I am asked this question by nearly every person I encounter here. "Why you come here, so many people want to leave, and you come. You are crazy." While my sanity is not always sound, I felt like I had a fairly good response. I studied Soviet and Slavic history at my university and I simply fell in love. A country with such a cold and bleak past existing under autonomy so rarely that one might think it never happened. Polish, Mongolian, Hungarian, Ottoman, Belarusian, Slovakian, Moldovan, and of course Russian. All of these nations at some time or another had control over some part of Ukraine, the chief of which being Russian. Russians and Ukrainians are brothers in almost the truest sense of the word, but their relationship hasn't always been brotherly. Territory losses; bloody battles; brutal governments, cultural rifts, harsh weather, and question-of-self would seem to be enough to shatter a people... but it hasn't. The Slavic spirit is one of duality and ambiguity but indomitable nonetheless. The cold smile-less faces on the metro and general distrust of the unknown can be coldly off-putting, but one must dig deeper. The Slavic spirit is alive and well in the hearts of the common Ukrainian, and it is a thing to behold. The strength, power, unity, and perseverance inspires awe. The architecture, language, song, dance, poetry, and art are without question world class.
I learned this many years ago in a classroom far removed from the people and counties I was studying. I encountered a few Ukrainians in my travels all of whom carried with them a warmth and spirit that both impressed and intrigued me. So I decided to come to Ukraine and try my luck, to see if I could find this elusive Slavic spirit - the soul of Ukraine. I found something special with a shockingly warm summer, beautiful women, kind and open men, surprising food, a stunningly sing-songy language, and a city with a deep and rich history buried, but shinning through, under all of the other influences. However, my search was still fruitless, I still didn't have a solid answer for: "Why, why Ukraine?"
In the past months, culminating in this week, I have found it. Something concrete. Something solid.
The dirty smiling faces of men building tents in the cold fueled by gruff and open machismo and the tender and motherly nature of women tending soup kitchens. The stalwart old women passing paving stones down a line to protect her homeland and the heaving shoulders of a burly man as he weeps, mourning the loss of one of Ukraine's native sons. The Ukrainian spirt is unbreakable and unbending, but also warm and human.
There is something truly special happening here, and now the world can see it.
So finally, I have something I can put my finger on and say: "This, this is why I am here. This is why I chose Ukraine." The soul and spirit of the people is truly a thing to behold and I hope they nurture it. The events of Maidan are offering them a chance at a new start, one in which their future is in their own hands. So now I think the question isn't "Why?" but "Where?" and the answer to that question rests in the heart of every Ukrainian.