The following op-ed was written by a lawyer and human rights advocate, Irina Tsukerman. An American of Ukrainian ancestry, about a year ago Irina traveled to Kiev to attend a conference hosted by the non-profit American Jewish Committee. Irina’s trip coincided with the 75th anniversary of the Babyn Yar massacre where the Nazis assassinated at close to 40,000 Jews. At the time Kiev was the capital city of Soviet-controlled Ukraine.
The murders at Babyn Yar was one of the largest mass murders recorded during World War II at a single location. While Soviets liberated Kiev about two years later, what came next was decades of harsh communist rule under the Soviet Union. In other words, as we say today, the people of Ukraine did not get a break. They went from one evil to the next.
A lot us with families who emigrated to the United States from Communist countries were spared living in a Communist state. Nothing good comes from communism, socialism, or any of these evil, liberty-suffocating ideologies. Despite never having lived in it, anyone whose family directly experienced it should be able to easily empathize with defenders of liberty, even in faraway places such as Ukraine. Irina was not so lucky, however, her family saw the proverbial writing on the wall and got out.
Ukraine has had its share of ups and downs throughout history. After the end of the Cold War, things were somewhat looking up. However, the Russians decided to turn up the political pressure in 2014 and, after years of laying the political groundwork, went back to their old revanchist ways. The Russians were met with strong resistance from a new generation of freedom fighters. These people want nothing to do with Mother Russia.
During what must have been an emotionally charged trip to Kiev, Irina met a unique husband and wife team who were on the frontline of the liberty struggle. Adam is Jewish, Amina was a conservative Muslim. As they fought for their homeland, Amina paid the ultimate sacrifice:
Amina and Adam took a bold stand against the regime by thuggery, and met the same fate as Nemtsov and many others. Adam, fortunately, survived, but was wounded. Amina did not make it after the second assassination attempt proved successful. I met them both after their speech and was inspired. These were two ordinary people who chose to do extraordinary things, take extraordinarily courageous and principled stands, instead of hiding, and leading a tranquil problem-free life.
As we read Irina’s piece, we were reminded of something that Elie Wiesel once said: in life, you need to pick a side because “neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.” Amina was an ethnic Chechen. There is a lot of history there as well that makes this story even more fascinating, but also one that offers hope to lovers of Liberty everywhere around the world.
While the Ukrainians are not fighting communism these days, Cold War memories are strong, as are the many incidents that peppered that region such as Babyn Yar. Communism or National Socialism are one in the same, evil. It is good to see a new generation of freedom fighters trying to stop Russian adventurism in that part of the world.
Re-printed with Irina’s permission, you can read her op-ed here.