While we were all minding our business, the “most serious foreign policy crisis in Europe of the 21st century” crashed upon us. It’s hard to disagree with that evaluation, even though the century is only 15 years old. It’s a very precocious 15, though—just as youngsters today know more than they probably should, so does the 21st century.
Ruthless leaders who invade neighboring countries are nothing new. What gives Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions an up-to-date polish is the relentless commentary and second-guessing, combined with speculation on his mental state—and that of his supposed rival, President Barack Obama. Neither have many fans right now. One is delusional; the other is living in fantasyland.
Film footage of rioters clashing in the street and fires burning on the sidelines doesn’t necessarily resonate much with Americans. There’s always a riot going on somewhere. We may vaguely remember from long-ago geography classes that Ukraine was once called “the Ukraine,” and our knowledge of Kiev is limited to a chicken recipe and a place mentioned in Fiddler on the Roof. Here’s what a quick trip to Wikipedia reveals: Ukraine is blessed by a temperate climate and land so fertile even periods of severe famine can’t rob it of its “breadbasket of Eastern Europe” title. But in that part of the world, such a blessing is also a curse if you’re caught between mega-powers like Russia and Germany. Forced starvation and nationalist purges, courtesy of the Stalinist regime, devastated the country in the 1930s, making it understandable why most Ukrainians don’t want to be dragged back under Russian domination.
But that’s all broad-brush history. To see the individual faces we have to look closer, as a young friend of mine discovered while visiting a Ukrainian orphanage last year. As she spoke to them, the children kept edging closer. And during a halting question-and-answer session (with lots of finger-pantomime), a little girl pointed to herself and said her name. “Suddenly there was a murmur of introductions as child after child told me their name,” my friend recalled. “It was only for a few moments, and then the questions swept back and it was gone, but I won’t forget it. They each have a name, a story; they are fearfully and wonderfully made; they just want to be known.”
Meanwhile Putin, who seems to like posing shirtless, seeks to establish himself as the tough guy of Europe, while Obama hides behind the international-community curtain. But both, it is said, surround themselves with yes-men who flatter their egos and encourage their illusions. Helpless bystanders to history may understand more than the men who move history. Yet “the King’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD,” and He knows the name of the littlest orphan. And we must not forget that the Lord’s people have the ear of Him who moves the hearts of kings. Let us remember the widows and orphans in their distress, and not neglect to pray for the people of Ukraine.