NOTE: Thank you to Dr. Ryan Denison for writing today’s Daily Article. He is the Denison Forum Senior Editor for Theology and has written more than four hundred articles for the Denison Forum.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was named TIME Magazine’s “Person of the Year” on Wednesday. TIME’s Editor-in-Chief, Edward Felsenthal, said Zelensky was chosen “for proving that courage can be as contagious as fear, for stirring people and nations to come together in defense of freedom, for reminding the world of the fragility of democracy—and peace.”
In the accompanying profile, Simon Shuster—who has been around Zelensky on multiple occasions over the last nine months—described the changes he has seen in the president from the start of the war. Aides “who once saw him as a lightweight now praise his toughness. Slights that might once have upset him now elicit no more than a shrug. Some of his allies miss the old Zelensky, the practical joker with a boyish smile. But they realize he needs to be different now, much harder and deaf to distractions, or else his country might not survive.”
His initial decision to stick around when, historically, leaders have typically fled in the face of invasion galvanized his people at the start of the war. And his constant presence through social media and trips to the front lines—Shuster outlines one such journey just days after Ukraine retook Kherson last month—has served as a constant reminder that his courage has not waned.
Still, Zelensky is far from perfect, and he has been accused of “exhibiting some of the same authoritarian tendencies” as less-respected leaders of the past, including “stripping the power of the oligarchs and seeking to imprison political opponents whom he considers treasonous.”
TIME does not expect that their person of the year will be perfect, however. Rather, when choosing a winner, their criteria for the pick revolve around finding a figure that offers “both a snapshot of where the world is and a picture of where it’s going. Someone, or in rare cases, something, that feels like a force of history.”
But as the history of the war cannot be told through the eyes of Zelensky alone, TIME is also honoring “the spirit of Ukraine” alongside the country’s president. Profiles of several other vital figures, from engineer Oleg Kutkov to Olga Rudenko—the editor of the Kyiv Independent—accompany the lengthy piece on Ukraine’s leader.
In each case, though, the people chosen are meant to represent something beyond themselves. Not every citizen-soldier can be mentioned by name, nor can each of those who have given their lives in defense of their country. Chances are that we will still be learning new stories about the horrors of the war and the courage of those who faced them for quite some time.
The uncertainty of the future, however, provides even more reasons to celebrate the victories of the present. And, as Sam Mednick chronicles for the Associated Press, few wins are as worthy of remembrance as those who have saved hundreds of children from deportation by Russian forces.
Saving orphans from “a deliberate depopulation campaign”
As Mednick writes, “Hours after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, health staff at a children’s hospital in the south started secretly planning how to save the babies.”
Throughout the war, Russians have made a habit of seizing orphans and deporting them across the border. And while thousands of children have suffered that fate, many in Ukraine have gone to great lengths to protect as many as they can.
From falsifying medical records to making kids seem too sick to move to changing paperwork to hide orphaned and vulnerable children, the stories of bravery and ingenuity are as inspiring as they are necessary.
And Russian forces have grown only more determined as the war has progressed.
They have started separating orphans from their caregivers at checkpoints before sending them off to live in foster care or to be adopted by Russian families. They have also lied to the children, telling them that “they weren’t wanted by their parents” before using them for pro-war propaganda.
The Institute for the Study of War in Washington describes these efforts as “a deliberate depopulation campaign in occupied parts of Ukraine.”
Russian authorities have countered that they are merely trying to protect the children and are actively searching for relatives to whom the kids can be sent. However, most of those who have been deported remain unaccounted for, which highlights the importance of those who have saved as many as they could.
When TIME Magazine describes the “spirit of Ukraine,” these kinds of heroics deserve just as much attention as those conducted with guns and munitions.
When suffering ceases to be suffering
Viktor E. Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust, once wrote that “in some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
Frankl was acutely aware of the fact that the suffering does not go away, or even lessen, when it finds such a meaning. Rather, his point was that when we see a purpose to the pain we endure, it can give us the strength to continue on in the face of it.
Volodymyr Zelensky and the countless other Ukrainians currently defending their country have found such a meaning over the course of their struggle, and it is one of the primary reasons that they are still able to fight.
It does not mean their fight has been perfect or that the rest of the world should necessarily be obliged to join them in it. But as Christians tasked with taking the gospel to a world that often does not want to hear it, we can learn much from their example.
Though our sufferings on behalf of Christ often pale in comparison to the trials faced by those at war with Russia today, it can still be difficult at times to find the meaning in them. If you find yourself in that position today, perhaps Paul’s encouragement to the Romans can encourage you as well: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).
That is God’s path to bringing meaning out of our suffering.
Where are you along that path today?