The tragedy unfolding in Ukraine


Gutted residences

At times like these—as the Russian invasion of Ukraine intensifies—hope is hard to find. Ukrainians are fighting, seeking safety in basements and bunkers, and fleeing their sovereign soil. They are dying as fighters and as civilians.

In just two and a half weeks, 2.6 million people have fled the war in Ukraine—the population of Vermont times more than four. This invasion is inhumane and an attack on Democracy.

Within the violence is hope and mercy. These testaments to humanity are present in the baby strollers and supplies left at train stations for Ukrainian mothers seeking refuge with their small children, in the music played by the Italian pianist at the Polish border, and in the acts of states and nations who are taking diplomatic and economic stands against the invasion. In the words of one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut in Sirens of Titan, “There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil.”

Here in Vermont, the Legislature acted swiftly and unanimously to put a relief bill on Governor Scott’s desk in record time—$644,000, one dollar for every Vermonter. In addition, Vermont law enforcement agencies are coordinating the donation of used body-armor vests to Ukrainian military units; and Vermonters are holding fundraisers for relief through concerts, the sale of bread at Rise Up Bakery, restaurant proceeds, and more. The opportunities to help are endless.

On Tuesday, March 15, Gov. Phil Scott, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, and legislative leaders held a candlelight “freedom and unity vigil” on the Vermont State House steps in support of the Ukrainian people, after which the Governor signed the relief bill.

As I think of the incredibly devastating events in Ukraine and the suffering of people around the world, Ernest Shackleton and his resilience is also on my mind. A week ago, Shackleton’s ship Endurance, crushed by sea ice on his Antarctic exploration in 1915, was found intact on the ocean floor with its name still emblazoned across the bow. Known as an incredible leader, Shackleton instilled hope and resiliency in the men he led even when they were fighting for survival against unbeatable odds. He said, “In trouble, danger and disappointment, never give up hope.”

Let us give hope, love, and mercy to the people of the Ukraine and their families and loved ones—both those on Ukrainian soil and those who are suffering throughout the world, including here in Vermont. Let us also give hope for humanity, for Democracy, for freedom. They will prevail.

John Mills is the interim president of Northern Vermont University.