Fighting in Ukraine through the eyes of a peer

A Ukrainian shares his views with colleagues

In my time, on Tuesday night around 12:30, Misha’s email came. In our first interview we had a few hours of zigzagging: a detailed discussion of Russian history, the future of war, imperialism and propaganda, the refugee crisis – multiple tents, each with its own story set, length volume, all interconnected. . I’m getting a glimpse of something impossibly big.

Misha understands this. He took some time to reflect. He sent me this email because, presumably, he felt guilty for “unloading” because he called it. There’s a story, he says, “that really stuck in my head.” He included an embedded video: Misha walking me through several pictures, such as an instant slide presentation.

“So,” he said, and a longer break than I expected. “This is the story.”

On the screen: Pictures of the Czech Republic’s theater, lights in the entrance courtyard, and candles with the same Russian word spelling:Children“Children.”

Next slide: The Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw. A magnificent, ambitious hybrid of the Empire State Building, Big Ben and the Pantheon. Draw huge yellow letters in front of the entrance: 6.

Next slide: A theater in Germany. Activists spray-painting Russian characters at the entrance of the shoemaker: 6.

Misha then showed a satellite image of the Donetsk Regional Drama Theater in Mariupol, Ukraine. On both sides of the building, painted in large letters on the plaza tiles, is a warning that no one will take seriously: DTI. Children.

This is one of the last scenes in the theater before a Russian bomb is detonated – with everyone inside.


Misha Milstein, an American from Ukraine, is the engineering director of SweetRush, where she has been working since 2003. I’m a learning experience designer and writer, so our paths don’t often intersect. But I know his reputation as an inspirational leader; He is known to take people under his wing. After years of talking about light work, switching abruptly to a set of deep personal interviews has been confusing but enlightening.

He has been living in California since he was 20 years old, shortly before the fall of the USSR. Until very recently, he said, he considered himself more American than Ukrainian.

I politely try to investigate it. How clearly do you feel this separation? How does it feel to see this happening from afar as part of the Diaspora? Are you analyzing emotions? Guilt? Relief? Helplessness?

Not so much separation. “But guilt, yes,” he says.

“This combination of arrogance and guilt and constant fear, it inspires you to find something to contribute.”

Misha talks about the grant drive for which he is volunteering. He spoke in support of the US Alliance, but said that maintaining some independence was important for Ukrainian refugees. He similarly spoke about raising funds for organizations and individual Ukrainians.

He spoke of his time at the US-Mexico border, where, for the time being, all Ukrainian refugees must enter the country. He spoke in support of the US Alliance, but said that maintaining some independence was not the answer. She shares the news of her group of volunteers providing food and shelter and simple sympathy to the waiters and what it feels like to see absolute fatigue and relief on their faces when they make it.

“Physical work is over. Moving boxes, sorting things out, organizing people, “he said. “It simply came to our notice then. You feel like you are doing something. You’re being productive. “


I replay his video.

“It’s not just theater,” Misha says. “This is also the city of Mariupol. Look at that. “

He showed an aerial picture within 29 days of a city siege. It has brown and gray color palette. Later, by cross-referencing this image in contrast to satellite and street-view images, I was able to find and compare the same area and building. A before and after, from sun and light to ash and smoke.

In the news, Mayor Vadim Boichenko was quoted as estimating that 90% of Mariupol had been destroyed. I think about my house in my block in my city and what it means to land a bomb, everything is rubble, there is no place to go.


Misha struggles to describe how emotionally and emotionally this war has become. How much has overwhelmed his daily thoughts. I’m surprised he’s worried that his words aren’t doing justice, the way I think I wouldn’t be retailing.

“One of the hallmarks of this reality is being fully, constantly aware of what is happening. It’s a complete immersion, “he suggests, but that doesn’t seem to be enough.

So he tries something.

On her screen, all of a sudden: a little girl, with a coloring book open in her lap, sitting on a pile of blankets – an elaborate bed. Peeling paint on the concrete wall behind it.

Somewhere in his mind, “a projector is constantly playing in the background.”

He hit auto-play, and now it’s quite literally playing in the background. From a makeshift hospital, the scene is transformed into a chaotic scene: women lying in bed, nurses and doctors caring for the injured. It is transferred again, to a familiar-looking pregnant woman lying on a stretcher with a patterned blanket of watermelon. I remember the picture, but Misha said it out loud: The Russian military bombed a maternity ward in Mariupol. This woman and her baby died.

I see him talking.

“If you can, don’t pay too much attention” to his on-screen images. The point, of course, is impossible. For him, too, “there’s not a minute’s rest from it.”

The rest of our interview is like this. Misha talks about his experience, answering questions, looking for memories. Pictures from the projector of his mind in front of both of us.

I ask about his pre-attack mentality. How predictable or unexpected was it?

