The Russian war of aggression in Ukraine needs to be stopped.
I was born in 1980.
I remember the Berlin Wall. I remember my parents waking me up in the middle of the night when the Wall came down. I remember hearing the live reports on the radio, but not fully understanding the significance of what was happening. Later, I remember seeing Ceausescu’s dead face on the front page of the newspapers. And I remember when Ukraine became an independent country.
I remember Ukraine because I knew the capital of Ukraine was Kyiv, and my father’s family were originally from Kyiv.
Morriswood shouldn’t really be my surname. Technically, it should be Kasenirvitch.
My dad’s family were Ukrainian Jews, and they left Kyiv sometime around 1914 and emigrated to the States. My grandfather, Max, was the first to be born in America, also in 1914. All his older siblings had been born in Kyiv. In America, Kasenirvitch became Kasen and my father was Jimmy Kasen right the way through school and college and after he in turn emigrated to the UK. I don’t know when Morriswood came along (it’s a portmanteau of my British mother’s maiden name and my British paternal grandmother’s maiden name), but it’s the name on my birth certificate.
Not all of my grandfather’s family emigrated to the States. We have some sepia pictures in the family album, but all contact was lost during the Second World War. Maybe they died in the Holocaust. Maybe they died this week.
When you’re a child you just accept things. When I was child, I accepted that there was a city in Europe that was divided by a Wall, and that people on one side of the wall wanted to be on the other side of the wall. But if they were caught trying to cross the wall, then they were shot. I heard about people being killed trying to cross the wall, quietly absorbing the news from the radio while I ate my boiled egg and toast before going to primary school.
Looking back, it seems almost fantastical. What kind of world is it when the morning news is detailing the murder of young people whose only crime has been a wish for more freedom, for more opportunity, for a freedom from repression? What kind of world is it when you just accept that kind of thing happening? The world of my childhood seemed pretty normal and comfortable, but I realise now that it was a scarier place than it appeared at the time.
Back then, to a British kid growing up in Northampton, continental Europe was a grey and undifferentiated mass. America was the technicolour embodiment of the future, with ice cream, NFL, Top Gun, Reese’s Pieces, burgers, and hot dogs. And Russia was the vast and mysterious place on the other side of Europe.
I first heard of the Cold War when I was around six. I was confused. I thought it must be some conflict in the Arctic, but I knew that there wasn’t an actual war going on in the Arctic at that moment. I learned later what it really was. And I learned this week that for some people, perhaps it never really ended.
I’ve never been to Russia. I’ve never been to Ukraine. I’m not going to make a fool of myself offering opinions about things I don’t know enough about. But I will offer this.
I’m a scientist. Science is one of the very few genuinely international careers out there – international not in the sense that you and your office compatriots are sitting in a building somewhere else in the world, but international in the sense that you are actually working together with and alongside people from all over the world. Different cultures, different languages, different skin colours.
When you work in that kind of international environment, you gradually realise that people are the same the world over. They might like different foods, or different music, and they might have different opinions about certain things, but they’re fundamentally all the same. I have Russian friends, I have Ukrainian friends, and I love them all. And right now they’re killing each other.
There is perhaps nothing more grotesque than young people being sent out to die by an old man. There is perhaps nothing more repulsive than people of all ages being forced to take up arms and fight simply to defend their right to exist as an independent country.
Over here, we’re not fighting. We’re not being shot and wounded because we want a life with freedom, with opportunity, a life free from repression. But we can support the EU and the other countries in Europe and the West and elsewhere who are uniting to denounce and derail this war of aggression, this war that’s being fuelled by lies and delusions and revanchist fantasies. We can support the sanctions and the expulsion from Swift and we can let our governments know that we support it. We might have higher energy prices, higher costs – but these are nothing compared to having your children vomiting with fear while rockets explode around them. This is something we can all do to help. This is something we can do to stop the killing.
Stop the aggression. Stop the war.