Three Thoughts on the Invasion of Ukraine
It is a week for inspiration and reflection.
This week I am in North Carolina, and I had expected to kick off a series that explores different communication styles within the United States.
That will have to wait. It is impossible to ignore the war in Ukraine.
Last week I wrote about time orientation, and how it influenced the communication from Russia and the United States. That had come on the heels of speeches from both countries’ leaders.
This week, I choose to focus only on Ukraine, and I will share that this is personal for me.
My maternal grandparents were Russian and Ukrainian. I could never pin them down on the specific breakdown, nor do I think they really knew. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, their ancestors had moved around a lot. Geographical borders shifted.
Yet they both identified as Ukrainian, and therefore as a child, so did I.
My grandfather died eight months ago. I spoke at his eulogy and shared the biographical details of his life.
I saved for the end the one connection he and I alone shared—a love of languages.
There was only one fitting way for me to say goodbye.
And so, the last words I ever spoke aloud to my grandfather, both in person and in memoriam, were Ukrainian: do pobachennya.
The war continues, and my heart and head follow updates continually.
Here are three communication-related observations that I expect will resonate for many years:
Genuine leadership inspires. President Zelensky was mocked as a comedian-turned-politician. Yet he has become the leader the nation needed. He has become a leader that the world admires. He has donned body armor and stayed in Kiev to fight. He meets with soldiers for breakfast. He has inspired everyday citizens to take up arms, to work together, and to put their lives at risk. He is the leader we hope we would be in the same situation. When I see pictures of him with his wife and small children, before the invasion, I cannot help but get emotional. His family remains in the country. “The enemy has marked me as target No. 1, my family as target No. 2,” he said to Ukranians early in the invasion. He continues to post transparent, honest updates to social media with unmatched genuineness. When offered an evacuation from U.S. forces, he replied with a sentence that will go down in history: “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.” Zelensky has applied the basics of leadership communication. He has expressed a clear mission, and he has followed up his words with his actions. In doing so, he has inspired the world.
Technology helps when we need it. On the whole, I believe that social media causes more harm than good. Yet in this case, social media has allowed people to understand the full scope of the battle. Kira Rudik, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, tweeted a picture of herself holding a kalashnikov rifle and vowing to fight. The tweet went viral instantly. She was booked on seemingly every news organization in the United States, where she was able to press her case for what Ukraine needed: a no-fly zone, weapons, and support. Her message was consistent and her urgency came through on the air. Technology has also allowed President Zelensky to meet with world leaders in real time. On February 24, he pressed his case via videoconference during the emergency session of European Union leaders. It happened in real time, and from the soon-to-be battleground of Kiev. This speech has been credited with swaying the minds of European leaders to the side of Ukraine and generating support. The New York Times reported, “His intervention will be part of history, said the official, who was in the room. It was very emotional, leaders were deeply affected.” Technology has allowed Ukraine’s leaders to share information quickly and accelerate the global response.
Our similarities outweigh our differences. This is perhaps the biggest reminder from a cross-cultural communication standpoint. The global response is heartening. As someone who spends a lot of time researching and thinking about the differences among people and cultures, I am reminded that some ideas remain near-universal. We can find bridges to communicate in the face of oppression. We can empathize with others. We can connect on deep, emotional levels through images alone. Language is not a barrier to understanding. When I watch protests in cities and towns across the world, I swell with pride in humanity. Perhaps among the bravest protestors are those in Russia who face imprisonment and physical abuse for their actions. From Moscow to Siberia, citizens are risking their own well-being on behalf of their neighbors in Ukraine. Many of the political issues that stoke hatred on a day-to-day level seem trivial in a time like this. I am hopeful that the events in Ukraine can lead to better communication, and that communication can improve our communities, our nations, and the world.
Do you have other thoughts? Share them in the comments below