Thoughts from Ukraine

November 22, 2022

Ƶ has operated an office in Dnipro, Ukraine since 2014.

Since the Russian army invaded Ukraine in February, tens of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians have died, and an estimated 8 million people have fled or been displaced. Nine long months later, the war is still ongoing.

With presences in ten countries globally, Ƶ believes that our team members are a part of one family – regardless of race, nationality or religion. Their pain, is our pain. We don’t take sides between countries; we stand for human dignity, global peace, justice, and above all, human rights.

We recently asked one of our colleagues, still living in Dnipro, to share some of his experiences. These are his words.

It’s difficult to imagine such an intensity of events that brought such immediate tragedies. When I think about the past half-year of the war, I am struck not only by the external events, but of the significance of the internal changes that they caused within me.

There’s what I’ve seen. What I’ve felt. And what I’ve realized. Ultimately, it’s about the formation of us as a people and the formation of us as individuals. It’s about what’s inside us – what we may not even be able to imagine.  

It’s about what’s worth fighting for.

The first hours and days of the invasion were filled with shock, panic, and pain. Many people were not themselves, unable to do almost anything. Of those that were functioning, it was more automatic than conscious. It happened to me, to my family, to everyone. It wasn’t possible to sleep normally. I would wake up over and over again from fear. It was almost as though someone had pushed me straight out of my dreams.

Many decided to run – mainly towards the western border. In the cities, traffic congestion stretched for dozens of kilometers. Buying gas was a problem as there was not enough to go around. Someone I know had to stay in a field overnight in a car during the freezing cold of winter. As we later learned, in many cases, running was the right decision. Russia’s hatred for us has bled into many of its soldiers, resulting in numerous atrocities against Ukrainian citizens.

At the same time, resistance began to form everywhere you looked. Ukrainians joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Territorial Defense Forces, and many grassroots volunteer movements.

My parents live in a small suburb of Dnipro. In the first days of the war their community organized area defenses that included welding Czech hedgehogs, preparing Molotov cocktails, equipping security checkpoints, and preparing housing and essentials for those fleeing from occupied cities. They helped everyone they could by any means possible.

All of this looked bewitching and majestic. And it wasn’t unique to this community. It happened everywhere, all over Ukraine.

In the face of such real and terrible danger, people of all different backgrounds and situations came together. They organized from the very bottom, united by the shared goal of simply protecting themselves and their neighbors. The unmistakable bond forged through the distinction that a huge misfortune has befallen them, though it was not of their own making.

As of now, the frontline has not reached Dnipro. Most of our security checkpoints were shifted to roadsides, and many people from the Territorial Defense have been moved to the front, outside of the region.

Volunteer activities have become more systemic, approaching an unprecedented scale. It's a topic of a separate conversation: how volunteers made up of groups and individuals were able to collect millions of dollars in just a few days. This doesn’t include volunteer assistance to units where friends or family serve. The organization of our lives (and resistance) has undergone significant changes. Over time it’s become more effective and systemic. But it’s those first days and weeks that will forever stay in my memory. It was a time of great tragedy, but also a time that manifested an incredible sense of unity. We as a nation were bonded by our higher purpose to protect our rights and liberties. It was unexpected, and frankly, beautiful.

If you drive away from the frontline and the constant roar of artillery, the war is similar to a natural disaster. Or more precisely, many disasters at once. The dam is bombed, the river flooded part of the city, like a result of a natural flood. A residential building, an office center, or a mall is targeted; people died, as if from an explosion of natural gas in the distribution system. The air defense shot down a rocket somewhere above the city; as if thunder is very close to you, luckily this time it has not killed anyone. Civil aviation does not fly; as if because of fog and inclement weather. In the cities through which the front line passed, houses have been burned and destroyed as if from a fire or an earthquake. But all the time there is the sound of ambulances. They are coming either from the frontline, or from the places the rockets flew by.

The difference, however, is that this disaster is completely man-made and intentional. A very specific group of people decided to attack us and start a war. An absolute and public result of someone's evil will.

We are in this situation because a handful of madmen used cunning, deceit, and violence to seize control and make millions obey their personal whims. And how did they decide to use this power? They chose to take more. And for this, they attacked their neighbor – a peaceful state – without any other purpose.

Few of us may be destined to exude such power over others. However, each of us is endowed with absolute power over at least one person: ourselves.

There must be something that allows us each the ability to choose clear goals and means behind our actions. However mysterious and complex this source of our aspirations and decisions (both conscious and unconscious) is, the following is clear: we find the earliest manifestation of our values inside ourselves. Even if we get a hint of direction from outside forces, we only fully accept it when we find that it corresponds to our internal understanding and beliefs. Only then do these manifestations become words and actions of people, their affairs and fates, communities, peoples, and states.

We sympathize with those who are mistaken, especially if the price of the mistake is high. But if they acted of their own free will, and sought the right path following their mistake, their experience is useful in moving forward. Worse is the fate of those who are forced to do someone else's will. Those who have been instilled with someone’s else’s beliefs, given a false idea of themselves, others, and the world. We see many soldiers who are now incapable of thinking and acting on their own. Those who agreed with this state of affairs and imposed it on others.

So, what are we fighting for?

For freedom. For respect for human dignity. For democracy. For protection against tyranny.

And most importantly, agency. That we can ensure that we are doing our best to allow everyone to control their own lives individually and collectively as a country.

If you ask any Ukrainian they will say the same.

Vsevolod (Seva) Kulaga is a technical lead for Ƶ. He has been with Ƶ since 2014 and works out of Dnipro, Ukraine.

At Ƶ, we hope and pray for a day when all people are treated as members of one country, with one common homeland, the planet earth. We hope that love will ultimately destroy hatred and that a thought of war will always be opposed by a greater thought of peace.

(This piece has been edited for translation and clarity.)

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