We are watching this Russian attack on Ukraine with a mixture of sorrow, disbelief and an ominous sense of déjà vu. Sorrow because we are witnessing the plight of civilians, including families with children caught in the path of violence; we feel a sense of helplessness because we have seen it all before, too many times.

While we mourn the loss of innocent lives and share the suffering of ordinary Ukrainians, we want to take this moment to remember the humanity hidden behind the drapery of grief in every victim of violence and every displaced person.

We know every war kills, maims, displaces and traumatizes far more innocent civilians than it does armed combatants. We have witnessed the waves of refugees seeking safety for themselves and their children. We know too well the international systems of protection and resettlement of refugees are woefully inadequate and overwhelmed. As we watch the horrific calamity unfolding in Ukraine from afar, we are reminded that before this war there were 26.4 million refugees protected by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in addition to the 48 million displaced persons known to us. In the past two weeks, more than 2.3 million people have been displaced in what could become Europe’s largest refugee crisis in this century.

The attack on Ukraine by its more powerful neighbor Russia brings back the memories of the 1979 Russian invasion of Afghanistan, which was back then a peaceful country like Ukraine. That war resulted in the displacement of millions of Afghan refugees, some of whom now call Maine home. Imagine how this invasion is retraumatizing some of our new neighbors, not only those from Afghanistan but also others, reminding them of their own displacement caused by violence.

In recent years, people living in cities like Portland have opened their hearts and their homes, creating space for compassion by offering a safe harbor for those fleeing wars and genocides, from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Iraq and Syria, to name a few. Today, refugees and asylum seekers continue to arrive. While their religion, skin color and the languages they speak might be different from ours, they share the common dream of a new life in America. And they are fortunate to arrive in Portland, a city with a heart.

At the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, we are privileged to meet and interact with people who have been the victims of violence and displacement, sometimes physical, sometimes spiritual or cultural. Some arrive feeling invisible; others seek ways to heal the scars of trauma. We are too familiar with this horror show. At Maine College of Art and Design, our students make sense of these traumatic situations through creative expression and insight that help us all to process the human condition and give us hope of a better world to come.

We at Maine College of Art & Design and the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center stand in solidarity with the ordinary Ukrainians. At the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, we are ready to offer support should they come to our shores in search of safety, just as we have done with other New Mainers. At Maine College of Art and Design, we invite artists, teachers and students to consider continuing their studies here.

We are all refugees, wrote the British-Pakistani novelist, Mohsin Hamid; refugees from our childhood, as he put it. Or from our past or feeling invisible, isolated or displaced for one reason or another. Indeed, if we trace our ancestries back one or two generations, most of us will discover we all came from somewhere else. Our own stories include a grandfather who fled Belarus by himself as a 16-year-old boy because of prejudice and antisemitism there, and a young college graduate from Iran who found himself without a country to return to. As Mainers, we are called to open our hearts and then our homes to the refugees who seek shelter and a new life here.

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