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Ukraine Can’t Even Bury its Dead, Something We All Take for Granted

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By Michael Gold

It’s never easy to talk about it when someone in your family has died. When my dad died 10 years ago, my mom, my three brothers and I were crushed.

Bill Flooks understands. His job is to try to help the living deal with the pain of losing a loved one. He’s the owner of the Beecher-Flooks Funeral Home in Pleasantville.

I recently took the time to talk with Flooks about what he does and about the war in Ukraine. These subjects are not as unrelated as we might think at first glance.

Beecher-Flooks takes great care to walk the families of the deceased through each step in the burial process, from the length of visitation to the type of burial they want for their loved one.

“People often don’t know what they’re going to do when they come in here,” Flooks said. “We had six adult children in here the other day. Their father had passed away. I laid out all the options for them.

“We try to get you through some tough times,” he explained. “We offer respect and dignity for the deceased and their families.”

Flooks highlighted the key values he brings to his efforts.

“Funerals are for the living. You have to have time to grieve.”

We then talked about what’s happening in Ukraine. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates that more than 4,500 civilians have been killed in Ukraine, which is a very low estimate. According to The New York Times, many more people have been killed by Russian forces. It’s possible that at least 22,000 people were killed, a Times article in late June stated. That’s about three times the population of Pleasantville. Ukrainian President Zelensky estimated in early June that tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers have been killed by the Russian Army, the Associated Press and the Voice of America reported.

Also, more than 250 children have been killed, and more than 400 injured, UNICEF reported at the end of May.

Of the many dead, Flooks said, “There are mass graves. They’re (the Ukrainian government) not prepared to get them back to their hometowns. They’re not getting a proper burial. It’s very sad. There’s no closure.”

“War is horrible,” he said. “You might not know where your husband or son is buried. You have no idea. It’s in a war zone, or it’s occupied by the Russians. No one knows what’s going on.”

In the United States, we can take comfort in knowing that our deceased family members will be taken care of, and that the living will gather to mourn. Contrast this with Ukraine.

In addition to suffering from the monumental, almost unimaginable pain and terror the Russian Army has inflicted on the Ukrainians, they have lost their ability to offer this most basic of functions for the dead and their relatives.

“I think that we’re helping,” Flooks said, when I asked about American aid to Ukraine. “From the funeral aspect there’s nothing we can do (in Ukraine).”

The war seems to have faded somewhat from the American spotlight. But it grinds on, with Ukrainian citizens and soldiers dying every day from Russian weapons.

There are some times in life when things don’t seem very clear. We can be confused about who did what to whom. How a bad thing happens might elude us.

This is not one of those times. The Russian government started this war. They are slaughtering hundreds of innocent people every day.

Many have speculated as to why. Maybe Putin felt threatened by having a democratic government emerge in neighboring Ukraine, where its citizens were able to participate in the decisions that guide their lives, the lives of their children, their future. Putin doesn’t seem to think ordinary Russians are capable of determining their own fates. Democracy is too messy for Putin.

Or he was annoyed that Ukraine might become part of NATO. Maybe he wanted Ukraine’s natural resources. Ukraine grows massive amounts of wheat, corn, barley and sunflower seeds for consumption around the world. Ukraine also has natural gas reserves. It manufactures iron ore, titanium and lithium for electric cars.

This war is easy to forget, except when you’re at the grocery store and gas station. Prices are up in part because of Putin’s war of aggression. But other than that, this war doesn’t touch us. Ukraine is almost 5,000 miles away from the Hudson Valley.

Another theory I’ve read about is that Putin started this war to help restore glory to Russia.  

The definition of glory is: “fame, praise or honor that is given to someone because they have achieved something important.” (Source: Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries)

When a country has so desecrated another nation that it can’t even bury its dead, I wonder whether Vladimir Putin knows what glory really means.

Pleasantville resident Michael Gold has had articles published in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times Union, The Virginian-Pilot, The Palm Beach Post, other newspapers and The Hardy Society Journal, a British literary journal.

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