Heartbreak

Russia’s Attack On Ukraine Turned Me Into A Wartime Volunteer Overnight

Photo: Courtesy of the Author
photo by author

First of all, I’m just a regular designer in a software company.

So, my usual working day looks like one of every graphic designer all over the globe — sitting in a comfortable office, sipping coffee, and, of course, playing around with Figma to draw icons, websites, and the likes to bring more beauty into this hectic world.

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It’s in a nutshell, of course.

One day, however, and not that I wanted it much, my whole world changed, dividing my life into before and after.

On Wednesday night, from 23 to 24 of February, a nasty feeling that something terrible would happen started to simmer in my stomach. I remember my friends and I were awake until 3:00 a.m. monitoring all the news channels, exchanging messages and information back and forth. The hazy world news over the last few weeks didn’t leave us any other choice.

I recall us precisely following all the planes in the Flightradar app — planes entering the Ukraine flight zone. We detected a couple of cargo jets departed from Turkey directing towards Ukraine. As it turned out later, they were carrying humanitarian aid cargo. Of course, I didn’t think at that moment how much the people of Ukraine would cry for it and how costly it would be for us.

I took a shower and went to bed. As usual. What was unusual is awaking. The sound of explosions took me up from the bed, it was around 5:00 a.m. It seemed like I didn’t sleep at all, I grabbed my phone, opened Twitter, and found out about the first heavy aerial bombardments throughout the whole territory of Ukraine. Almost immediately, as much as it was possible at that moment, I realized that this was the invasion, the beginning of something horrendous. It was a full-scale war.

Within the next two days, I lost myself completely, couldn’t focus on anything just greedily devouring every piece of news I could find on the internet. I remember absolutely nothing except for the idea looming from time to time in my head about me having to be at work but I just couldn’t. No design, no creativity, no life energy in my batteries.

On the third or fourth day after the invasion, however, I hardly got up from the sofa and made a decision to start doing something. At least to try.

I was born in Zaporizhzhia, in the southeastern part of Ukraine, and have been living here my whole life. Although my city was not far from the battle line since 2014, just around 200 to 250 km, the Russian Federation’s military actions started in Crimea and on the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions eight years ago seemed so far from us.

It was planet-distance-like. No, of course, we hardly were glad about what was happening and were negatively disposed toward Russia’s actions, but we continued to go to the cafes, restaurants, and bars, enjoying our everyday life. What was going on there, in the east, was bad, but not so aggressive, not so terrible. At least, that’s how it seemed to me at that time.

When I woke up from the “coma,” I found an ocean of messages that hospitals were in high need of medical supplies.

On the first weekend, after the war started, I stuffed my car with medications and brought them all to hospital #5 in Zaporizhzhia — they were taking all the help possible because the hospital staff was preparing to receive the wounded and refugees from the nearest cities like Mariupol and Melitopol.

Then, I just posted on Instagram what I did, and from that moment, one might say, my volunteering “career” began — a lot of people started to throw money at me inspiring me to just keep going. I am not an influencer, in no way. What I have is just some 300 followers on Instagram but they still helped me to gather a great deal of money, about $2,000 in a couple of days. It may seem not much to you but it equals a couple of monthly salaries in Ukraine. Quite a robust start.

From day one, crowds of regular people were eager to act.

I have acquaintances and friends whose partners are now on the battleline. I just called them asking what was needed and where. They introduced me. So, I visited the military unit of the National Guard — the guys started calling me directly and asking what to bring and what they need.

The unit of the territorial defense (something really new for Ukraine) was created just out of nowhere with a plethora of volunteers coming repeatedly. I personally have colleagues who have decided to join their ranks.

But since this is the territorial defense, not the National Guard or armed forces of Ukraine, these people don’t have anything from the equipment. No special clothes, let alone boots, flashlights, or even gloves. So we, simple volunteers, began to hunt all this down for them around the city. This way my network started to build up — the military and other volunteers. We began to communicate and coordinate our actions.

What exactly am I in charge of now? Well, a lot of things here and there. Let’s take camouflage nets, for example. Locals, just ordinary people, get together to make them. I’ve been to three places already and I was amazed by how many people are involved in the process and how not easy it is. You know, I thought you just need to sew the mesh, cut it out, glue it, you name it. Wrong. There are nets of different sizes and for different purposes. That’s how serious it is.

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I supply the guys and girls with scraps of fabric that I take from another production, and people re-engineer them into load-bearing vests and plate carriers, etc.

Prior to that, I helped guys build armed forces checkpoints and barriers. All you need is a lot of monolithic reinforced concrete blocks, “hedgehogs,” and sandbags — pile it all up and barricade. As for the sandbags, though, there may be an issue.

There are several points in my city where you can find sand (yes, we have beaches here), but there is a problem with … bags. I dogged bags all over the city on every corner of it. Nothing in Zaporizhzhia now, even for hundreds of dollars. So, we have to look for them in other neighboring cities. (FYI, the minimum quantity of bags being purchased every day is at least 10,000.)

Once in a while, I catch myself on the thought about how this war affected us and how united we became.

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Every other person I meet is not just ready but eager to defend their land even with their bare hands and there are so many of them now that there is even a queue for the queue for those who are impatient to kick the enemy out of Ukraine, to smash the enemy, to blast for what they are doing, for all the grief they have brought to our land and into our lives. No words, just give the guys weapons and tell them where and when.

I have many stories to share. One of them is about a friend of mine who was near Donetsk recently, somewhere in the direction of Avdiivka. He asked me to send thermal sights, so I found one abroad and ordered it. While collecting the parcel (and there is already approximately 40kg), Andrii wrote that they had hot fights and he was wounded. He received a shrapnel wound in his arm and another shrapnel hit his bulletproof vest. I think that’s what saved his life.

Currently, he is in a hospital in Dnipro but that doesn’t prevent him from sending me a couple of photos and mentioning — with a lot of pride — that he personally knocked out several enemy infantry fighting vehicles (three to be accurate) and a tank. The tank, however, wasn’t mentioned in the report as one hit by Andrii, so this now hurts him way more than the wounded arm.

Photo: Courtesy of the Author

What are his plans after releasing from the hospital you may ask? After being patched up, he is going back, and no arguments are accepted.

Every day, I’m in touch with the military, and the most common words I hear from them are, “Victory will definitely be ours.” They also boasted about us replenishing stocks of military equipment because Russia is “helping us” with this. But this is a story for another day.

All in all, people in Ukraine radiate a lot of optimism, looking forward to our victory. Very soon.

I hope all our heroes can celebrate it together with the whole world.

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Serg ZSV is a graphic designer and video creator from Ukraine. The author would like to credit Kate who helps me and other people to spread their stories about this war via Medium.

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.