The Blue and the Gold

 

As we celebrate our nation’s 246th year of independence, let’s not forget those who are currently fighting and dying for their freedom.

The flag is as recognizable to me now as the Union Jack and Stars and Stripes. It is, of course, the Ukrainian flag with its simple bands of blue and gold – blue for the sky above and gold below, representing the wheat fields of the “breadbasket of the world.”

My neighbor, Pene, hoisted this flag outside her home next to a winding two-lane road in Meadow Vista. Her grandson made the stand, she told me, proudly. The flag prompted me to call Pene. Is she flying the flag to show solidarity with Ukraine, as so many are? Of course, but she has more direct ties. Her son, Geoff, is married to Mila, a Ukrainian.

When Pene and I spoke, the couple was living in Poland, a country that borders Ukraine. They moved there from the U.S. to be closer to Mila’s family. Pene suggested I speak directly to Geoff to get answers to questions about life so close to the conflict.

 

It was 9:30 a.m. in California and 6:30 p.m. in Poland when two good-looking faces popped up on my Zoom call. Mila snuggled close to Geoff, and would occasionally lay her head on his shoulder.

Geoff’s connection to Ukraine began in 2016. Divorced, with five adult children, he joined the Peace Corps, a goal his mother aspired to before marriage and family took her on a path to teaching. Geoff was first assigned to Chernihiv, in northern Ukraine, to complete language and cultural training, then to Dubno, in the west, to complete his service. It was there he met Mila.

I asked Pene if Geoff’s adventurous spirit surprised her.

“Nothing he does surprises me,” she said, and laughed, in a good way. Geoff, she said, was always independent, self-motivated and once involved is totally committed.

Geoff returned to the U.S. with Mila and was in Washington state at 7 p.m. on Feb. 24 when Mila heard the news of Russia President Vladimir Putin’s so-called “Special Operation” – Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine. Mila frantically called her family to plead with them to leave Ukraine for the safety of Poland.