The people of Ukraine don't deserve war – no one does

February 25, 2022 | 04:25 pm PT
Truong Anh Ngoc Journalist
When the gunfire and explosions that maimed Ukraine reverberated across the world, memories of my youth 10 years ago in that beautiful country came back to me.

I was a traveler and a journalist. It was summertime and I spent a month prancing on Ukrainian streets. A decade has passed, yet I can picture those days like it was yesterday.

When I left, what I missed most were the people. I missed the youngsters who dreamed of better lives. I missed the elderly who spent out the rest of their days with grace and on what little pensions they had. I missed the shop owners down the street and the protesters waving banners in the squares. I missed the taxi drivers, the kids with Down syndrome. I missed the way the people carried on with their lives with love and dignity. As part of the mosaic of Ukrainian life, they were all very beautiful.

Most of the Vietnamese I met back then in Ukraine were poor workers. One of them, who lived in Kyiv, said the Vietnamese community there are generally poorer than those who live in other Eastern European countries. The constant political instability was always a major hurdle for growth and development.

They took every big or small job to get by, from selling things at the markets in Kyiv, Odessa and Donetsk to fixing utilities and doing mechanical work for anyone in need. They came from everywhere in Vietnam: Ha Tinh, Thanh Hoa, Hanoi, Cao Bang... And if you ever get a chance to go to regions with dense Vietnamese populations, like the Barabasova market in Kharkov, you would feel right at home.

I rented an apartment owned by Hoa, a Vietnamese man who studied in Ukraine and met his wife there. He worked as a driver, tour guide, landlord and also did immigration documents for his fellow countrymen. He died a few years ago of an illness.

I knew a teacher named Yen at the 251 Primary School of Kyiv. She taught Vietnamese to around 30 Vietnamese immigrant kids, all born in Kyiv. But her main business was running a small clothing store at a market in the suburbs.

I once stayed at the home of a Vietnamese family in Donetsk, around 800 km away from Kyiv. They were as hospitable as they could be, always asking us reporters if we needed anything or if we slept well. That place has become a battlefield since 2014; their apartment was right in the heart of it. They later moved to Odessa. I met a family member once after that in Hanoi, and apparently his family was well.

Similarly, I also heard Yen returned to Hanoi as well after business failed.

I have lost touch with many people over there as the years went by. I suspect their lives aren't easy either, especially with everything that Ukraine is going through right now.

War has settled in Eastern Ukraine over the last eight years, taking the lives of over 14,000 people and sending families on the run, fearful for their lives. I wonder how many Vietnamese families are running right now as well.

We don't know how long this bloodshed will last, or how much further it would extend. I don't know how much more suffering will Ukraine, a country whose economy has struggled for years and where the wealth gap between the rich and the poor has kept getting wider, have to endure.

I remember a concert at Maidan Nezalezhnosti, where the historic Revolution of Dignity happened just two years after. Tens of thousands of the young people of Kyiv stood there in the night, listening to Elton John and Adam Lambert. It was a very different image from what older generations of Ukrainians had seen, who long for a glorious past of the USSR that’s gone forever.

Ukraine has seen enough violence. While difficult to reconcile differences exist between different sides in this conflict, these should not lead to violence – not in Ukraine, not anywhere in the world.

I can only hope and pray for peace to return to Ukraine once more. I pray for its people, including the numerous Vietnamese in Kiev, Donetsk and other regions.

*Truong Anh Ngoc is a Vietnamese journalist in Hanoi. The opinions expressed are his own.

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