Columnist Karen Gardner: Truth is hard to find

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to St. Petersburg’s governor Alexander Beglov during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, March 1. Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Published: 3/8/2022 4:45:00 PM
Modified: 3/8/2022 4:44:26 PM

This past Saturday, my ukulele group met again at Forbes Library in Northampton. We had just come back inside in October, and then omicron hit in January, shutting the door on us for another two months. Prior to COVID, we had met at Forbes nearly every Saturday morning for six years! We kept meeting, of course, on Zoom and at Childs Park when the weather permitted.

It’s been rough going for everyone the last two years, living through the ups and downs of COVID-induced closings and openings, not to mention the economic and health crises from the ongoing pandemic. But things seem to be getting better in our community, at least for now, so the library opened up to us again and it was a joyful reunion.

Music keeps me sane. For me there is nothing more joyful than to be part of a group of people singing and playing music together. For a few hours, I’m able to leave the harsh realities of our world and all its troubles outside the door, and in this case that door belongs to our wonderful library.

But outside that door there’s a war raging in Ukraine, a global pandemic that is probably here to stay in one form or another, a U.S. utterly divided by political and cultural differences (fueled by partisan lies and misinformation, I have to add), gas at the pump surpassing $4 a gallon, the costs of feeding our families seeming to rise weekly, to name just a few of our daily challenges.

Though it’s taking place very far from us, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a sovereign, independent country, has definitely got my attention. What’s happening there is affecting the whole world, like it or not. NATO, an organization founded in 1949 and now with 30 member nations including our own, has imposed enormous and painful sanctions against Russia, its president, Vladimir Putin, and other members of the elite there, hoping that pressure will stop the invasion. But despite the pain his citizens might be feeling, Putin seems unfazed, and the death and destruction continue.

In Putin’s initial announcement of the invasion, he called it a “special military operation to ‘demilitarize’ and ‘denazify’ Ukraine.” He added this threat to the world ... “To anyone who would consider interfering from the outside: if you do, you will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history. All relevant decisions have been taken. I hope you hear me.” Putin also ordered Russia’s nuclear forces into a higher state of alert.

Denazify? Is there a Nazi faction in Ukraine that needs removing, and by an illegal military attack? What I’ve learned about Putin’s reasons for his invasion is that I can’t be sure what is true and what is not. My attempts to dig deeper have unearthed information that there is a very active neo-Nazi militia in Ukraine, called the Azov Brigade. It was incorporated into Ukraine’s National Guard after it participated in the last conflict with Russia in 2014.

It does not appear to control the government, but it does exist, unfortunately, and should not be part of Ukraine’s armed services. This discovery made me realize how difficult it is to know for sure what’s going on there or anywhere else in the world.

We have the ability to search for the truth, for opposing voices and information in ways that don’t exist in some other countries. And one of those countries is Russia itself. Putin has shut down all independent news organizations in print, on social media and TV, and passed laws making it a crime to report on the war in Ukraine. Putin’s story is the only story in Russia.

I wonder if some of you saw a photo or video on social media recently of what was purported to be a young Ukrainian girl shouting at a Russian soldier. It turns out that the photo was taken in 2012 and the girl was Palestinian, yelling at an Israeli soldier. Fortunately, there are organizations working tirelessly to uncover this kind of misinformation.

But we can do some of that work ourselves using something called a reverse image search that allows us to determine when an image we find online was first introduced and where. It’s called TinEye and its image database so far contains 52.7 billion images as of this writing! Just go to to learn how to use this very accessible tool.

So, there’s misinformation everywhere, an ever-growing war in Ukraine, and the veiled threat of nuclear war. With all that going on I am so grateful that the former president no longer sits in the White House. His latest suggestion for how to deal with Russia’s aggression is that “the US should put the Chinese flag on F-22 jets” and send them off to bomb Russia, letting China take the blame. Yes, he really did say that. Luckily for us and the world, Joe Biden is president now and seems to be handling this crisis with careful, measured words and steps.

What’s been keeping me sane these days? It’s making music with friends and having a calm, reasonable, and clearly quite sane person running our country.

Karen Gardner, of Haydenville, can be reached at
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