OP-ED in the Asheville Citizen Times. JUNE 20, 2023
I recently submitted an op-ed piece to the Asheville Citizen Times (North Carolina). They included it in the Sunday, June 18 edition. Opinion: Women are shaping a new Ukraine through resilience and strength Robert D. Gamble | Guest Opinion
I rode in a van from Odesa to Izmail, Ukraine. Trucks filled the road traveling with and against us. A woman sat next to me with her teenage daughter. I looked up as we passed a truck loaded with grain. A car was coming toward us. Cars come fast so, of course, I thought: we might not make it. In the last three seconds, the driver of the car swerved to the shoulder, the mother grabbed my hand and the hand of her daughter, and our driver shot ahead and back into line. This is Ukraine, I thought, miles of mediocrity interrupted by moments of terror. The woman sitting behind us said, “We needed this war. It pulled us together.” This is not only a war between armies; this is a war to end a relationship, a common narrative, and a shared history. This is the bloody divorce between Russia and Ukraine. This is a war to say NO to ideals of obedience to the coldness of Moscow, NO to resignation as the response to tragedy and injustice, and NO to any Soviet (in Russian, "advisory") union and the cheap cigarettes and vodka that kept it alive.
I pay a psychologist in Odesa to meet with mothers displaced by the war. I read of mothers and children, living six weeks in a dirt room space or basement of an apartment building, then crawling under gunfire or shrapnel to reach a shelter, riding in a truck, the engine on fire, roaring down the road to escape mortars and missiles. I sat in an Odesa park with a woman from a city occupied by Russian soldiers. Her younger sister was missing. Four days later, the morgue called. Her sister had been raped, killed by a Russian soldier, and her face mutilated so no one would recognize her.
Women of Ukraine are mad as hell and they are not going to take it anymore. They want agency and options in leadership that include the power of vulnerability. They know all about populations controlled by fear, and they seek communities of inspiration and motivation. When women and children come to us traumatized by the war, we guide them with love, attentiveness, and creative play.
Men are fighting the war. Men are staying in the apartment to defend against looting or to repair the damage while women and children move to safety. Men are on the front lines of the war (women, of course, are also fighting), but soldiers are on the sidelines of domestic life while women are shaping a new Ukraine.
In fear, women reach out to the aid of others. They are clothed in resilience and grounded in dignity. They are strong. "We know how to suffer and how to tell about our suffering. ... For us pain is art," wrote Svetlana Alexievich in "The Unwomanly Face of War."
The women of Ukraine check on friends and family by text or talk on mobile phones. They post and they blog. They speak for Ukraine. Tatiana Lonskaya is a blogger, novelist, and screenplay writer from Kyiv. Nine months into the war, she wrote to her friend from college years and after, a friend who now lives in and believes in Russia. “In nine months, a new generation of people was born in our country. We don't have electricity, but we have light. There is no communication but we are connected. We are together.
The soldiers of your country go to death for the sake of death, and the defenders of my country die for the sake of life. And our children, who are now shuddering from the sirens and freezing in the darkness of their homes, they will have a worthy future and the right to live in a free country, unlike yours, whom you have already deprived of a normal future.
You never understood us during this war. You did not understand that fear disappears, but every day help for one’s own and hatred for the enemy grows, and the will to win becomes stronger. And most importantly, you did not understand that it is impossible to intimidate with darkness those who have light burning in their souls.”
Bio: The Reverend Dr. Robert Gamble has for the past 16 years worked in Odessa and now Izmail, Ukraine. He founded and directs This Child Here, Inc. a Validated Ministry of the Presbyterian Church (USA) As vulnerable youth and children are his focus, the organization has worked with street kids, and children in orphanages, training foster parents, and teaching peacemaking techniques to teens. Currently, work is primarily based in Izmail, Ukraine, and designed as trauma-based therapy for families displaced by the war and living in Ukraine. Gamble is a graduate of the US Coast Guard Academy, Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur GA, and Princeton Theological Seminary.