A Lesson From Ukraine

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Is the United States still united? Watching television, reading the newspaper, or listening to the conversation at the next dinner table has confirmed for me that the once shared commitment to democratic ideals and values that our nation was built upon has fallen by the wayside.
Individuals have become focused on differentiating themselves from each other. Media outlets highlight the political extremes of an issue rather than commonalities. Many Americans have forgotten that it is the shared ideology of freedom that enabled our predecessors to form this nation. The Great Seal of the United States says E pluribus unum (Out of many, one). In my mind, this means that although everyone is different (race, religion, ethnicity), we should not forget that we can stand as one. No one country has recently reminded us more about the ability to stand together to fight for what they believe in than Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin believed that his invasion of Ukraine would be swift and unchecked. The Ukrainian people have reminded the world that freedom and democracy are worth fighting for and that Ukraine is a country made up of more than just its land. The Ukrainians have come together to fight for the nation that they built together; the culture, way of life, and ability to live freely. The effort has not only continued under the leadership of President Volodymyr Zelensky but the incredible resistance of everyday Ukrainian citizens. One such group is the European railway operators and technicians.
The railroads have become an integral tool in Ukraine’s fight against Russia. At least a dozen state and private railroad operators have offered their trains and tracks to help fight the Russian invasion and aid Ukrainian refugees. On trips back into Ukraine from the safety of neighboring countries, volunteer fighters continue to leave their families to travel to and from the war zone that was once their home. They are tasked with the goal of helping Ukrainian citizens flee the country while bringing additional supplies into the country to aid resistance efforts.
Russian forces have become aware of the railways movements and continue to try and locate and destroy these trains with the help of satellites. To remain undetected, trains essentially operate on their own with little to no communication between conductors. The lack of communication between shuttles has made it impossible for railway workers to follow the traditional chain of command. Conductors are unable to seek the guidance of their superiors or peers when making split second decisions. They operate independently and without the benefit of a central command. However, they all share one goal, to protect and defend the independence of the Ukrainian people.
The trains must stay in constant motion to make it more difficult for the Russian satellites to identify and destroy them. They need to avoid traveling on tracks which have been destroyed or damaged. Railway workers often need to disembark to repair the tracks in the middle of a firefight or during the dark of night. These workers are not trained soldiers, they are Ukrainian citizens, like the LIRR workers that many of us see every day. They are willing to risk their lives for their continued freedom.
While the world is rooting for Ukraine and the success of its citizens in keeping Vladimir Putin from asserting control over their freedom, we should not forget that this is the same freedom that our country was built upon. History continues to repeat itself and there will always be a new bully looking for control. As citizens of the United States, regardless of our differences in opinion, we must stand together to ensure that we are always free to have these differences.
—Zack Siegel, student columnist

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