GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – “Helplessness” and “shame for days.”

These were the words that came to me via a private electronic message this morning, sent from across the globe from a man I know in Russia, who has watched as his nation has sent troops and artillery unbidden across the border of Ukraine and attacked a peaceful nation.

I’ve been corresponding with him about this, asking periodically about how his fellow Russians felt about armed forces taking over a neighboring country simply because President Vladimir Putin wanted to take over.

The man I know is a former journalist who has traveled extensively. I had met him when he came to the U.S. on an educational foray. He’s in his early 30s, I think, and married. He’s bright and speaks and writes solid English. He has a broad worldview. I am not using his name because of his own stated concern about personal security. The free speech we enjoy isn’t free speech everywhere. Sometimes there are consequences.

(Associated Press)

About a week ago, when the intent of Putin and the escalation of Russian troop movement was becoming clear, I reached out to him to ask if he would be willing to answer some questions about what Russians were hearing, considering and feeling about these developments.

We had exchanged a few sentences about this during the past few months, so he said he would consider my questions.

“Let’s try,” he wrote. “I’m not sure I can see all the perspective, but that might be interesting.”

So with some input from our staff, I drafted a handful of questions, basic queries about what sorts of information Russians were ingesting and how that might be affecting day-to-day lives and concerns. I wanted to know if he had traveled to Ukraine with any frequency — his hometown is about 10 hours by car from Kyiv, based on a Google search.

The natural question was: Are you friends with any Ukrainians, and do you fear for their safety?

After a few days, he wrote back to say he had been thinking about the questions a lot, but decided to decline a direct answer.

“There are fears of my own and my wife [that] I cannot deny at the moment.”

That’s understandable, I told him. As I had said when reaching out, I didn’t want to do anything to put him in jeopardy. Maybe I’ve read too many novels or seen too many news articles about Russians who spoke of — or even hinted at — views that were counter to the government and how harshly they had been treated. I didn’t want that for my friend.

But he did offer a little additional insight.

“When you try and express what you think in words, it seems more difficult than you thought before,” he wrote.

“The situation is really frightening on the one hand but, on the other hand, everything has been discussed so many times that there’s nothing to discuss more. Everyone understands everything but has no time, courage (choose your variants) or desire to do anything.”

I largely didn’t edit his words, just cleaned up the spelling. His use of the word “variants” was idiomatic. He really meant “choose your words,” but the meaning was clear: Call it what you wish, but this is a difficult situation that everyone understands and can’t really change.

“People are quite depressed, I must say,” he wrote, “or maybe it’s just so-called learned helplessness.”

Helplessness seems a universal feeling right now. We can’t in any way do anything meaningful to stop the onslaught of troops we watch on newscasts, nor can we do much to head off the spiraling effects that will reach around the globe and affect our daily lives.

My friend signed off his message with an attempt at levity.

“Hello Comrade Mayor, who reads this dialogue, as we joke sadly,” he wrote.

I embraced his attempt at humor, at addressing the cliché of Russian life that we in the West so indelibly believe.

But this morning across Ukraine, there is nothing to joke about. Bombs were falling, and people were fleeing. Life was upended. We can’t imagine how this might end in any image that is positive. We only watch and wait and hope.

As my friend said, for conscientious Russians, that would mean “shame for days.”