Feb 19, 2022

Ukrainian flag

It’s uncertain days for Ukraine for Russia and for the world. If there was a war game, this was it. When writing the column on February 1st, no one is really sure, except maybe one man of the way the wind will blow. If wisdom has been called for, now is the time to cool words, to exercise discretion, and to ensure that there are no words to overpower the forces. Yes – and this is my favourite Ceredigion saying – santageg — one careful with words, a mouth to cool the waters.

I have fond memories of Ukraine. Arriving in Donetsk in the high snow and instead of the usual crew guarding me, I was given the freedom to find my own way around the city. There, at the University I was running workshops for a week with the students from different parts of Ukraine: from Odessa, to the Crimea (now grabbed back into Russia’s bosom), and other places like Kyiv. No one knew each other, some wrote in Ukrainian and others in Russian. And some strange mix of English between us. What to do then? Well, I introduced them to ‘Under Milk Wood’ and get them to create some interesting characters from their different communities. And that was the creation of a special little ‘cosmos’, and a multilingual entertaining play at the end of the week bringing two differing communities together in a lecture theatre of peace.

When I arrived in Kiev I was chaperoned by a woman who wanted me to know how Russian Ukraine was, and she insisted that we visit all the places where there were memorials to those who lost their lives in the World Wars. It was a real shock, and despite learning about Russia’s losses while studying history at school, it is true to say that we have not sufficiently acknowledged Russia’s contribution and believe that any victories are ours alone. Not that that justifies Putin’s threats today at all. But what’s the answer?

I don’t like wars says one poet, because in the end they become memorials. Or another comment, ‘after every war someone will have to clean up the mess’. Or the Iraqi poet who once told me, ‘I went to a country yesterday’.

When I was in Donetsk I walked out of my hotel and passed a Lenin memorial on the square. That’s when I knew I needed to turn right to get to University. Going scary along the snow-covered streets I was amazed to see students sailing past me in slender heel boots. They may be used to dealing with cold and durable. May ignorance be hope with a ‘saint of mouth’.

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