A Pivotal Time

“Warship, go fuck yourself.”—Ukrainian defenders of Snake Island to a Russian warship demanding that they surrender. The Ukrainians were annihilated. They will not be forgotten. [Breaking: The Ukrainian Navy now says the Snake Island sailors were captured alive. -ed.]


On February 12, 2012, the Russian group Pussy Riot performed in Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. This wasn’t a gig that had been booked in the social hall of the Orthodox church. The members of the band were there to protest that the Russian Orthodox hierarchy support Vladimir Putin. Many of us who live in the United States have a general sense that mainstream religious organizations do have something of a separation as regards the First Amendment between Church and State. While that is generally true (although there many instances, from abortion law to book-banning, and this is in the mainstream category; there is a whole segment of MAGA-thumping religious groups that make one wonder whether those people have ever cracked open a copy of the Bible, as their idol seems to have a glancing familiarity with “I think it’s just incredible, the whole Bible is incredible.”), what the members of Pussy Riot were going up against is what is arguably a state religion.

It isn’t hard to imagine for Putin to be repeating to himself, over and over, Je suis l’état.

And members of the band were tried and convicted of “hooliganism” and sent to prison.

In the church (as well as another, the Epiphany Cathedral at Yelokhovo, which is where the chair of the Russian Orthodox Church is located—because in 1931 Stalin had the Christ the Saviour Cathedral destroyed; it was rebuilt in the 1990s, arguably in order to make Putin feel that he was leading the Mother Russia that existed in the time of Peter the Great, not because of some deep-seated feeling of religious passion), Pussy Riot performed “Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away.”

There are probably those in Kyiv right now who are saying that very prayer.

And some other more-pointed phrases.


This isn’t what I thought I would write about today.

But it is something that is going to affect all of us for some time to come, and I don’t just refer to more expensive gasoline and higher prices in the cereal aisle. There are still gas stations and grocery stores that are in full operation close to where you are sitting. The same can’t be said for those in Ukraine.

The term “existential threat” gets bandied about far too often. It doesn’t mean being forced to read Being and Nothingness.

It means “poof!” you’re wiped out. Being. Nothing. Not metaphysically.

And the other day Vladimir Putin raised the specter that he would use nuclear weapons against the West.

It may seem theoretical. But look what is happening in Europe.

This is serious for us. This is more serious for the people in Ukraine, who may be under the heels of jackbooted thugs by the time you read this.

But they’ll be pushing back.


Consider this: the population of Kyiv is approximately the same as Chicago. It is as cosmopolitan as Chicago, and with a rich history, arguably more so. It is 1,250 miles from Kyiv to Paris; 1,500 miles to London.

You are in your apartment in Chicago.

There are artillery rounds falling in the distance. You wonder when the cell towers and going to go down so you can’t communicate. You wonder when the shells will hit your building.

This is real.

“Mother of God. . . .”


“ev’rybody’s talking about
Ministers, sinisters, banisters and canisters
Bishops and Fishops and Rabbis and Popeyes and bye-bye, bye-byes”
—John Lennon

One wonders about how, when there is a megalomanic who has sent his army, navy and air force—mainly conscripts (noun: “someone enlisted compulsorily”)—to kill people who are just like the person who is sitting right next to you because he thinks it is some sort of historic destiny, we can “give peace a chance.”

No one—outside of people like Putin—wants war.

But when the tanks start rolling down the boulevard and you are huddled with your children in a subway station. . . .


“The Ukraine girls really knock me out”—Lennon and McCartney

I Googled “Ukrainian rock bands.” It returned 87,100,000 results.

Yes, these are people who are making music the same way that there are bands around the world.

On February 23 the Ukrainian parliament voted to approve the arming of civilians to defend their country.

The guitar is replaced by a gun.

And the person carrying it is just like the one you saw on a stage in Chicago not that long ago.


Neko Case. Bob Dylan. Lenny Kravitz.

All with Ukrainian ancestors.


This feels a little to me like writing after 9/11/2001.


Chicagoland has the second-largest concentration of Ukrainian Americans in the United States.

There are no armored personnel carriers driving down W. Chicago Avenue.

There are thousands of hearts that are praying, “Mother of God. . . .”


“Warship, go fuck yourself.”

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