On a gray, rainy morning, two Islamic radicals wearing ski masks stormed into the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris and mercilessly gunned down 12 people. The world joined the French in mourning, and more than 1.5 million people marched in solidarity the following Sunday, including scores of world leaders.
It was a powerful demonstration of liberty and bravery.
A few days later, a crowded mini-bus stopped at a checkpoint in eastern Ukraine, miles from the battle front. As the mini-bus sat there, dozens of Grad rockets rained down on it. Shrapnel tore through the bus and through bodies, killing ten people instantly — one, a 14-year-old girl. Two more died later of wounds.
Yet only their families and close friends mourned for them.
This gruesome incident fueled no international outrage, no marches for the murdered innocents, no banner headlines. One would think these victims didn’t matter, not in the West, and definitely not in Moscow, where they are pawns in Vladimir Putin’s cynical game for restoring the glory of the Soviet Union.
In Paris, thousands of people carried signs declaring, “Je suis Charlie,” to condemn the violence. When I saw them, I remembered a similar declaration, half a century ago, as President John F. Kennedy stood before hundreds of thousands of Berliners and declared, “Ich bin ein Berliner.”
That expression of solidarity energized a generation of Berliners whose freedom was threatened by Putin’s Soviet forbearers, whose sons and daughters, brothers and sisters were gunned down by Soviet guards as they fled East Berlin seeking freedom. President Kennedy’s act of solidarity told beleaguered Berliners that someone cared, that the United States of America was standing with them. It gave them hope until one day, 26 years later, they tore down that wall.
Ukraine needs that same encouragement today, and as people of conscience, compassion and concern, we must stand with them. Is it not time for us to say, “I am a Ukrainian?”