We have a live video chat with Maksym during his working day. He appears in the red uniform of the Red Cross, occasionally gets calls on the radio, and keeps on controlling the situation around from the corner of his eye, directing newly arrived adults to register and catching children going for a walk, “where they're not allowed to walk".
We were lucky: there are no air raid alert sirens, so we record the interview on the first try. Maksym jokes and chuckles a lot, telling his short stories. One of them is about his “rightly colored little car” as yellow as the identifying tape on the sleeves of the Ukrainian Army soldiers. Another one describes his first bed in the Red Cross base, a pretentiously designed green sofa under a floral wedding arch. Then he recalls a wedding ceremony that took place in the City Palace of ceremonies, handed over to the Red Cross. That day half of the room was filled with "spouses relatives" in the red uniforms.
Maksym's fervent voice changes only at the very end, when we, about to say goodbye, started talking of the Victory and how proudly and loudly we'd celebrate it all together.
“I really look forward to it,” he smiled a little sadly.
I stayed in my hometown Mykolaiv from the very beginning of this “armed conflict” *. First couple of days I tried to “find myself”: I wanted to sign up for the Territorial defense unit, but it didn’t work out as we would have been left in the barracks, and not assigned to guard our own neighborhood.
So I started volunteering independently. On the second day of the war, my friend and I arranged humanitarian aid, buying essentials such as tea, chocolate bars, paper towels, some socks, toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, and everything that could be useful for our soldiers at checkpoints.
“We brought it all to the Red Cross reception center** (ed.: URCS - Ukrainian Red Cross Society) and ... didn't have time to return home. Because the drawbridges were up to prevent the enemy from moving further into the city.”
So, I stayed at the same Red Cross center. And now for exactly a month, I haven't been at home. I try to visit my mother, bring her food, help her out, but then I return to the URCS.
February 24. Morning
I went to bed very late the night before, around 1:30 am. Because I carefully monitored the political situation, listened to the hour-long "speech" of this ... "creature" about the recognition of "l/dnr". I already knew something was going to happen.
“At 4:55 am I woke up to loud noise. At first, remaining groggy, I didn’t understand anything. Those missile strikes are usually being made in the early morning for a certain reason, so the person wasn't able to take quick decisions.
So, I kept on sleeping. But in a moment, all that I recently read have popped into my head. And I've realized how serious it is.”
At that moment the precedent was already being discussed in local messenger chats: someone even messaged that Ukrainian Army military exercises might be started.
The first strike was delivered by cruise missiles at the local Kulbakino airfield. I've lived across town, but I still could hear it there, too. Then I saw a new appeal of this ... "human" that "a special operation in Ukraine is beginning." And it became clear: it is the beginning of a great mess.
The first hours of the massive invasion
"No one wanted to take responsibility"
I couldn't force myself to work during the whole day. I've been distracted all the time, there were explosions, shooting around. From the very beginning, I've tried to bring people together, even strangers, so that they could begin to prepare for the worsening of the situation.
It was necessary to arrange a guard of local men to enforce the rule as there were a lot of marks back then, and they had to be quickly removed. There were many saboteurs and marauders, as well. It was necessary to start a humanitarian mission, to note where disabled people live, the elderly, large families, in order to know who'd need help immediately.
It was already clear that everything wouldn't end in a few days. But people around were not ready to act.
“No one wanted to take responsibility at that moment. Even social services refused to work. Everyone was in a kind of fog. Everyone thought that nothing "that bad" could happen.”
Author: How come you've had such a clear understanding of what needed to be done back then?
It came to my mind on February 24, 4:55 am (ed.: laughs)
Of course, I've prepared to this mess a week before, as it was clear to me that something bad would happen. So I've bought some food such as canned goods, cereals, instant noodles. I withdrew a little cash, about $240, as I didn’t see the point in withdrawing more, because as for me money is safer in the bank account. And then I've played it by ear.
Shortly after the first humanitarian supply that was purchased together with my friend, I've teamed up with a girl who knows about medicines. She and I were collecting money, including through social media, in order to purchase the necessary medicines and distribute them for free to those who need ones.
Then one of my friends joined in. He is a photographer who evacuated to the West of Ukraine. There he began selling his photographs and all the proceeds, as well as financial aid from his friends from abroad, he donated to volunteers, including me.
“Over a three-week period, he transferred about UAH 500,000 to us (ed.: about USD 17,000). During the same time, the turnover on my card amounted to about UAH 100,000 (ed.: about USD 3,400). I hope after the war financial monitoring won't bring me down for this
For now, the procurement processes are established, there’s no need to collect money anymore.
During the interview, Maksym notices teenagers sneaking by and changes his voice to a stern one. It doesn't really work out as he still sounds too kindly:
- Hey, guys, where are you going?
- What for?
- To just walk around...
- Walk around here, please. You don't need to walk around there...
"Guys" obediently got back. And Max's mischievous voice, too.
Work for the Red Cross
Nowadays I work at the evacuation point for refugees arriving from villages that are being bombed and shelled. We register people, provide them with food, assistance, and resettle them in pretty good accommodation conditions such as hostels of a good standard, other buildings provided to us. Some premises were handed over to the Red Cross immediately and under no conditions.
I also pick up food from our warehouses and do purchases.
Before I worked at our main base, which is quite an interesting place: not only is it the Palace of ceremonies but also, in the previous hundred years, parish registers were kept there where newborn babies were being recorded. That's a building of unusual architecture for Mykolaiv: it looks like a wooden log house, but in fact, it is made of stone. My first bed here was a pretentious sofa under a wedding arch of flowers. It looked rather comical among all these circumstances (ed.: laughs).
