Family and Country: at last, my trek to the motherland
It’s a wonderful feeling to be welcomed with open arms by people whom you’ve never met nor spoken to. That’s the amazing thing about family – a few drops of shared blood are enough to make them treat you like their first-born son. After spending an entire week in Ukraine going to family parties, eating home-cooked food, strolling down winding cobblestone streets, and practicing my first language, I’m already beginning to dearly miss everything about Ukraine.
By no means is Ukraine a perfect country. There’s a lot of things wrong with it. There’s plenty of political apathy – those who are fed up with all of the corruption and “selective justice” in Kiev are so frustrated that they have stopped trying to do anything about it. Infrastructure is suffering, and the awful condition of the roads is a running joke. There’s a marked East-West divide, and I could barely understand all of those who spoke Russian in Ukraine’s capital.
But the very fact that I am Ukrainian means that none of these problems really matter. I love Ukraine not because it is powerful and respected in the international community (it’s not, as recent GDP, democracy, and corruption indexes indicate). I love it because of its colorful identity – which I have happily embraced as my own. It’s about the beautiful language and the unique sounds of the Cyrillic alphabet. It’s about the painted Easter eggs and ornate woven shirts. It’s about all of those pierogies, kobasa, and kapusta that wallow in my stomach as I fall to sleep. It’s about the Ukrainian folk dancing and brightly decorated costumes. It’s about the sung Ukrainian Catholic liturgy, and the golden icons that adorn the walls of our churches and homes. And yes, people here actually go to church!
It’s about the fact that I’m not just an American, but a Ukrainian American. As the third generation living in America, it is quite a miracle how my family has been able to hold all of it together. Being Ukrainian defines how we celebrate our holidays, when we come together as a family, how we speak to each other, and how we practice our faith. It’s always been a part of my identity, but being abroad has helped me value it so much more.
As one of my cousins told me (after tearfully playing his accordion), there’s two things that you cannot choose in life: Family and Country. On one side of the Atlantic I’ve got America, and on the other I’ve got Ukraine – with an amazing family awaiting me at both ends. Indeed, I am truly blessed.