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Ukraine & Russians: Remembering Our Fellow Humanity

Times of war are understandably and justifiably emotional. Innocent individuals can become the targets of hate based on their name, passport, skin color, or accent even though they may actually be against the aggression you are claiming to be against. Hating entire peoples is against the very ideals of enlightenment and democracy. It's easy to follow one's ideals in easy times. It is more difficult to stick to those ideals in challenging times.

It is vital to remember that Putin has not been elected in free and fair elections in Russia. It is important to remember that Russian state media is saturated in propaganda, and that many of the people there are obtaining their views from that state media. Find that hard to believe? Look no further than the US where we have entire "news" channels filling people's minds with fear and hate of the "other" within America who are to them "not real Americans." Now ramp that up to a higher level where the entire media environment is increasingly state controlled with fewer and fewer sources of information available that aren't promoting nationalism, fear, and hate. How best to prove them "right" that the world is out to get them? Well, spewing vitriol and hate right back at them is a great way to convince them that their propaganda is True.

It is also important to recognize that there are currently tens of thousands of Russians protesting in the streets of Russia, and that is an incredibly brave thing to do. Those protests are made illegal by Putin's government. They are being arrested in the thousands. Those arrests are often brutal in their nature. Russian prison life is brutal. Those protesting are not only risking their own freedom, future, and lives. They are potentially putting their friends and families at risk in their jobs and with the state. It is then not the casual decision it is in a democracy to get some cardboard, write up a sign, and decide what outfit to wear to the protest. It is a decision of whether or not walking out that door you are ready to go right to jail and all the implications that has for your future and your family. It is incredibly brave. These Russians should be celebrated and supported.

And let us remember to be kind to the Russians outside of Russia. Often, if they are living and studying in the democratic nations of the world, they are likely to also be shocked and horrified by the invasion of Ukraine. Many Russians have friends and family in Ukraine. They may be living in fear and worry for those friends and family. Many will be far away currently from their friends and family in Russia. They are looking back at those friends and family living in an increasingly authoritarian, closed, and isolated society facing potential economic collapse. There is a very good chance they are stressed and worried about their friends and family.

Putin made this choice to invade Ukraine. Your neighbor down the street in Boston who happened to be born in Russia did not. The child of the Russian graduate students studying in your local university did not make the choice to invade Ukraine nor did his parents.

We might encounter Russians who have the belief that Ukrainians are fascist, led by a fascist, and that Russia is invading to protect Ukrainians from fascists. We may think that is ridiculous (and it is). We should not just turn our backs to this and let those beliefs go unchallenged. But to respond to those beliefs with hate and base name calling is not going to convince that person that they may be wrong. It's going to convince them that the propaganda they've heard was right. It can be challenging when you encounter this. It can be so frustrating you feel as though you may lose your mind. But going low to try to prove your ideals isn't likely going to be living the example of those ideals. And maybe the person is truly just a jerk. It happens in every nationality, race, religion and every human grouping one can imagine. But starting out with the assumption that you should be angry or hateful toward the person is not the way to go.

We can support Ukraine without denying our fellow humanity with the Russian people. Let us remember that common humanity. Let us remember that our common foes are those who would turn us against each other for their own benefit and gain.

Full discloser: The author is an American married to a Russian (now Russian-American) and has friends and family in Russia.

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