A Scientist’s Story of Russia, and Ukraine

February 27, 2022

2009 Jane Lubchenco was confirmed as the first woman and first marine biologist to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Jane Lubchenco on Twitter:

I am 1/4 Ukrainian. Here’s a story relevant to today’s disaster. In 1976 I traveled to Moscow in a 6-person U.S. delegation to an ocean science conference, 1 of the early ‘safe exchanges’ (athletes & scientists) in the thaw of in relations between the U.S. & the USSR.

A young Ukrainian woman was 1 of our USSR-assigned translators. The translators were also our minders – they accompanied us everywhere – to the conference itself, banquets, the Moscow Circus (dancing bears!), & a fabulous performance of Swan Lake by the Kirov Ballet. 

Over the course of the week, we got to know each other. Toward the end of our trip, one evening when nothing was planned, the Ukrainian translator asked if I’d like to see the Kremlin with her. It was December. 

The two of us, dressed snugly in our fur hats, long coats & warm boots, strolled along inside the Kremlin walls, around the perimeter, with huge soft snowflakes falling gently all around us. It was eerily quiet. 

We crunched along from lighted guard post to lighted guard post, making a slow circuit. We chatted as we walked for an hour or so. 

It took me a few minutes to figure out that we were having two parallel conversations, one innocuous whenever we were within earshot of the guards, and a second very private one in the dead (and dark) spaces between two guard stations. 

I marveled at how she hopped back & forth without any change in tone or stride–clearly practiced at deception. 

At one point, she linked arms & slipped into my glove what I later discovered was a small, carved ivory bird. Cautioning me not to look at it, she explained what it was–always jumping to a safe conversation when we approached a guard stand, & reverting when she deemed it safe.

She shared that the bird was a family heirloom. It was their symbol of hope & freedom. She said in a resigned, but matter of fact tone that she knew that she would likely never be free of the Russian oppressors, but she desperately wanted something dear to her to be free. 

Knowing that ‘a part of her’ was in the West would give her hope, hope to give to her children. She pleaded with me to take her bird home with me so that ‘part of her heart’ could finally soar with choice, with opportunity, with hope – even while the rest of her was captive. 

Forty-five years later, I treasure her freedom bird. It sang gloriously in 1991 when Ukraine became an independent nation. Today it is fearful and anxious. 

3 Responses to “A Scientist’s Story of Russia, and Ukraine”

  1. Keith McClary Says:

    You should split off a separate political blog. You could call it
    USA#1RussiaChinabad.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Have you read this blog?

      Problem-solving is good, problem-making is bad, no matter which country is doing it. Democracy good, autocracy bad, no matter which politician is promoting it. Decisions made based on reality good, based on pandering bad, no matter which policy area.

  2. ubrew12 Says:

    I’m so glad Lubchenco shared her story. People keep saying they need guns for ‘self-defense’, and the next thing you know they’re shooting up someone else’s property… Today, Putin is putting his nuclear forces on high alert, no doubt to protect the country from incoming economic sanctions. Might doesn’t make Right, but it does make History. Sadly for Putin and all the likeminded ‘Might-Makes-Right’ folks, there is MLK’s inconvenient ‘Arc of the Moral Universe’.


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