A child-sized connection with Ukraine
Months ago, a strange package from overseas arrived at our house, standing out amid the usual onslaught of Amazon boxes like some exotic species. “Did you expect something UkraineI asked my wife after seeing the return address. This is a country neither of us have ever been to. We have no friends or family there, no reason – du the less I thought – for anyone in the Eastern end of Europe to send us anything, let alone a heavy mysterious box.
It turns out, however, that we had at least one connection: a plywood children’s chair that my wife had ordered online for our daughter. It was made in Ukraine and shipped directly to West Roxbury. I put the parts together, and now it sits in our kitchen, with a cute little bunny face painted on the side.
For the past few weeks, as the threat of war has taken hold of this bunny’s homeland, he has stared at me every morning as I made coffee, with what I could swear was a growing look of reproach. . Having an object in the kitchen that was made so recently in Ukraine — and not just any object, but an object whose decorations are meant to embody the universal innocence of childhood — makes it harder for me to do what I would have strongly preferred, which is not to care about what is happening in Ukraine, to look away.
Thursday morning I woke up and learned from my phone that the war – a full-fledged Russian invasion, with the obvious aim of wiping out Ukraine as a free nation – had begun. Below, the look of the rabbit was waiting for me.
A stubborn weight on my conscience, it forces me to ask myself: Who made this chair, and what is happening to them now? Are they among the panicked families who piled into cars and trains and rushed to the Polish border and may never see their homes again? Are they reservists from the hopelessly outdated Ukrainian army, called upon to face the fury of one of the most powerful armies in the world?
Undoubtedly, this rabbit also has many cousins in Ukraine; the factory there had to sell some of its products on the domestic market. What happens to little Ukrainian boys and girls who sat in the same chair as my daughter?
I try not to imagine one of them hiding under the tiny wooden seat while the Russian bombs are falling.
Rationally, empathy for people thousands of miles away should not rely on a tangible object. And rationally, a child’s piece of furniture shouldn’t pull the chord more than anything else. And guesses are always risky: as far as I know, the people who made the chair are opponents of the government who welcome the invasion. No matter who makes it, a chair – even one with a sentimental feel – is also just a commercial item. The Ukrainian factory did it for the money, not to establish some sort of personal connection with me.
Yet in a war where disinformation and propaganda run rampant, and where it is impossible to know exactly what and who to believe, an object is also an indisputable fact. I don’t know if the Ukrainian army shot down Russian helicopters, as Ukraine claims. I don’t know if the Russians took control of the airports. But I know for sure that someone in Ukraine made my daughter a chair with a bunny’s face painted on it, and I hope they’re okay.
The glare of a critical rabbit shouldn’t force me to reflect on the human cost of the Russian invasion. War and violence in countries that didn’t make our toys are just as horrific. But when the world’s attention turns to the next crisis, our chair will still be in the kitchen, a reminder of the horrors I prefer to ignore.
Alan Wirzbicki is The Globe’s Associate Editor for Editorials. He can be contacted at [email protected]