Earlier this year, journalist Martin Kuz spent five weeks in Ukraine, both as a reporter covering Russia’s invasion of his late father’s homeland and as a son hoping to better understand the forces that shaped his father’s life. He returned to Sacramento — home to the largest concentration of Ukrainian immigrants in the United States — with a profound new understanding of his complex heritage, forged by war and loss:

My father remains the smartest and strongest person I have known. He spoke seven languages, and with his knowledge across varied topics — history and geography, politics and theology, medicine and mathematics, art and literature — he made Britannica look shallow. Still, if I could appreciate the breadth of his intellect, the force of his will mystified me. What explained the disposition that allowed him to fight, to survive, to press ever forward when Russia held captive everyone and everything he cherished?

The answer emerged during my five weeks in Ukraine as I observed the unity of its people in response to war. The ferocious resistance of Ukrainian troops and the mutual compassion of everyday citizens revealed an intense love of country that Putin and Western leaders alike misjudged. In the land “entirely created by Russia,” a profound national pride passed down through generations linked young Olexiy Trykun and young Eugene Kuz across 80 years in the fight for a sovereign Ukraine. The quiet resolve that I recognized in my father, it turns out, defines the Ukrainian character.

The praise for Ukraine’s solidarity in the West contained elements of envy and irony. The televised and tweeted displays of self-sacrifice provoked nostalgia in America and Western Europe, where national identity continues to fracture and the concept of banding together for the common good appears extinct. Meanwhile, if those same countries, as members of NATO and the European Union, had shown greater faith in Ukrainians over the past quarter-century, Putin’s invasion might have stayed in the realm of dystopian fantasy.