Two Sundays ago, on my way to join my friends at the nearby coffee shop, I stopped at a commercial space under renovation. The newly replaced stained-glass pieces were in blue and yellow – the colours of Ukraine. I believe its owner did it purposely to mark the dark period we are experiencing.
Like most people, every day, I tune in to the news hoping that the Russians have stopped shelling the once-beautiful buildings and fertile soil of Ukraine. Like many aghast humans, I’m critical of how the writing on the wall was ignored and wonder if the statement “since it’s not a NATO member-country, we won’t intervene” nudged the aggressors to proceed with their nefarious deeds.
While sipping our coffee, my French and Irish friends asked me about our sons. In the past, I was always bubbling with joy, narrating the fun they have living in Canada and England. That afternoon, my answer was one word, “fine”, and my thoughts shifted instantly to the Ukrainian children scattered outside their homeland. About 1.5 million children have been reported to have left Ukraine since the conflict began and millions more have been displaced internally.
Will they ever go back to Ukraine? When? What are the ramifications of this uprooting from their culture at a young age? How can we help them with the psychological trauma of being separated from their families and friends and being exposed to danger and insecurity?
My two sons left home before their majority age, but it was their choice and to prepare for a greener pasture. Yet, sometimes, I worry about their detachment from Down Under. Last March 11, I gave pro bono lectures at Hélène Boucher High School in Thionville about Australia. After I got home, I emailed them my PowerPoint slides with a note, “In case you want to update your knowledge about your country of citizenship.”
Identity is a conglomerate of attributes, qualities and values that define how we view ourselves, i.e. a sense of group belongingness. An identity can be lost for months or years or suddenly following a significant life event or trauma, such as war and conflict.
Our sense of identity ought not to come from what others think about us; we should not worry about being judged or measured by others based on their criteria. Putting a permanent mask hiding our true identity limits personal growth and happiness.
I believe these Ukrainian refugee children long for social and cultural acceptance and reassurance from their admirable host families who care for them and are cognisant of their culture and heritage. Kudos to everyone who has helped these children to be safe, have self-worth, find peace, and be reunited with their loved ones soon.