Hot Stove #78 (Updated) – I Stand With Ukraine

This post is not about baseball. Nor about the lack of baseball during the lockout. Why? Because I am distracted by this week’s events in Ukraine.

In Hot Stove #78, I chronicled a trip that Rita and I took to Eastern Europe in July of 2018. The primary purpose of the trip was to visit the homelands of my grandparents in Lithuania and Ukraine.

One of our stops was in Lviv in western Ukraine. As tensions escalated this past week, many diplomats based in the capital of Kyiv relocated to Lviv to distance themselves from Vladimir Putin’s warmongering. Below, Rita and I on Castle Hill for a panoramic view of Lviv:

My report on our trip in Hot Stove was primarily a travelogue, but in hindsight, it also serves as a cautionary tale of the never-ending threat of bullies seeking power. Be they Hitler, Stalin or Putin. I’ll share some highlights below, but encourage you to revisit Hot Stove #78 and read it in light of current events (click here).

[Warning: This update might be interpreted as political since it is anti-Putin (I do not share the belief that Putin is a “genius,” “smart” or “savvy”; I think “bully,” “thug” and “corrupt” are more accurate). So this is the early opportunity to hit “delete” and wait for the next post, which I promise will be about baseball and hopefully spring training.]

Overview: Our trip took us to five major European cities: Riga, Latvia; Vilnius, Lithuania; Warsaw, Poland; Krakow, Poland; and Lviv, Ukraine. My Hot Stove post opened with this:

“There are historical parallels in the five cities. Each has a central old town of cobblestone streets, medieval-era architecture and a lively main square. They are in countries that have for centuries been invaded, occupied and placed within arbitrary borders drawn by the victors. They were all invaded in World War II by the Nazis who wiped out the Jewish populations. Then came the Russians who ‘liberated’ each country with a brutal occupation and forced membership in the U.S.S.R. or as a ‘satellite state’ controlled by the Soviets. The people who resisted were killed, imprisoned, exiled or sent to Siberia.

 The good news is that all of the countries eventually regained their independence. The resilience of the people and the desire to maintain their culture is inspiring. But the cloud of Russia remains, as most evident today in the covert war on the eastern side of Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea. By coincidence, we returned on a flight via Helsinki, two days before the Trump/Putin summit in that city. That’s all I’ll say about that.”

Unfortunately, I now feel compelled to say more about that 2018 summit. That was when President Trump was asked if he believed the U.S. intelligence community or Putin about Russia meddling in the 2016 election. Trump chose Putin, “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” A statement that ranks up there with “legitimate political discourse.”

Is Putin a wannabe Stalin? This question was considered by David Von Drehle this week in a Washington Post column:

“The only thing more dangerous than a nut with nukes is a nut with nukes who idolizes Joseph Stalin. That, alas, is Putin. Plunging Europe into war has not been the only thing on his mind lately. He has also been busy purging Russia of honest historians. In December, a puppet court in northern Russia extended the prison sentences of Yuri Dmitriev to 15 long years on trumped-up charges. His real offense? Documenting a few of Stalin’s countless crimes against humanity. Putin’s government then outlawed the academic movement called Memorial, which supported Dmitriev’s work and that of other scholars.”

Imagine that. Hiding history that is uncomfortable and jailing people who do not cooperate.

Stalin/Putin Teasers: Here are some highlights of our trip, as seen through the lens of oppression:

In Vilnius, we toured the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights which is housed in a building once used by the Gestapo and the KGB as offices and a prison. The primary focus is on the 50-year Russian occupation that finally ended with independence in 1991. The tour includes the torture and execution rooms, and the exhibits chronicle the atrocities of the arrests, deportations, executions, forced-labor camps and Siberian exile.

In Warsaw, we met with Czeslaw Bielecki (below), the publisher of an underground newspaper that helped Lech Walesa and Solidarity free Poland from Soviet dominance in 1989.

On our way to Krakow, we stopped at Auschwitz. Uncomfortable, but history that must be preserved.

When my grandparents left Europe in the early 1900s, Krakow and Lviv were both in Galicia, a province in what was then Austria-Hungary. The borders of Galicia were arbitrarily drawn and the western part was mostly Poles, while the east was mostly Ukrainians. After wars and revisions of borders, Krakow became part of Poland and Lviv part of Ukraine.

 In Lviv, we visited a church that had an exhibit with photos of soldiers killed on the eastern front in the alleged “non-war” when Russia invaded Crimea in 2014. This sign was on the outside of that same church:

Rita and I also visited the town of Rozvadiv, about 26 miles from Lviv. It is the birthplace of my maternal grandparents, and their church, built in 1861, is still standing (photo below). The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is mostly active in western Ukraine which has a history of resistance to Russia. After World War II, Stalin ordered that the Greek Catholic church “reunite” with the Kremlin-controlled Russian Orthodox Church. To enforce the action, Ukrainian Catholic priests were beaten, tortured and imprisoned. Church property was confiscated. Many Ukrainian Catholics went underground to practice their religion. For some 43 years, the church was considered the largest banned religious community in the world.

Kudos to those heroes who fought for their freedoms against the bullies of the world.

Below, Lonnie wearing a Lithuania tee-shirt and Rita sporting a traditional Ukrainian embroidered blouse.

Programming Note: After getting a heads-up from several friends, Rita and I watched the Netflix movie Munich – The Edge of War. It is set in 1938 as Hitler prepares to invade Czechoslovakia. Déjà vu in 2022. Excellent movie. Trailer here.

Last night, KC’s Union Station joined landmarks around the world in lighting with blue and yellow as a statement of solidarity with Ukraine.