(A satellite image of the Mariupol Theater, but after the bombing. A cratering hole where half the building was, white spots that could be brick, red spots all around. “ДЕТИ” Still visible to the west, but also to the east, to see buried by debris.)

She tells me she is Almost The Russians were not surprised. But at the same time, he was as shocked as anyone. He did not want to believe that this could really happen.

(Close-up of a woman with a gauze covering her forehead, blood dripping from her face. Olena Kurillo, whose same picture went viral when she vowed “I must do everything for my motherland.” She looks angry and furious.

“I think we’ve all sucked in this new reality so quickly,” he continued.

(Shocked, through his blood-soaked pants, the police take him down the stairs covered in rubble.)

“I think, for a while, a part of you is still rejecting reality,” he says. “You know it’s happening, but … not really, just because it’s something that can’t happen.”

(Another woman, her facial sores, swollen, transformed into sores, used to treat open sores covered with a green-blue antiseptic. I wonder what it was like to see her in her last normal days. I wonder how many friends won’t recognize her.)

“So, a kind of surreal?” I ask, looking at a child’s playroom, a football ball scattered among the bricks blown out of a gaping hole.

“Still. To a certain extent, it’s still there.”


On the screen: Burnt chaff from a car, yards away from the fire column.


The hardest part last month was when he went on a long solo drive.

“It simply came to our notice then. That’s when the injury started. “

Close the working edge, a little. Sweetrash gives Misha a place to do what she needs, but gives her some leeway while adding a sense of normalcy to work. Even then, he stuck to the title.

I asked about the break. A break from the news of watching a comedy, some to garden, some to escape.

“Anyone is prone to burns,” he admits. “But what are you going to do? Keep a schedule yourself? Allow yourself only 15 hours of horrible imagery?”

It doesn’t really answer the question. We talk a little more about it, until Misha admits he doesn’t want to take a break. He wants to be present, as if he sees the presence as a work of responsibility.

We hold back this notion of obligation.

Food drives and donations help her, helping her feel like she’s doing something. He hopes to return to Ukraine once the war is over to help rebuild, and it makes him realize that he is doing his part.

But so watching the news. Misha is concerned about insensitivity, inactivity, complacency. Keeping up with what is happening, not turning away from it, is just as important as what he can do.

“It simply came to our notice then. I’m not in danger. “If it’s just guilt, he stops it.


On screen: A woman walks through a smoky post-apocalypse, the curved skeletal thing of the past that was a tree.


When we talk about Russian history and current political culture, there is an uncomfortable bit of familiarity with most of what Misha has described. Especially for us, this conversation between two Jews living in America.

A nation, embarrassed and angry at the loss of the past, grasps the illusion of imperialism and makes itself great again. The self-proclaimed leader is more concerned with his own power than building the country, the economy or its people. A population that supports him because he tells them what they want to hear, even when it goes against their interests. A people whose gradual loss of power has complicated them. A media used as a propaganda vehicle for the state. A world thinks this is a local problem. An army just follows orders.


On screen: An 11-year-old girl lying in bed, with crescent-shaped spots from mid-cheek to ear to throat. A Russian soldier shot him in the face. He will have this stain for the rest of his life.

“She was lucky too,” Misha says, interrupting another thought. “She survived.”


But days later, it’s a new atrocity. News of the mass grave in Buchate, a small town outside Kiev, where Misha’s wife had a high school prom. Pictures of corpses left on the streets, dressed in civilian clothes, some with their hands tied behind their backs. Rape, the death penalty. The body was burnt.

Putin’s Russia is committing war crimes – most of the Western languages ​​have been adopted overnight – to give a quick analysis and prioritize, just overcoming the horrors of the past few days.

What is a bomb blast in a maternity ward, when a theater housing is destroyed by more than a thousand? What destroys a theater when civilians in a small town are deliberately hunted down and raped and murdered?

What will be the next thing we forget?

A few days before Bucha’s assassination, Misha described the tactic: “You attack and kill civilians so brutally that your opponents give up নয় not because of the military casualties, but because they are too much to bear.”


On the screen: A man with a cigarette hanging from his mouth, a small dog pressed to his chest.

On screen: A very old woman, with a scarf wrapped around her head, walking away from the rubble of a house.

On the screen: Eight children are gathered together, sitting on a shelf.


Misha sent us another email after our last interview. One final thought, he calls it.

As long as the war lasts, he says, “I don’t want it to be yesterday’s news.” Because it is a “situation now”. People are suffering now.

“It simply came to our notice then. I don’t want myself to be numb, I don’t want others to be numb, “he said. “Because the consequences will be very, very serious.”

Not just for Ukraine, he said, for the world. “We know what’s at stake.”

Ebook Release: Sweetrash


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