It was fitting that we sat down to dinner with two Ukrainians on the first anniversary of Russia’s brutal invasion of their homeland.
On February 24, we met Irina and Halina, refugees from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, which is just 30 km from the Russian border.
For many months now, both women have been living with the family that invited us to dinner. At table, both were pleasingly warm rather than overly smiley. Irina – whose English has come on in leaps and bounds, in the proud recounting of our host – told the gathering she was an accountant back home, had two young sons now in a local London school and takes classes at college. She also spoke on behalf of her mother, Halina, an engineer back in Ukraine. Halina, said Irina, has just three words of English. “I love you,” the older woman said several times to the smiling faces around the table. (Some might say her English isn’t really limited, but embraces the world and worlds within worlds. The three words she says with such feeling can serve as a talisman, a khulja sim sim magical secret code that opens doors – and hearts.)
On a symbolically important day for their brave, war-scarred country, mother and daughter joined the communal dinner their faces serene. There was no trace of bitterness, no hint of the emotions that must surely seethe in their hearts.
They were a lesson in the moral psychology of hope, the eponymous title of a 2020 book edited by Claudia Blöser and Titus Stahl. One chapter in the book, by Adrienne M. Martin describes a “rough consensus” on the three primary component parts of hope: “first, a belief that the hoped-for outcome is possible but not guaranteed; second, a desire or preference for that outcome; and some third thing that amounts to a positively-toned ‘what-if’ attitude toward a future containing that outcome”.
It seemed to me that serene place was where Irina and Halina sat on the first anniversary of the war that ripped apart their lives and home.
(Click here for my New European piece from the near-start of the Russian war on Ukraine: Return of the international brigades. It asks if Ukraine could become a historical hinge point for idealistic initiative when confronted by the forces of tyranny, just like the Spanish civil war in the 1930s.)