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Editorial: ‘Freedom isn’t free’ is on full display at church

Watching the horror of the Russian aggression in Ukraine — the long lines of refugees, children being carried by their frightened mothers fleeing the violence, the fathers staying behind to fight an enemy that has no regard for international law — we were reminded of a timely and potent phrase: 

Freedom isn’t free.

A picture taken by New York Times photographer Lynsey Addario that went viral showed two children among the four killed by a Russian mortar attack. The suffering in any war is unimaginable; the hell visited on Ukrainian children and the wholesale destruction of residential buildings by the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s army is a war crime worthy of a Nuremberg-style tribunal.

The determination of the Ukrainian people to resist the Russian onslaught gives a whole new meaning to “freedom isn’t free.” They make those Americans complaining about losing their “freedoms” look small and petty.

We spent some time this past week watching volunteers in the basement of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Riverhead pack boxes of clothes, sleeping bags and warm blankets to be shipped to Poland to help the nearly 2 million who have fled the war.

Two of the volunteers were Ulyana Zyulkouska and Julia Brativnyk. They pulled pants, shirts, sweaters, winter coats and blankets out of bags dropped off by scores of people who want to help. They repacked them and taped and labeled the boxes. By week’s end, everything will be at crowded refugee centers in southern Poland.

Asked if she has family in harm’s way in Ukraine, Ulyana’s eyes filled with tears. “All we can do is pray for them,” she said.

In a church basement in Riverhead, a war underway halfway around the world, the idea that “freedom isn’t free” was on full display. But it takes effort, a belief in working for the common good, and a conviction in something larger than yourself to be realized. That’s what Ulyana and Julia were doing. Putin’s regime knows nothing about this. His state-controlled media lies to the public every time it opens its mouth. This is what happens when citizens actually do lose their freedoms — the ones that really matter. He has imposed jail sentences for anyone promoting what he calls “fake news” about the war in Ukraine. Fake news — a familiar phrase among a certain crowd in America.

The news this week featured a line of truck drivers near Washington, D.C., who had come from across the country to protest vaccine and mask mandates. One driver interviewed on a news channel said she would never allow anyone to inject a foreign substance into her body that would turn her into a robot. She would have been better served not saying anything.

The juxtaposition of Ukrainian soldiers resisting the Russians — and American veterans volunteering to go there and help — with Americans who believe their “freedoms” are at risk because their children may have to wear a mask at school or read “To Kill a Mockingbird” in English class, is jarring. 

The biggest European land war since World War II is underway, and an ally’s future as a democracy is very much in jeopardy. Putin has threatened to use nuclear weapons. Much worse could be ahead for Europe. Meanwhile, in America some people stand in front of the TV cameras and whine about their “freedoms” being taken away. The media should stop covering them. The politicians who pander to them should move on to something more critical.

This past week former New York governor Andrew Cuomo went public and whined about his own personal grievances: How badly he was treated by Attorney General Letitia James, how he was forced to resign and how his brother Chris was canned at CNN. Cry me a river.

When compared with images in the news of children dead in the street in Ukraine, that was an embarrassing display of self pity and horribly ill-timed. Maybe those Americans prone to complain about their “freedoms” being under attack and their careers being “canceled” could give it a break while this war is underway.