Last Tuesday my wife and I went to a German restaurant in Kyiv. Why? Perhaps in gratitude for those Leopard tanks. Frankly, the bratwurst was bad and the sauerkraut worse. But the beer was excellent. It was Czech though, writes Askold S. Lozynskyj.
The patrons were sparse and the mood was not particularly upbeat.
That was until Nick walked in. We noticed him only because he spoke English to the waiter. He did so several times so we decided that he must be Canadian, probably a Ukrainian Canadian.
I was about to pounce on him for neglecting his Ukrainian language. That’s my routine in Ukraine when meeting people.
He calmly responded that he was not Ukrainian at all but from the British Columbia province in Canada. I asked him hockey questions as a form of interrogation.
Shamefully but apologetically, he acknowledged that he not only did not play ice hockey, but had very little interest in it. He was more of a football (soccer) fan. I made a bad joke, something like, do your parents know and we all laughed.
It turns out he was a Canadian with German roots. He had military training in Canada, but was bored. When he learned about the war in Ukraine, he became excited. He came over, loved the people and asked to join the war effort.
I asked whether it was one of the Ukrainian girls that made this experience even more special. It turns out he does love one of the people even more than others.
It turned out that this was Nick’s 21st birthday. We bought him a German beer, sang “Mnohaja Lita” (Happy Birthday) and began calling him “Mykola.” We stayed only a bit longer. He told us he was due back by 10PM and that he would be going out to the front very soon. At last we said, “Goodbye Nick and good luck”. He corrected us. “Mykola”, he said.
For my wife and me, this was a very special meeting. We know that there are non Ukrainians serving in Ukraine’s armed forces. But meeting one, getting to know him, albeit briefly, was very personal and emotional. My wife cried.
Ukraine has made many friends during this almost two year brutal ordeal. In fact during the very first few days of Russia’s invasion as I recall, many throughout the world flocked to manifest support for Ukraine.
As I live in New York City I was astounded by the number of Ukrainian flags that were hung out from windows and fire escapes. In particular I was highly encouraged by New York City’s cultural elite, Broadway and Lincoln Center celebrities, but even the average New Yorker.
Over the course of almost two years an element of fatigue has set in, fed in part by an acknowledgment by Ukraine’s president and the military that the effort to save the civilized world from Russian barbarism would indeed be a marathon rather than a sprint.
The cost to Ukraine in terms of blood and infrastructure has been enormous. And still Ukraine, its people and Nick have resolved to go on. While fatigue in the West is understandable, it must be balanced by a recognition that war often provides an opportunity for the better.
On February 24th, 2022 Russia was the single greatest threat to the security not only of Ukraine but the civilized and democratic world.
The world is a much better place today because Russia has been exposed. Russia has perpetrate acts of aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity and attempted genocide as enumerated by the International Criminal Court and yet it has accomplished nothing in terms of achieving its purpose losing more than three hundred thousand of its own soldiers in the effort.
America and the West have spent money, not lives, to secure its own future and have reinvigorated its defense industry in the process. Ukrainians are fighting the world’s battle to preclude a World War 3.
My meeting with Nick was a reason to rejoice as I saw in him reinforcements. Nick is only one man, yet symbolic of the very fact that Ukraine is not alone.
With friends like Nick, Ukraine’s victory is inevitable. Dear friends and allies, stay with Ukraine not merely for Ukraine but for the sake of all of us – people who love and cherish freedom. This is Nick’s message.