Fight hate with hate?

Jona Jancewicz

More stories from Jona Jancewicz


It is the people who protest President Putin and help the refugees who we should follow. Their examples of compassion should be the baseline.

The world is hurting. I’m hurting. In front of our very eyes, millions of people in Ukraine are being forced to flee their homes; their livelihoods destroyed.  As I write this, close to 3 million people— largely, women, children and elderly—have been forced to flee their country. And many more are trying to survive in basements and make-shift shelters. These people are no different from us. Just a short month ago, Ukranians were going about their normal lives – taking their children to school, going to work to support their families and watching Ukrainian athletes compete in the Olympics. But to Russian President Vladmir Putin, that normalcy in-and-of-itself is wrong. To some, the very idea of freedom is the most dangerous thing in the world. Putin clearly believes that no place like Ukraine should exist. A former territory of the Soviet Union that now has become an independent democratic country. Sharing a border with a place that holds  democratic values is such an unacceptable risk to Putin, that he is willing to eradicate the Ukrainian people.

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many of us have found ourselves feeling angry. We are angry at the cruelty we see in the images coming out of Ukraine. We are angry at the violence and hate displayed in the acts of war by the Russian army. We are angry because we feel powerless to stop it. Yet, while it is a natural feeling, anger is dangerous. More and more, we see media reports of people lashing out against Russian speakers and immigrants here. Russian stores are closing due to the death threats and people are boycotting goods and businesses that they believe are Russian made.

This is not a new phenomenon. If we look back just twenty years, we will recognize the widespread xenephobia of all Muslim people, including the immigrants who fled their countries of origin to the U.S., that followed the tragic events of 9/11. No matter who they were, where they were from or what they believed in, Muslims were discriminated against, and oftentimes were the subjects of hate crimes. Today, similar events are taking place in our communities and it is our job to stop them. 

My own story, like so many of yours, is one of immigration. I come from a family of refugees. My mom’s side of the family originated from Kyiv, Ukraine, with some having moved to Minsk, Belarus many years ago. In the late 1980’s and early 90’s, they fled as refugees to America, where the promise was simple: freedom. They were not alone. Many oppressed people fled from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and other countries –  in search of freedom, democratic values and hope for a better future. Most of these immigrants are Russian speakers because many were forced to learn and speak Russian, despite their origin. They are our friends, our parents, our teachers and our neighbors. They are the same people, who after years of oppression, abuse and hate, are now facing racism and bigotry here in their new home. 

All of this raises the question of how much progress have we really made? Right now, it doesn’t seem like any. Groups of people here in the U.S. are still targeted because of their race, their national origin and their differences. Hate and violence against the Ukrainian people, as horrific as it is, is being met with more hate and violence here at home. This hurts us and it must stop. And it is our job to stop it.  

We cannot fight hate with more hate. If history has taught us anything, it is that violence cannot be eradicated with anger. We must learn from our past. We must learn from one another. And, we must turn our anger into curiosity and compassion. So, next time you run into a native Russian speaker in your community, don’t judge and instead offer a kind word, a helping hand and a friendly ear.