It is, as the supersonic crow flies, 6,145 miles between Sonoma and our Ukrainian Sister City, Kaniv, nestled on the bank of the Dnieper River about two hours northwest of the capital, Kyiv (known in Russian as Kiev).
Distance in the Internet age has been radically redefined. While a gripping, geopolitical drama unfolds in Ukraine – with Russian troops occupying part of the Crimean peninsula, and as President Obama’s political enemies accuse him of being a weak-kneed patsy (Sarah Palin, who is a foreign policy expert because she can see Russia from her kitchen window, called Obama “one who wears mom jeans ... and bloviates”), events surrounding our Sister City seem at once a universe away and right next door.
As individuals, and as members of a small community, there is an understandable instinct to shrug our shoulders and ask, what can we possibly do that could have any effect on the fate of Ukraine, and why should we care?
We’ll deal with the first question in a moment, but first let’s think about why we should care.
The Sister Cities program has been described by some as a superficial, feel-good waste of time and money, and by others as a meaningful way for citizens from distant points on the globe to explore and celebrate their common interests and their unique differences.
We’re inclined to endorse the second point of view, because we’ve seen firsthand the effects of personal relationships with distant communities and individuals. Differences and distances shrink in proportion to the degree of human contact, and contact between the citizens of Sonoma and Kaniv has been enriching on both sides.
As you read this, people very much like you, with a deep hunger for real democracy, people now pondering a very uncertain future, are reading this too, online. Few if any of us read Ukrainian newspapers, but numerous people in Kaniv read the Sonoma Index-Tribune.
From what we know of their present state of mind, many are willing to put their lives on the line for their freedom, but no one wants war. And neither should we. While some of President Obama’s critics continue their own bombastic bloviating, insisting he must take some kind of tough, possibly armed action, none have prescribed a viable military option against Russia in the Crimean crisis. Because there is none. And not for the first time.
When the Russians sent tanks into Budapest in 1956, we did nothing. We did nothing when they occupied Prague in 1968. We did nothing when Russia went to war with Georgia in 2008. We did nothing because there was nothing we could do with force of arms that would not have fomented a far greater tragedy.
Which leads us back to the first question above – what can we in Sonoma do?
Clearly, our small collective voice is but a tiny breath in the path of a hurricane. But in Kaniv they hear us and they care what we think and say. Therefore, we urge the Sonoma City Council, at its next meeting, to adopt a resolution of solidarity with the people of Kaniv, and with all Ukrainians, calling for calm heads to prevail, for ballots to replace bullets, and for the world to understand we are all joined in our desire for peace. That’s what a good Sister City should do.