Sunday, February 25, 2024

Column: To the Ukrainian soldiers I met

February 24, 2022
Data reporter Drew Goretzka in Kosovo in 2020.
Data reporter Drew Goretzka in Kosovo in 2020. —

Less than 300 days ago, I was stationed in southeastern Europe. For eight months of my life, Kyiv was the same distance as Florida is to my home in Michigan.

I never stepped foot in Ukraine. The closest I got to its border was a single night spent in a hotel in Bucharest. I am not an expert on Ukrainian culture, and I am not qualified to speak for its citizens or Soldiers.

What I did do, though, is work alongside America’s international allies every day. Specifically, a number of Ukrainian military personnel. 

While I may not have spoken to these men, I saw them every day. I ate my lunch a few tables over from them. I shopped for deodorant in the same aisle. They joked with each other six feet from where I joked with my friends.

At the time, they were merely part of the base I was stationed at. They blended into the other armies that made up the mosh posh of troops that were working towards the same operation. The only real reaction I had to them was “Oh, cool! Those guys are from Ukraine!”

However, I find myself constantly thinking about them today — on the beginning of the next stage of the Russo-Ukrainian War. As the Russian military rolls into Ukraine, and I hear explosions in the background of a Kyivan CNN broadcast, the only thought that runs through my brain is “I wonder where they are now?”

The answer is probably defending their home. They are most likely either currently taking on or preparing to take on an enemy that they have statistically no chance to defeat.

Maybe they’re being shelled as I write this. Maybe they’re saying goodbye to their families, not knowing if it will be the last time they see them. Maybe they got medically discharged in the last year, and they must now watch their brothers-in-arms take on this existential threat.

I don’t know. I’m on the other side of the world, far from the horrors they are probably experiencing.

What do I know is that it was a privilege to be in the presence of these men. 

Knowing that we ate our broccoli cheddar soup or bought our second Golden Eagle of the day at the same place and time makes me think about this war like I’ve thought about no other in my very brief life.

My thoughts go out to the frontlines of this conflict — especially to those I shared those moments with.

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