Three interactions, two from the belly of the Ukraine, one from a recent immigrant to the US. This is the story from their persepctives.
Irina: "Ukraine is for Ukrainian only. I am from there, I know how all those others ruin everything."
I liked Irina. Nearly every Wednesday of the year, I stop in the CVS drugstore to pick up prescriptions and sundries in Ann Arbor for my elderly friends who live nearby. She is always sweet and funny, her Ukrainian accent sounding like home to me, having a father for whom English was a second language to his native Polish. His people were from the far eastern part of Poland; their dialect so close to Ukrainian that his brother bought a cottage in the exclusive Ukrainian community at Lake Dibrova in Brighton Michigan and it was years before they found out we all weren't really Ukes. I asked my dad once, if Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian were the same language, listening to him slip in an out of each and English as a young child. He smiled, and said, "No, Diny, but we came from a border town. That border changed so many times through the years, my grandparents said they could never tell where they were. We got all the leftover dialects of all of them," and laughed heartily. I asked if that was confusing. He said, they couldn't care less. Their farm was their farm, and until the Nazis came, they didn't give a shiesta (phonetic - roughly "sh*t" - oddly there is nothing comparable in the Polish dictionary for it... dialects, indeed).
Then his parents left.
Irina lamented last summer, her tiny apartment, how she missed gardening... how she hated not having a car, and having to rely on the buses. An older single woman living on cashier wages, I had a soft spot for her, so used to bring her tomatoes and cucumbers when my garden came in. I loved her accent. She loved that I was Slavic. We always made small talk with a smile for one another.
Imagine my surprise when this Wednesday past I found out she really is a Nazi sympathizer. And thinks it is Russia, not the US, who is the aggressor here.
I was in line behind a tall, grey-haired man, still strong of build despite his well-past-retirement age. He was saying how the US should stay the hell out of the Ukraine, and that Russia was right. Never one to pass a random public political discussion, I heartily agreed. She started to say, "No, no, the US does good...," when he brought up our aggression vs Russia's, and I cited the number of bases to support him. We have over a thousand not on US soil, they have 7. He was on his way out and said, "f*ck the US," by way of leave.
As I approached, she said, "You don't understand. Russia plans on taking everything over again," going on to name countries, mostly in the West. I said, but the new, illegal government are Nazis, they want to outlaw speaking Russian and perhaps deport anyone who is ethnically Russian. She sneered, "Is Ukraine! They should be only Ukrainians! They should speak our language or get out! The new leaders are good and right. Ukraine for Ukrainians!"
I asked, pointedly, "If the Crimeans want to be independent and allied with Russia, why should the US interfere? I mean, look at all the places we have invaded and made war on, and Russia hasn't to anyone."
She looked up defiantly, "The US only does war for GOOD! Everywhere, they bring freedom."
I was now staring open-jawed and aghast. "You really don't believe that do you? So we should back Nazis who want to deny Jews and Russians their freedom in their own country and that is for good?"
By now, another customer had walked up, my order was paid for and bagged, so we couldn't politely continue. She just curled her lip and whispered with a growl, "The Nationalists are good. Ukraine is for Ukrainian only. I am from there, I know how all those others ruin everything." She spit 'others' with a venom that made me shudder. Her hatred of Russians and Jews so palpable as to my picturing her slamming the door on a gas chamber. So much for that sweet old Uke lady.