When 18-year-old Aaron Ferrari spoke to the Wood County Farm Bureau this week, he was able to shed light on a corner of the world we have heard much about lately, but about which we really know very little. Ferrari is the son of Baptist missionaries who spent 14 years in Ukraine establishing and maintaining churches. His perspective is vital in understanding why the people of Ukraine might be looking to the U.S. for help in their conflict with Russia.
Ferrari reminded the audience that something as seemingly insignificant as the word “The” before Ukraine hearkens back to the shadows of the Soviet Union and its swallowing of the region. In seeking to re-establish a hold over Ukraine, Russia wants, among other things, to get back its breadbasket, according to Ferrari. Ukraine has “amazing potential to grow things.
“Russia wants Ukraine to be able to tap into this agricultural power,” he said.
And, of course, industry in Ukraine is already set up for the kind of large scale production of tanks, tractors, combines and airplanes for which Russia can easily find a use.
When Ukraine gained its freedom from the crumbling Soviet Union, it established a government with a legislative body and president, but no checks and balances to stop the political corruption to which citizens had become accustomed under the Soviets. And now, according to Ferrari, the average person struggles to make a living. Politically and economically, Ukrainians look to the U.S. “as a sort of paradise, because there is so much opportunity,” he said.
What are leaders in the U.S. showing those people, who now just want peace so they can go about their lives? What message are we giving to the people who can see Russian troops slowly making their way from the east, drumming up pro-Russian “supporters,” after already retaking Crimea? So far, just a few empty words, and a small financial assistance package (about twice the amount of money the Department of Defense spent on redundant language and cultural training programs for members of the military in 2012) to help Ukraine pursue political and economic reform and strengthen its partnership with the U.S. What they are getting from the U.S. is Vice President Joe Biden’s assurance that “We want to be your partner and friend.”
Biden, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are going to have to do better than that. They must be willing to stand up to Vladimir Putin and rock the boat in Europe. They must be willing to, at the least, inflict real economic pain on Russia and offer real help to the people of Ukraine.
Ferrari did an excellent job giving us “a picture of what Ukraine is and what the people are going through everyday.” Perhaps if the folks in Washington, D.C., could spend a few minutes looking at that picture, they would be less likely to behave as though Crimea, Ukraine, and where ever Putin next sets his sights are lost causes.