Nazar Bilukha, who was born in Ukraine, participates in a rally in downtown Atlanta in support of Ukraine on Saturday, March 5, 2022. Credit: Ben Gray / AP

It is easy, if not inevitable, to watch the horror unfolding in Ukraine and feel helpless here at home. What can individual Mainers hope to achieve in the face of such violence and chaos in Europe?

The answer might surprise you. Decades ago, 10-year-old Samantha Smith taught us that one person in Maine actually can have a significant impact on the world stage. She showed there is great power in asking simple questions and advocating for peace. Her 1982 letter to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov not only received a response, but also led to a visit to the Soviet Union and launched her into a prominent role as a young advocate for peace.

“I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are you going to vote to have a war or not? If you aren’t please tell me how you are going to help to not have a war,” Smith wrote to Andropov in that famous letter. “This question you do not have to answer, but I would like to know why you want to conquer the world or at least our country. God made the world for us to live together in peace and not to fight.”

It is tragic, haunting even, that Smith’s letter could be re-written almost word for word and sent to Russian leaders again today. As BDN reporter Emily Burnham wrote in a recent story about Smith, it’s hard to imagine Vladimir Putin responding to a kid from Maine. But Smith’s perspective still rings true.

“War is still a specter that haunts every corner of the world, and is a horrific reality,” Burnham wrote. “And kids are still kids, with the potential to see beyond the noise, violence and chatter, and simply ask why it has to be this way — like Samantha Smith did, 40 years ago.”

Smith’s ability to see beyond the noise and to push for a better, more peaceful world are as important as ever. So is her example of individual action.

For anyone in Maine now looking for ways to take action and help those in Ukraine, BDN reporter Valerie Royzman has offered an important list of options. She is the daughter of immigrants from Ukraine, where members of her family still live.

Royzman’s suggested actions include donating to reputable organizations providing aid in Ukraine, supporting media organizations providing coverage of the Russian invasion, participating in local fundraisers, keeping up with the news through reliable sources, and providing kindness to Ukrainians in America and around the world.

“I am asking you to bear witness to Ukraine’s suffering. As dark as it sounds, I am afraid that my family is going to die,” Royzman wrote. “I am worried that the house my grandparents built with their own hands, brick by brick, will be obliterated. I have a nagging fear that there will be no Ukraine to return to – no country and sunflower fields my brother and sister can show their children.”

Given Putin’s false pretenses for the invasion and dangerous distortions of history and current events, bearing witness is no small thing. We all must confront the ugly truth of what is happening in Ukraine, and remain focused on addressing it.

“My great-grandmother’s name is Nadezhda, or Nadya for short, which means hope,” Royzman added. “Don’t look away, even when it hurts.”

Royzman has provided a valuable roadmap for Mainers who see the horrors in Ukraine and want to help. This international crisis requires an international response, and it is easy and understandable for individuals to feel powerless in such a situation. But as Samantha Smith proved years ago, one person in Maine can make a big difference.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...