A Ukrainian Request

“Please pray for my country.”

It was these words spoken by a young Ukrainian waiter working an elegant, upscale restaurant in Marco Island, Florida, that gave weight and made memorable to us his earlier comments about the current political strife in his native Ukraine.

Late dining is not exactly a rage for the geriatric set on Marco Island so my wife and I had the restaurant to ourselves. I will call our waiter Gregory rather than use his real name. He is in his early 20s, tall, boyish looking, with shorter brown hair. He is eager, polite, and attentive in his wait duties. However, I seemed to note a sense of sadness in his movements. From his accent, I thought he might be Polish. I asked.

“I am from the Ukraine. My family lives in Ukraine about one hundred miles north of the new Crimea-Ukraine border. I am Russian ethnically and culturally, however, the Russian and Ukraine languages are very close and I have grown up believing my Ukraine friends are like brothers and sisters. There has never been any kind of animosity between us, until now,” he added lowering his voice letting his head drift downward.

Gregory speaks by phone nightly with his parents as he is worries for them. He is grateful he at least can send money back to help them. Not all are that fortunate. Gregory believes that the beginning of Russia is Kiev and that historically the Ukraine economy, industry, and culture have always been aligned with Russia. The Ukraine rail system is built to Russian standards, not European. The Ukraine decision to align itself to the European Union seems to Gregory to have been a unilateral decision made quickly by a few with great political power and who are attracted to the riches and somewhat unclear promise of the EU.

“The Ukraine woke up one day to be told our economic future was with the EU. There was no political debate for the public. No referendum. No detailed plans for the future were provided for internal discussion or debate. This lack of process created a backlash of both pro and anti EU sentiment with a growing lack of trust all around.”

Then I think what was really bothering Gregory came out. “I have called my Ukrainian friends to talk about what is going on. Some of them have hung up. They refused to speak with me. I have never had a cross word with them. They didn’t want to talk to me now because I am Russian. My friends! How can such animosity grow so fast?” Clearly he was both hurt and bewildered.

We listened. Gregory apologized for even mentioning his concerns to us. He was reluctant to have a negative influence on out dining experience. We told Gregory we were interested in hearing from someone with a direct community view of this political crisis.

We wanted to leave Gregory on a hopeful note and a good wish. Clearly he was shocked and hurt over how he perceived people could turn so quickly, take sides without discussion, and create haves and have nots overnight. It was during this awkward parting that a young Ukrainian man asked two strangers to pray for his country. He did not ask us to pray for one point of view over another, not for Russia versus the EU, not for who was right against who was wrong. No, he asked we pray for his Ukraine country as a whole.

I was impressed by Gregory. We prayed as he asked.