About to return to her native Ukraine, Sofia had no idea of what to expect.
At this very moment, neither does the world.
The time had arrived to say goodbye.
My heart even ached. I've been through this a thousand times before, mostly through my work with international students and, in more recent years, international wives, couples and families. It still was hard.
Sofia would return to her native Ukraine in just a few days.
Elegant, polished and impeccably dressed, Sofia was always a ready helper with our events for international wives in our area. Back home she is a protocol officer, so arranging details for events came naturally.
We kept on messaging back and forth to find a time. It was difficult on both ends. But finally we carved out a moment in the midst of a weekend when I was leaving on a jet plane...but I did know I’d be back again.
Sofia, not so. This was the end of her husband’s 18-month program. Graduation was imminent. Two days later, they’d be on a flight bound for Kiev, via Frankfurt. Though the journey would take time, in a handful of days their lives would transform. The familiar would become the foreign; they were now different people.
Brief, but intense, time together
Because we had to squeeze in the time, and because I was not cleared to visit them at the military base hotel they were temporarily staying in, our meeting ended up being in my car. Not ideal, but it was what it was. Forty minutes of just soaking up the time together, this lovely soul who now was taking a part of mine back with her to a land faraway.
We talked about many things – their time in my city, the growth of her son, now in kindergarten, and his English fluency, how they would continue with their English. She shared about how much being a part of our International Wives Connection group had impacted her.
Then we went deeper. About fears of adjustment. And fears of what they might need to adjust to.
Geopolitics at the human level
You see, in just two days, Ukraine would have a presidential election with a record 39 candidates. And, the one who appeared to hold the lead, political newcomer and anti-establishment populist Volodymyr Zelensky, is an actor who once played Ukraine’s president in a hit TV show. (Sound familiar?) He may actually usurp the current president, Petro Poroshenko.
“Only about six of them have a chance,” Sofia explained. “But at least four of them [including Zelensky] are Kremlin-backed. And it seems there is no one with a clear lead. That might mean a run-off, and a lot of instability."
I could hear the tremor in her voice.
“Of course, we want Poroshenko. He is the one who will keep us turned toward the West. I think that's better for Ukraine right now. But I don’t know, I don’t know…” Her voice trailed off.
I took a moment to consider the magnitude of what she was returning home to. The fact that her husband very well could be sent to fight in Eastern Ukraine. And what that might mean for their family.
These were hard conversations, but helpful to know.
“He has one more year of service, and then he could retire,” she told me. “I’m trying to convince him to retire then, but I’m not sure he will. He’s been in the military all his adult life, and even from when he was a boy. Retirement, it’s a big change.”
I could only reassure her I would pray for her transition. For their family. For Ukraine as a whole.
It’s amazing to me how, when an American retires, for the most part they are choosing to retire, and there is often a sense of reward and leisure ahead. But not so for military officers in Ukraine. The future remains so unclear, so personally and globally unstable.
I tried to wrap my arms around her fear to better understand. And I tried to point her to the solution to all her fear – trust in God.
I don’t know how much she took of that back with her. But I do know this, that 40 minutes of concentrated time made a difference. It was well spent.
Postscript: The Ukrainian elections on March 31, 2019 did not reveal a clear winner. A run-off vote will take place on April 21.
How do you do your goodbyes, especially when they seem permanent?