As I write this column (early March), military units and armored vehicles of a foreign aggressor roam the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine. Russian troops, and troops pretending not to be Russian, seized control of Crimea. The two countries that share history, culture, and family ties—the people thought to be brothers—now became enemies. As Ukraine found the strength to oppose the corruption of the old regime, to oust the pro-Russian president, and to install a new government, the whole world saw the power of the people whose aspiration is the love of their country and its democratic future. But with change came problems.
As I have followed the news in Ukraine, the country where I was born and raised, I realized that changes in Ukraine changed me. When I emigrated from Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, I left the hated communist regime behind and planned never to look back. Ukraine was then at the end of the empire, the name itself deriving from the word that means “the margin” or “the outskirts.” That’s why the definite article always accompanied the country. If you lived in the Ukraine, you lived on the periphery.
Both of my parents are ethnic Russians, so I identified myself as Russian born in Ukraine. I was surprised why it was so hard for people in the United States to understand this. They would ask: “But if you were born in Ukraine, you are Ukrainian, right?” I didn’t know back then that, unlike Europe where notions of “blood” determine ethnicity, in the U.S. it was citizenship that matters. I liked the American approach to citizenship, and when I became an American citizen, I identified myself as a (proud) American of Russian descent.
In 1991 Ukraine gained independence, and I saw a huge change before my eyes. Ukraine restored its language, its anthem, and its beautiful yellow-and-blue flag. And it dropped the “the” before its name. It was no longer the outskirts, it was right there in the center of Europe, equal among others. Something unexpected happened—I was proud of my country of origin. This pride grew during the Orange Revolution in Kiev in 2004 and even more during Maidan of 2014, where people were willing to die for the freedom of their country. What is my identity now? (Proud) American of Ukrainian origin.
This month’s study in Today in the Word is about change. Look at the headlines of the first few days: Why Change Is Hard. When Sin Crouches at the Door. Change of Address. Change of Fortune. When Brothers Become Enemies. Change of Character. When Enemies Become Brothers. Be Careful What You Wish For. It could be an outline for the latest events in Ukraine, or for the article about Ukraine—maybe even for this column. As you read this devotional, think about what inspires change in your life. We invite you to pray about the changes in your own life and also about God’s work in the changes around the world. Please pray for Ukraine. And when you do, remember: no “the” before its name.