Child of Ukrainian and Russian parents abhors war
Evgeniya Stetsenko grew up in the city of Voronezh in Russia near its border with Ukraine.
“As a child, I was exposed to traditions of both countries,” said Stetsenko, whose mother is Russian and whose father is Ukrainian. “I don’t think that one is better than the other.”
She worries about her parents, who remain in Voronezh and are in their late 70s. She has a sister in Moscow. She spoke to her mother after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began and asked what was happening and whether fighting was within earshot.
“She told me she was hearing lots of planes, and outside, it smelled like war,” Stetsenko said. At this writing, telephone conversations remain possible. She otherwise communicates with family using the Viber calling and messaging app.
I spoke to Stetsenko in March. Fighting had begun in Ukraine two weeks earlier and was intensifying. Civilian casualties were mounting.
Eighteen years ago, Stetsenko came to the United States with a student visa and enrolled in classes at Florida State University Panama City, where she earned a degree in communication. I was among her professors there. She has been a U.S. citizen for 10 years. Her daughter, Kelly, is 17.
At present, she is the marketing director for a collection of companies in the flooring and cabinet business. She commutes 25 miles one way from a place where rents are affordable to her place of work, located in an area where they are not.
“I feel grateful and blessed every day for what I have in life,” Stetsenko said.
She has worked hard for what she has, taking risks, leaving home.
There, fighting among factions — Stetsenko called it “civil war” — has been underway for years, although few people in the West were aware of it. The relationship between Ukraine and Russia has been strained since before Joseph Stalin brought about the starvation of millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s.
“This is nothing new, honestly,” Stetsenko said.
She is distrusting of media reports, no matter where they originate. The adage, “Truth is the first casualty of war,” has been attributed to speakers dating to Aeschylus.
“You hear things from media in the U.S., and then I hear from my parents who have heard something else,” Stetsenko said. “There is a large gap in what is said and you go on Twitter or Instagram, and you see pictures and videos, and you don’t know what to believe. You cannot blindly trust everything you see.”
Stetsenko sees parallels between the war in Ukraine and U.S. actions in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
“The United States, a lot of times it goes to other countries to ‘make peace’ and it is spun to say that we are going there to protect citizens, but nobody asked if they wanted that,” she said. “It’s spun off to everybody as heroism.”
Stetsenko said she does not know what Vladimir Putin’s intentions are or what his end game is. Maybe Putin is calling all the shots, she said, “or maybe it’s someone else who is telling him what the best thing to do is.”
For her, overzealous patriotism, egos and profit taking are all factors in war.
“More than territory, countries for centuries have fought for ports and resources,” Stetsenko said. “The more civilized we’ve become, the more we have tried to find money. Wherever there is war, there is money. There is money for weapons. Retailers raise prices to customers and blame the increases on war.
“But my greatest disappointment is that it feels like the media and governments want to divide people instead of bringing them together,” Stetsenko said.
“Here in the U.S., children grow up with parents of two different ethnicities or cultures or races. It is possible to be united and work things out and not be against each other. The old saying, ‘If you’re not with us, you’re against us’ — come on, we are more civilized than that. If we weren’t, we would be still living in caves and figuring things out by hitting each other on the head with a bone.”
In communities across the country and certainly in Tallahassee, we are surrounded by triumphs of civilization — schools and universities, parks, cultural venues and events, museums, galleries of art, organizations of like-minded people.
In parallel, sadly, bones have gotten bigger and international stakes much higher, and still we fight.