Mother Russia, Ukraine Pride, and My Grandmother who spoke Yiddish, Russian and Polish
by Bruce Piasecki, a proud Slavic-American
Slavic peoples know that dissent is patriotic. That may be a lingo and part of the logic of the smart lawyers of the ACLU, too. Yet Slavic people have lived these principles the past 200 years. For them it is a imperative.
We never operated in anything but solidarity. We hate deep in our bones anyone stupid or “imperialist” enough to get us off our farms, our lands, our heritage.
Witness the last 4 weeks in Putin’s folly. You cannot roll over these peoples easily, without a sustained fight.
I’ve written before, in my memoir Missing Persons, about the profound sensibility of my grandmother, my immigrant, Polish, “undereducated” grandmother.
Anna Kureczko married into the Piasecki (my father’s) family. They met in the new world with in Newark New Jersey many decades ago to avoid both the Nazi and the Soviet threat. My grandmother, like my mother Lillian Ann, was as tough as the biggest nails I could afford as a young laborer, but she was kind. You see in today’s news, too, this special kind of kindness I want you to feel and to witness.
I sometimes dream about my grandmother these nights, wanting to ask her questions, as I hear the stories on the new on how Polish border people have brought in with open hands-and a real operational set of skills — over two million Ukranian refugees since Putin invaded.
Have you watched on TV the trains landing full of the elderly, children, tired adults? (The adults arrive single — with arms full of kids — or if blessed in couples. Most of the men stay behind to defend against further aggression by a single horrible man)?
The Polish people have open hands, with food, shelter, advice, and a rare ability to pair these vast amounts of newcomers with existing Poles. They look exactly like my grandmother, and may also like her speak Polish, Russian and Yiddish. I heard that Poland’s population has grown six percent in less than 28 days!
My point is how do we feel about all this?
Let me attempt to bridge my full heart from life with my grandmother, the plight of millions now moving from Ukraine, and a simple but glorious movie.
By chance my wife and I watched again a film by Chloe Zhao NOMANLAND again this week, between the news. Do you know the film? It is a new kind of classic, slow, but powerful. It has some full nudity, but that is nothing compared to the nakedness of the hearts and souls we meet. I have confirmed that many of the actors are the actual people on the road. You can feel that.
Starring the remarkable articulate blandness of Frances McDormand’s supreme acting, we meet a range of Americans on the road. Like in James and Deborah Fallows new great book OUR TOWNS, the answer is to see deeply with feeling into these people in rural America.
Following the closure of a gypsum mine and the death of her husband in a remote part of Nevada, Fern (the character of Frances McDormand) leaves like these Ukrainians into the unknown.
She meets a remarkable supporting cluster of good souls. Think of them as good company, first captured in the brilliant prose of Jessica Bruder.
There is a fine old anthropology book from forty years ago that echoes this called GOOD COMPANY. This is civility at its best, and at a intensity hard to repress with trauma and the horrors of war. This internal strength in these people is often forget by the circus of our media and our politics today. Hey, wake up. You can rely on it, like the Slavs on the road from all parts are now relying on the Poles.
The spirit of our country’s remote places comes alive, as Ferm in the film works at Amazon and other large soulless places, to make ends meet on the road. She is intelligent, alert, dependent, but capable of moving forward.
It is a film worth watching as we pray for those punishing Putin to stop.
Bruce Piasecki is an author, an owner of a management consulting firm, and a person who loves how heartfelt movies can enrich us to understand the world in not a bad place, but a place where good people help people hurt by bad people.