By Mike Soika
I read a news story of a Ukrainian woman confronting a Russian soldier, telling him to “put sunflower seeds in your pockets so when you die in Ukraine, at least sunflowers will grow here.” At first I was impressed with the bravery and the imagery this woman conjured up. In my mind, the soldier was a young man, likely wondering what the hell he was doing invading Ukraine and killing its people. And that was the power of this woman’s image. She was the one planting seeds in the thought process of this fellow, with a clear intent to impress upon him that he may very well die here.
As a Quaker, I am conflicted by this war. It is easy to be against Russian aggression: the bombing of civilian targets, the hegemony, and the greed so grossly on display. But it is also easy to pray for the efforts of the Ukrainian people: their courage in standing up to an aggressor, their care for each other, their staunch defense of democracy.
I have often struggled with the Quaker Peace testimony, and this war is a good example of why. I am certainly for Peace – but I am also for self-defense. While the bible exhorts us to “turn the other cheek” when struck – such an act on the part of Ukraine would have allowed Russia to quickly take over the country and accomplish its imperialistic goals with little cost to the aggressor.
While I support the efforts of Ukraine to defend itself, I also realize that Russian soldiers aren’t really the enemy. They are victims, as well. The Russian army is comprised of both conscripted soldiers and professional military volunteers, all of whom were misled on the need and purpose of this invasion by the Russian central government. In war, everyone is a victim – one way or another.
I keep coming back to the image of giving sunflower seeds to the Russian soldiers. Perhaps our prayer should be for the soldiers to realize that they don’t need to be fighting in this senseless war and that they can plant sunflower seeds as a sign of peace as they put down their arms and return home.
I come from Russian/Ukrainian heritage. I know this because I completed one of those ancestry tests and discovered that 42% of my DNA hails from Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Poland. Me, and my children are proud of this heritage, to the point that all three kids – years ago – went out and together had the words “My Family” tattooed on their bodies in Ukrainian: MoR-Cim’R
I wish there was a way to send sunflower seeds to the Russian soldiers – who are my family, and to the Ukrainian freedom fighters – who are my family and ask them all to put down their arms and plant seeds of peace. But I understand that peace must rise up from the soul just as a seed must rise up from the dark and nourishing earth in which it is planted.
It’s pretty clear that the cry for peace won’t be coming from Russian leadership; that it will have to rise up from the Russian people; from the mothers who fear their soldier sons will die in a senseless war; from the young men and women who fear their loved ones will be lost; from the fathers who know the brutality of war and want no part of it for their sons and daughters.
Peace is a seed that is already planted in the soul of each of us. It is our job to nourish it until its roots grow deep and its stalk grows strong as it thrives in the light of the sun.
Peace is planted everywhere. Pray for it to grow.