SLAVSK’E, UKRAINE — To reach the green-mountain swaddled MC6 “Creative Residence,” you’ve got to ascend 300 wooden steps. Attending a conference at this place of war-time respite, set apart from the world, I entered into a mountaintop glen of Ukrainians and foreign volunteers singing and dancing, yes, even in the war.
Writing at National Review, Steve H. Hanke, professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University, put Ukraine in the top 10 of his annual “Misery Index.” The United States, where people don’t seem very happy these days, is in the top 30. As I watched the Ukrainians sign and dance I thought it strange that a conservative American magazine that so often has railed against the perils of modern life devoid of culture and religion so ignores Ukraine.
Talk to any American who has come here to volunteer, observe, or fight. Everyone with whom I speak says they are sad, and even sometimes miserable, upon leaving Ukraine, especially upon returning to the USA. Recently, a visiting lecturer from Harvard said, ”I feel more comfortable here than in the USA.” She’d just attended an Easter Sunday celebration of Ukrainians dancing and saying “Christ is Risen” in a forest glen in the city of Lviv. An American veteran of Afghanistan told me he was miserable in America, not knowing what he’d fought for, but here, he became serene: He had found purpose and some happiness.
At the mountain top place called MC6—not MI6 for all Kremlin conspiriologists (as Ukrainians say in English), but rather a reference to acupuncture—I saw joy on display. American and Ukrainian musicians, artists, and volunteers had gathered for a summit called Carpathian Spring. The purpose, according to organiser Brett Hill, a musician from Ohio: “to promote Ukrainian culture from the mountain-dwelling Boykos to the Crimean Tatars.” It was a celebration of the “Ukrainian nation boldly defying long winter of imperialism.”
My conversations at the Carpathian Spring with Muslim Crimeans and Christian Boykos, Ukrainians all, underscored what unites them: a fierce desire to be free, with mutual respect for each other. What’s happening now, Russia’s current full-scale war in Ukraine, is not a new story. For centuries, the people of Ukraine’s wild mountains and wild fields resisted tyranny and empire. Even the meddling European Union, though a welcome sense of peace now, is not their style. A Polish guest at the event told me he was astounded at the freedom of Ukrainian society: People can have outdoor kitchens and barbecue huts without permits!
The Ukrainian style is to smile and sing and, yes, fight, in defiance against tyranny of all forms, from bureaucratic to autocratic.
At the top of those 300 steps over the weekend, along with several dozen war-weary people, everyone danced and sang to the “songs of murdered poets.” Such a theme, amid a war, would seem to be a terribly miserable occasion. Each one of those people is volunteering for victory in a different way; each one knows someone who has lost life or limb. But for Ukrainians, who, unlike so many conservative and liberal Americans, refuse to wallow in Bud Light or MyPillow victimhood, Ukrainians still sing and dance, when they have the chance.
“Some say you can’t sing unless you have bread,” Ukrainian Kateryna Kravchuck told me atop that mountain. “But for Ukrainians, the singing comes first. Then you will have the bread.” Far from a society of misery. Ukraine just might be the most joyful society in the world—because if you can be joyful in the hell of war, you will be sure to find the brighter side in brighter times.
“The Ukrainians never lost what it means to be human when capitalism took this over,” an American woman who long worked in Kyiv says. This is why, even when the government was in shock in the early days and weeks of Russia’s invasion, the Ukrainian people themselves fought back the invaders.
The complicated thing about victory: It is not only defeating the invaders but also keeping alive the Ukrainian way of life, which is a humane way of life. More than any American stand against wokism, Ukrainians are fighting literally for freedom: a real fight for a free and happy land.
But the military industrial forces are powerful — and though they are helping Ukraine with weapons—I hope they won’t attempt to crush the humane soul that is doing the fight, and that gives Ukraine its strength. In exchange for weapons, Ukrainians and international volunteers will fight but also they can share with the world a solution to the emptiness of modernity.
While I was on the train en-route to the mountains, my friend Goodie, a British soldier, called me to say he’d been terribly wounded, and that he possibly might lose vision in his right eye. But far from miserable, he was making jokes in a good spirits. When you are connected to others by common purpose and ritual, when you live happily even when you have all the excuses in the world to wallow in misery, you become truly free. This lesson Ukraine can teach the world.
Joe Lindsley is editor of UkrainianFreedomNews.com. You can listen to his daily reports from Ukraine on Chicago’s WGN Radio with Bob Sirott here.