Ukraine: It’s personal and professional, Part II

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Certain potential and real casualties of the brutality occurring in Ukraine are not generally known to the public. But they matter a lot to employees of the State Department. I’m talking about foreign service nationals — citizens of countries with U.S. embassies that are employed by the embassies.

Eric Rubin, the president of the American Foreign Service...

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Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

Certain potential and real casualties of the brutality occurring in Ukraine are not generally known to the public. But they matter a lot to employees of the State Department. I’m talking about foreign service nationals — citizens of countries with U.S. embassies that are employed by the embassies.

Eric Rubin, the president of the American Foreign Service Association, talked about them in my interview airing today. Rubin said he’s certain the Russians possess the employee directory of the U.S. embassy in Kyiv. He added, the Ukranians that worked there are likely to be singled out for retaliation.

Several published reports have noted that Vladimir Putin has a list of Ukranians targeted, presumably for execution. No one really knows what he has in mind for relatively low-level people who might have aided the United States. But it won’t be good.

Rubin, earlier in his career, served both in Russia and Ukraine. He said that before the invasion, Russia ordered the U.S. to fire the thousand or so Russians working for the four U.S. diplomatic locations in Russia. He added the Russian government conducts a campaign to make it difficult for the fired people to find employment elsewhere.

Lots of speculation centers on Putin. Is he nuts? Does he have some sort of syphilitic long-term impairment? Is he crazy like a fox? Again, if anyone knows, it’s likely someone close to him, and they’re not saying. All the rest of the world can do is deal with his actions.

Amid the weird Putin ramblings, though, there is one strain of truth. Russia and Ukraine do share some common culture and heritage. Rubin was quick to point out, that doesn’t give Putin the right to decide Ukraine’s fate.

I asked him, rhetorically, how could a nation with such human and natural richness have one rotten government after another, going back a thousand years? Horde this, Ivan that, Tsars, Party apparatchiks, and now Putin — this from the nation that also produced Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Chekhov, Nabokov, Andrei Sakharov, Sholem Aleichem and Oleg Antonov? So many renowned artists, writers, scientists, engineers from Russia…

But wait, Rubin said. Some, while commonly associated with Russia, were actually born in Ukraine. The Yiddish playwright and story author Aleichem was born in a small city in what was then part of the Russian Empire, now Ukraine. The great Soviet-era aerospace designer Antonov was born in Kyiv. Ditto, by the way, for Igor Sikorsky, who gave the world the helicopter.

My favorite Russian was the late pianist Vladimir Horowitz. I snagged a stage ticket to hear him, late in his career, at Boston Symphony Hall. I lucked out. My seat was diagonally behind his left shoulder, so I could see his hands on the keyboard. You don’t forget sitting that close to Horowitz. This morning, just for kicks, I looked it up. Vladimir Horowitz, born October 1, 1903 — in Kyiv.

All of this makes the Putin gambit so much more puzzling.

Ambassador Rubin, while on full official time as president of AFSA, is nevertheless in touch with State Department colleagues and is in on some of the calls. The pace inside State, as you might imagine, is intense. Press releases come almost hourly from State’s press operation, telling about this or that phone call with this or that official around the world. For the moment, the U.S. response involves mainly Treasury, State and the Intelligence Community. As Hudson Institute analyst Bryan Clark pointed out Monday, the invasion is also a rare opportunity for the Defense Department to observe and gather data.

State Department people, though, are dealing with sudden relocation because of the evacuations. They endure the added element of personal anguish for friends they left behind.

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