as well as live streams on the ground where bombs have gone off behind people…
…not to mention Red Cross, UNICEF, the United Nations, varying legal bodies on the investigation of war crimes, the European Union, the European Council, NATO, the Pope, the presidents and prime ministers of various countries, various online content producers, and even Russians themselves all reporting on it…
…I just think… WHAT?!
I saw a lot of this during COVID, but it’s been so much worse for this war. It’s like truth doesn’t matter any more.
We live in what is called a post-truth society. Unfortunately this war has done nothing but reinforce that reality to me. The danger of course is that the truth matters.
Look at how angry people get over the flat-earther movement. Obviously truth matters. Obviously not every perspective can be correct or valid or even compatible with one another.
And yet when 10+ million people have left their homes yielding the worst refuge crisis since World War 2, it’s not real.
When did we move so far away from being able to feel things for others or from being able to see things that are absolutely screaming at us the way things are? When a little virus taught us to be afraid of everything I guess.
And in our isolation, like one pastor says, we grow weak and we grow weird.
Truth is never far away from any of us. And those who genuinely hunger and thirst for righteousness and truth will find it. But the ignorance and the belittling of extreme human suffering shows we are truly depraved people who are no where near as caring or generous as we like to think we are.
#4: A lack of trust and the presence of fear destroys relationships
Like I said earlier, I actually thought Russia and “The West” and NATO were friends. But as it turns out, we’re apparently really not (disclaimer: my country is not in NATO or near NATO).
I’ve found it very hard to find out the actual true cause of why the Russian invasion continues and what its goals are, but one thing the state-run Russia Today continues to highlight that Russia does not want Ukraine to ever join NATO. Every single post they put up about the “special military operation” has the same blurb about liberating Donbass but especially about Ukraine never joining the “NATO miltary bloc”.
And I can’t help but be amazed at the extreme lack of trust, or even fear, that still exists between Russia and NATO, especially because of the treaties and the relative peace between the two for several decades.
And yet bubbling had the surface had been a deep seeded lack of trust and fear.
And here after all this fighting, NATO and Russia will not talk to each other, or even try to talk to each other. Imagine if they did.
If the issue is actually between Russia and NATO, if the fear and mistrust is actually at that level, let them sit and talk about it. We don’t need to blow Ukraine half to hell because we don’t want to talk to each other. And please don’t try this with the Baltics, Finland or Sweden after this.
Recently in Australia we’ve had China sign a military deal with the Solomon Islands that our own country has been freaking out over. It’s hard for us to complain that Russia shouldn’t have been bothered by Ukraine wanting to join NATO when the commentary has been how Australia needs to firmly resist this development near our own territory.
And I think of how we allow fear destroy our own relationships. How a lack of trust that has been unresolved erodes things and keeps things appearing correct but underneath being disconnected.
I personally do not understand at all President Putin’s true motives or concerns. But I would really, really like to. He’s turning the whole world against his country and his people after centuries of great progress and growth (well, maybe at least one century).
Behind the blustering commentary and bravado and destruction I continually see someone who is clearly not being or feeling understood, and who has no idea how to be heard any other way than taking things by excessive force.
It’s absolutely the wrong behaviour. But one thing the Turkish and Chinese rulers have said well is that we need to fully understand the concerns of both sides if we’re ever going to achieve peace.
#5: Other people suffer when you don’t work it out
Imagine if we locked the United Nations in the room until they resolved the conflict.
Then we wouldn’t be sending young Russian boys to die and to destroy another country. Boys too young to even know what Chernobyl is who dug trenches in the Red Forest and went home with radiation poisoning, never to be the same again.
We wouldn’t have children who now have experienced and will unfortunately likely carry on multi-generational trauma that only ever serves to fuel additional and perpetual hatred and violence.
Let Putin and Zelensky sit in a room with mediation until it’s resolved. And let’s all please leave our freaking guns at the door.
I had been re-watching my favourite anime series before the war started and watching it through the events of the war as well. It’s called Gundam Seed (in my top 15 list here) and although it features a lot of war, it’s really a sophisiticated deepdive of a look at how wars and human conflicts start, continue, and end. The macro and yet the micro drivers in the human heart that cause and perpetuate conflict.
It’s about two childhood friends who meet up over years and years but this time on opposing sides of the battlefield, causing them to question exactly what it is they’re fighting for. One of the young women in the show, Cagali, has a line about conflict that I keep hearing when I see anything in the news about the Ukraine invasion:
“One guy’s killed for killing another and then he’s killed for killing him. How is that kind of twisted thinking ever gonna bring us peace?”
Those who live by the sword will also die by it. Unfortunately many other people will die around those swords as well.
And in truth, any conflict we have in our own lives will inevitably spill out and hurt others. Sure, we don’t use bombs or mines, but our words and actions can be just as destructive with just as much emotional and spiritual collateral.
And the longer we fail to understand each other, the longer we remain in conflict.
It’s the hardness of heart that destroys relationships after all.
I think at the end of the day, the war in Ukraine teaches me about humanity something that I have understood for many years but never in such a pronounced and obvious way to me before – that we are fundamentally broken. That without external help and left to our own devices, we are so ready to misunderstand, to belittle, and to destroy each other. To take what we want and to leave people behind with the consequences.
That indeed all have sinned and fallen short. We’re all just as guilty as each other in that regard.
We need a saviour beyond ourselves and guidance beyond what we currently understand.
Because if we don’t submit to a higher way of living, history continually reminds us that this is the behaviour we revert to.
We say “I’m a good person” but the evidence around our nations shows us our metric for ourselves is sorely lacking.
We may not have mass graves or continual shelling but our countries are all marked with domestic violence, with family dysfunction and unresolved hostilities, with substance and alcohol abuse, with angry outbursts and bullying and making people feel small.
I’m not saying humanity needs to be wiped out. Instead we need redemption. When we submit ourselves unfiltered to our own desires, the eventual consequence is evil towards others.
The apostle Paul encourages us – Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.
I pray we find a path to peace for Ukraine and Russia. I do realise that the path to peace sometimes requires violence, but I don’t see that as being necessary in the current case.
And more than that, I pray that all of us can resolve the conflicts we carry out in our day to day lives. Jesus said to burn with anger is to be guilty of murder. It sounds so extreme and yet when we see the eventual consequences of sustained and prolonged anger, we can see just how many people are destroyed in its wake.
Let love be our highest goal. And let us run from anger.