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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

What I Missed In Turkey's Earthquake — A Ukrainian Reflection On Caring From Afar

One Ukrainian writer looks back on a year of international support for her nation, and what happened when the world’s attention shifted to the earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

photo of a woman with a Ukraine flag

A Ukraine supporter in Times Square, New York City.

Edna Leshowitz/ZUMA Press Wire
Anna Akage

-Essay-

One year after Russia’s invasion began, 74% of Europeans, 60% of Britons and 65% of Americans want their respective countries to continue to support Ukraine.

Hundreds of millions of people in the West, and well beyond, are thinking about the destiny of my mid-sized country and the safety of our people. Maybe not hour-by-hour like those first weeks of the war — and the way I still do — but we can see that day-in, day-out support is holding strong.

There are simply no words to express my gratitude.

The past year of support has been crucial for the survival of Ukraine, and I will never take it for granted — both past and future. But I have been reminded of that in a whole new way this past week as events unfold elsewhere in the world.



In my own small way, with the space I have to write, in the stories I share and articles I translate, my driving motivation has been to give the world one more reason to stand by Ukraine. To say and show each reader that victory over Vladimir Putin’s Russia is not only the right thing but also in their interest — that uniting in the struggle against this invasion, the autocratic regime is the best way to defend democracy and territorial integrity for the future. For us all.

Help is not forever

And so far, the argument has been convincing: in part, at least, because Putin’s expansionist ambitions and nuclear arsenal, along with the war criminals of the Russian military and Wagner mercenaries, have made the case themselves.

But as the war reaches its one-year anniversary, we are also reminded that support from afar is a fragile thing and that political alliances and economic aid don’t roll on forever. We’re getting through winter but have seen prices double and triple for energy and food. More weapons are requested as budgets are running over.

But even more than purely economic or political considerations, the real risk is in the simple fact that the world’s attention is a precious commodity. If the war turns into a quagmire, that far-off conflict that had seemed so close will start to drift out of our daily thoughts.

There is nothing and no one to blame — it is human nature to care about that which is closest. All Ukrainians, both those who stayed and those who left, live inside this war every day; in other parts of the world, another kind of life goes on.

Yes, we all tend to forget the grief of others. And I was particularly guilty of that this past week.

photo of a woman sitting in the rubble in Turkey after the earthquake

Amid the rubble of Hatay, Turkey

Svet Jacqueline/ZUMA Press Wire

Remember Gaziantep

While I was immersed as usual in the newsfeed about Ukraine — President Zelensky's tour in Europe, reports of Russian troops crossing the border — updates from the earthquake kept popping up from Turkey and Syria. From the corner of my eye, I could see the death toll rising. And though the details and images were disturbing, it barely took me away from the latest from the frontline of Ukraine and the debate about Western allies sending fighter jets to Kyiv.

And then, suddenly, hearing an earthquake report from Gaziantep, Turkey, I remembered that it is the hometown of my good friend, Eray. Though he lives in Canada, his mother and sisters, all his childhood friends, were all there near the epicenter. I grabbed the phone and texted him, apologizing, asking how the family was, burning from the shame of my selfishness and utter absorption in the fate of my own country.

He texted back that he had just arrived in Istanbul from Toronto. The reports from Gaziantep were that his family’s house was destroyed and the city all erased. The bodies of friends had been recovered and others were still missing. By a miracle, his immediate family had all survived.

This phone call was five days late. I remembered my old friend a full five days after the disaster that was flashing on my screens around the clock...

Remembering Eray after the fact has been a lesson for me, not about comparing misfortune or how the world must best divide up its aid and empathy. Instead that the support that Ukraine or Turkey or Syria receives is more than a political act — it is the sum total of the individuals who afford it their attention.

As the war enters its second year, I will try to look at Ukraine through their eyes, your eyes: Even if you’ve probably never been to Ukraine, never walked the hills of Kyiv, never felt the rough wind blow in the Carpathians, or breathed in the smell of the sea on a summer night in Odessa.

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