Hope: A story of Ukrainian jugaad on war’s first anniversary

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 26, 2023
Photo by Jasmine Yu on Unsplash

In some respects, journalist and Volodymr Zelensky’s former political advisor Iuliia Mendel could be said to exhibit the psychology of hope glimpsed in Irina and Halina, Ukrainian refugees in London. Many Indians, incidentally, will recognise Ms Mendel’s incurable optimism about her fellow citizens’ improvisational genius as a Ukrainian form of jugaad.

I’ve already described how Irina and Halina came across at the dinner table – their serenity, hopefulness and realism. The Washington Post opinions editor-at-large Michael Duffy  does the honours for Ms Mendel, who has been writing for the paper in the year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (It’s worthwhile to note at this point that in the past, there was a bit of controversy about an alleged conflict of interest between Ms Mendel’s work as a journalist and her work in government. Wikipedia offers a potted guide here.)

Anyway, that is not of concern here. We’re talking about Ukrainian hope. Back to why Ms Mendel seems to exemplify this quality in the face of challenges that would crush lesser countries.

Mr Duffy says Ms Mendel’s “vivid and startling dispatches” are full of optimism about her war-scarred country. He lists some of the reasons she advances for being upbeat: “These range from on-the-fly battlefield innovations to more babies, more marriages and more civic activism — in short: hope outrunning fear. And old ways of coping, such as dealing with large and broken bureaucracies, have proved to be force multipliers”.

And he quotes from Ms Mendel’s most recent essay: “Ukrainian businesspeople have spent decades coping with corrupt officials, red tape and a turbulent legal environment. Small wonder that they are rising to the challenge of air raids, blackouts, logistics disruptions, migration and mobilization. Businesses’ remarkable capacity to adapt will boost reconstruction once the war is over…Accuse me of optimism if you wish. But I feel it in my bones”.

To me, it sounds as if Ukrainians, like Indians, were always forced to overcome enormous difficulties in order to live and work, perchance to succeed. For India, that has meant necessarily embracing jugaad, ie innovation in straitened circumstances or cobbling together a solution against all odds. So too Ukrainians. And Ms Mendel sees her fellow citizens utilising the same skills, tactics and muscle memory to deal with the brutal war that is tearing apart families and lives.

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