Richard Swerdlow: Another Matryoshka For Peace

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 (Richard Swerdlow)

Richard Swerdlow sees a metaphor for Russia’s war against Ukraine in a traditional Russian wooden doll.

I have an engineer friend who worked in the Soviet Union as part of a science exchange in the ‘60s. He kept a few things from his Soviet days - fondness for vodka, cursing in Russian, and some Matryoshka dolls. Matryoshka means "little mother," in English, "nesting dolls." They're a traditional Russian art, a painted wooden doll of a woman in a babushka head scarf. These dolls are made to come apart. Her head pops off, and inside is another smaller doll, and inside of her, an even smaller one, on and on.

His Russian dolls have me thinking how life can imitate art.

Like those dolls, the Russia-Ukraine war has many layers, but instead of dolls, it’s crisis inside of crisis. The largest doll is Putin.

But what's inside Putin's head? The complicated reasons for this war remind me of these dolls within dolls, and each time you think you've come to the last reason, something else is inside, such as the many layers of history behind this war; borders redrawn by World War II, NATO, the fall of the Soviet Union. More dolls show up - energy prices, the global economy, China.


Complications within complications. But something new has emerged again: the thousands of Russians protesting this conflict, and I'm realizing Matryoshka dolls can also symbolize hope.

During the Vietnam war, my mother, with four sons of her own, was active in "Another Mother for Peace," an anti-war group that still exists today, famous for their slogan "War is not healthy for children and other living things." As each crisis leads to another crisis in this Russia-Ukraine war, I hope the mothers of Russia keep emerging, as well, one after the other, like Matryoshka dolls, to protest this brutality committed on our human family.

Another Matryoshka for Peace.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow is a San Francisco teacher.