The Ukrainian elite

Andriy Lyubka, writer and member of PEN Ukraine.

Sunday, 10 April 2022

Originally appeared in Ukrainian

We looked high and low for the Ukrainian elite, the whole time nodding in frustration at MPs, oligarchs, or media personalities, but it turned out that the elite is right under our noses.

It is ordinary people in towns or villages — all those clever aunts and uncles — on whose shoulders rest vital activities and defense. 

The small business owners, who have opened volunteer headquarters in their premises and shops.

The tractor drivers, who are heading out to their fields to sow under fire.

The bus drivers, who have consented to drive humanitarian convoys in the temporarily occupied territories, in order to deliver aid and take people away.

The organizers, who are traveling fearlessly to the combat zone, where they comfort and assist refugees on train cars, and at secure stations help volunteers load humanitarian supplies.

The gas station owners, who in the first days of the war stood on the Zhytomyr highway and patiently served frightened and nervous people.

The public utility workers, who while under fire, are picking up garbage and repairing water pipes and power lines in order to provide people with essential services.

The doctors and nurses, who are saving people around the clock without complaint, and in their spare time are doing volunteer work, collecting medical kits for the front.

The teachers and caregivers, who maintain contact with their pupils in an effort to distract them from their fearful thoughts, and who continue to teach them.

The cooks and bakers, who with their magic touch, are feeding millions of people, providing people in desperate need and front-line soldiers with delicious, hot meals.

The employees of banking and financial institutions, who have maintained stability, delivered cash to ATMs and set up terminals to prevent panic.

The first responders, who work around the clock digging through rubble, extinguishing fires, and saving people.

The cashiers in supermarkets, freight forwarders and truckers, thanks to whom we have all the essentials; the clerks manning the wickets at administrative services centers, who cheerfully assist refugees; patrol officers, thanks to whom our streets are safe; auto mechanics, who "work their magic" on cars headed for the front and the rear line.

They are people of all professions who have taken leave from their careers and work as volunteers.

Finally, our soldiers, who have never been shown any particular favor by the state, who live in rented apartments and with their own money, have purchased items missing from their military kits, and when push came to shove, they rose up like a wall for Ukraine.

It is these "ordinary" people whose work we often fail to notice but without which it is impossible to imagine the vital activities of the community. It is precisely these ordinary people with work-worn hands who rarely appear on television screens, but they are the backbone of Ukraine. 

After the first explosions, they could have left their jobs and said that they did not intend to risk their lives here for minimum wage, and then escaped to Europe. But at the crucial moment, money proved not to be the main thing. The most important thing is ordinary human decency and dignity. Even our eternal Ukrainian thinking came into play: "What will the neighbors say if I flee?"

These people are the foundation of our country, its gold reserves — a true elite. 

I dream that after the war, they will be the first to feel how the country is changing, how they are becoming better off and more protected.

May our country repay them handsomely for their ordinary but incredibly important work.

May they start earning enough to afford renovations and have money for a car, a seaside vacation, and for their children.

They have already earned our respect. Now we must ensure that they become the main beneficiaries of the restoration and reconstruction of Ukraine.

We must ensure that the grand rebuilding does not become a tool for enriching oligarchs but an opportunity for ordinary, decent people to finally get on their feet financially and enjoy well-deserved prosperity with human dignity.

If, after the war, these millions of ordinary, wonderful people sense that their wallets are fatter, this will be a real result of the difficult victory.

They have demonstrated their real, ordinary, albeit ineloquent, love for Ukraine. And Ukraine must reciprocate.

Andriy Lyubka

Translated from the Ukrainian by Marta D. Olynyk.