“Ukrainians are crazy patriots,” my friend said to me as we ate together in Commons. “Germans, Poles, Russians — no one could keep them down. Nor could man’s greatest evils: concentration camps, gulags, or the Holodomor.” He was confident that Ukrainians would fight off the Russians — or bring their would-be occupiers down with them. 

Our conversation danced around, hitting each of the acronyms that will spell out the fate of Ukrainian independence: will NATO deployment slow the Russian advance? Could SWIFT decoupling cause backlash from Putin’s allies? I felt torn: I was impressed by my friend’s confidence and bravery — even as I imagined a bleak Soviet-era tableau of tanks rolling through Kiev, declaring martial law, for “denazification,” by droning loudspeakers. Yet I couldn’t help but remark that the two of us had covered more ground in our half hour discussion than I had in any of my classes: of five, only one took any time to connect our content to the crisis in Ukraine. 

As inspiring as the activism of Yalies has been over the course of the last weeks, including the electric rally students raced to assemble the Sunday after the invasion and the various fundraising and donation-matching efforts of individuals and student organizations, like YIRA — there has also been a strange silence about Ukraine in other parts of campus. When Russian missiles lit up the Ukrainian countryside in the hours before dawn on the 24th, some students, especially those with family and friends living in Ukraine, were glued to their phones, trying to understand the unimaginable. Many more were out chugging vodka to pregame for Woads. On a charitable take, the lack of conversation about Ukraine around campus on Thursday might be more attributable to mass hangover than actual apathy. 

Not to play the cynical one or act all holier-than-thou — but now that I have your attention: please consider that this moment should mark more than just another gripe about the inanity of foreign affairs. Ukraine is our generation’s “Sudetenland”: not because Putin is Hitler, but because the Ukrainians are the Jews — a people who only want to live unmolested in peace and liberty. Ukraine is our generation’s invasion of Manchuria, not because our silence is excusable, nor was it when the west averted its eyes to Japan’s cold-blooded invasion into China — but because Putin’s vendetta could easily devolve into another Nanjing Massacre. In the messy game of nationalism and empire-building, it’s tragically common that the language of brotherhood is twisted into wholesale slaughter; as the costs of war rack up on both sides, we should expect the blurring of lines between civilian, combatant, dissident and foreign agent. 

This crisis will get more dire: already, over two million Ukrainians have fled to seek foreign refuge. We should keep our eyes glued to the NYT live Ukraine feed in ways that do interfere with our classwork and normal lives — because a normalcy that blinds itself to evil and injustice in the world is bourgeois escapism: empty, self-serving and toxic to humanity. To give up caring two weeks in means our moral outrage merely reflects what’s popular rather than what’s right. 

“But,” you might ask, “what even is the point in worrying about events halfway across the globe?” Let me address this seriously. States don’t exist without people, and so are fundamentally dependent to some extent on popular consent. States don’t have souls, and don’t get their morals from a God in heaven — their actions, or the “behavioral psychology” of states, are entirely determined by consequences forced upon them by their own people and the international community. One need only examine the history of decolonization — and the role of international gatherings of Black activists demanding self-determination — to see how states can be made to weigh morality and the interests of the unrepresented alongside self-profit. And because only humans, not institutions, come with a built-in a moral compass and compassion for other living things, it is up to us, as students, future political leaders and global activists, to do the grunt work of digging intellectual trenches, so to speak, so that that the battlelines between right and wrong are clearly drawn by the time state bureaucracies finally mobilize resources. 

We live today in a multicultural and interdependent world. Each one of us, whether we’ve seen it or not, is tied to Ukraine. You may not be from Ukraine or have friends or family there — but you might be a beneficiary of the research of “father of innate immunology” Élie Metchnikoff or have studied the economics of Ludwig von Mises or have enjoyed Nikolai Gogol’s careful depiction of Ukrainian custom and national spirit. We can all find lessons in the vibrant colors woven into a vyshyvanka or the patterns of the Ukrainian easter egg — or maybe even in the mouth-watering taste of Grandma’s vegetable “caviar.” In studying Ukrainian culture, we can recognize the right to self-determination implicit in cultural expression of a national identity.

Yet we also need to empathize with and support Ukranians as fellow humans who are fundamentally the same as we are. My dad was born sixty years ago in a very different Kyiv — then the titular capital of a Soviet puppet state romanized by the Russian spelling “Kiev.” In his Kiev, legalized discrimination marked apart Jews, Ukrainians and Russians. Poverty and police presence stifled civil society. Ukraine, like America and the rest of the world, was never perfect: all the world’s history lies in shadowy recesses. But since the 2014 revolution at the ballot box which brought in a new generation of Ukrainian leaders, Ukrainians have committed themselves to the universal ideals of freedom and equality that promise a light ahead. Young Ukrainians share the same visions and ideals as Yalies do, as young organizers in South America, Africa and Asia do — as brave Russian anti-war protesters are striving for. It is too late for my dad’s generation — though he and I spoke together at length about the replacement of anger and fear by a love and pride he never knew he had for Ukraine — but it is the moment for our generation to loudly reject the lies of national mythos and ethnic citizenry. We are all Ukrainian: not because we share the same lives today, but because we hold the same dreams for tomorrow. 

Thursday, February 24 is a day that will go down in infamy — but only if we remain vigilant to never forget our outrage. So I beg all of you: keep Ukraine in your hearts and minds — not just for the next few days and weeks, but for the rest of your lives. Remember and nourish that first gut reaction, no matter how subtle, of shock, confusion and disgust you felt upon hearing of Putin’s war crimes. It is never too late to donate, to call your congressperson or to educate yourself. As long as this crisis continues and even beyond it, we must not let our own busy lives blur the line between right and wrong. Human beings, though we may never eradicate selfishness, can speak, think and organize around issues like Ukraine — as well as every other act of evil we see around us in this still imperfect world. We must do so to keep a new and brighter torch against the darkness of fascism forever lit within our hearts. We must do so for the hope that, when our generation finds itself on the front lines, staring evil straight in the face — we will close ranks and stand tall, blotting out dark with light.