Working there, I picked up humanitarian aid in the first days, collected ready-made meals, food, and household cleaning products for hospitals.
I'd say, from the very beginning our premises were filled with everything needed such as clothes, food, household chemicals, cigarettes! The locals decided to buy and bring it all there on their own. It was quite an outstanding self-organization and empathy!
“Lots of businessmen of Mykolaiv have teamed up and started cooking meals for hospitals, volunteers, the Ukrainian Army soldiers. And all at their own expense! So now I know who I will go to after the Victory, who has not betrayed the city.”
Later on, we started receiving aid from other regions and other countries. There's even the Chinese Red Cross shipment placed in one of the warehouses. Nowadays not only do people help us, but we help people. Our current tasks are to aid disabled people and large families. We cover this category of the population. The rest are assisted by other volunteer centers. Social services are already involved, too. In the beginning, they just sent everyone to the Red Cross, which is not very decent, as for me.
The first week of the war
I still couldn't work. I am very grateful to my superviser, who was able to back me up on the project and is waiting for my return.
I was surprised that the Company demonstrates such a good attitude towards employees under the circumstances. All these reports about what is happening in the Company, caring for employees ... It's very cool to understand and know what is happening. It would be very cool to know about colleagues, what they live, what they do nowadays.
It's surprisingly quiet here at the moment. But for several weeks we've been shelled, and it often happens the air raid sirens do not even have time to get turned on.
That's exactly what happened a few days ago: it looked like a calm atmosphere, so I drove to a warehouse, where my little car was quite overloaded so it even weighed down. In this regard, I change plans and, instead of driving to several points, I go directly to our center.
“Just a few moments later I hear the typical noise of incoming missiles nearby, then explosions. I look back and see an air bomb parachuting 300 meters away from me. Just the place I was going to drive through if I followed my scheduled route, and just across the street from the spot I usually park my car.”
The alarm siren was turned on after the explosion. Fortunately, the building where the bomb landed was empty and there were no victims. But right across the road were my relatives and friends.
To my regret, I can't stay at home and work fully on projects under these circumstances. I believe I can get back to work after the Victory (ed.: luckily, Max got back to part-time work at the beginning of April).
Our own Bayraktar
One day a young cat came to one of our centers. At first, he was afraid of everyone, meowed anxiously, and was scared to approach. A bit later we let him in and found out he was completely a household pet. Someone just dumped him out. He even had a yellow collar, probably, they prepared him for Territorial defense unit service (ed.: laughs).
He got used to us pretty quickly. He was very sweet and completely non-aggressive. All the time he was kneading us and other surfaces with his paws. He even slept with us.
We granted him a mainstream name, Bayraktar. So now he is officially our battle cat. Nowadays I work at another RC center, but when I arrive at the first one, Bayraktar is always there, with the guys.
About stress resistance
“Of course, there are uneasy feelings inside me. But I, being engaged in this volunteer activity, don't have the right to have a face like a dropped scone, to spread panic around. That's not what I can and want to do.”
If something has to happen, I won't change it. I don't believe in God, but I do believe in probability theory and a little bit in fate. Because accidents are not accidental, I've witnessed a confirmation of this pretty often. So I prefer to solve problems as they appear. Therefore, apparently, I do not fall into despair.
After our Victory
Of course, the first thing I want to do is get back to work, to our team, to the projects, to the clients. I'm still embarrassed that I've been out of the business processes for so long. But I was told it's ok ... Sometimes I think: I was just starting to get my life back together, taking the first steps in my career and now this... (ed.: laughs)
Volunteering will remain my second direction of activity.
“In my spare time, I want to keep on helping people to restore the broken villages, to provide jobs, necessities.”
That's why I'd like to establish an NGO and a fund, whose goal would be the civil infrastructure restoration, the economic activities maintaining, the search for and return of people to their homes.
If there are investors and patrons, I'd be able to direct their funds to help people. I'm sure that after the Victory, a lot of money will be poured into Ukraine to restore infrastructure and cover these multibillion-dollar losses.
Message to myself on February 25-26
Do what you were doing from the very beginning.
The first week or two completely changed our values and priorities. All the issues that were “before” turned out to be not ones at all, now I wouldn't even call them like that.
“I would also advise myself to enjoy the peaceful sky, the starry sky. This is one of the positive developments at this time: the endless starry sky that we observe in blackouts. You go out onto the balcony and enjoy this silence and the stars.”
Message to the Lizards
To my regret, I don’t communicate closely with everyone, but mainly with the guys who are interested in how things are going with me. In the early days, I closely communicated with my teammate in Kherson, and they "met" this horde.
“I would like the Lizards to take care of themselves and their loved ones.
To team up and help in all possible ways such as volunteering, information warfare, working to re-fire the engines of the economy, paying taxes, supporting the State.”
To do what they would like, what they'd enjoy.
We are all different: as for me, I'd still want to defend the country bearing arms. But I realize that I have no experience, I did not serve in the military...
Therefore, now I am doing the work that I can be of most benefit.
*Since Maksym was being interviewed while directly performing his duties as a permanent employee of the URCS, he must strictly adhere to the official “neutral position” of the organization and use officially accepted terminology. Thus, during our conversation, no other term than "armed conflict" could be mentioned.
**Ukrainian Red Cross Society (URCS) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are different organizations, although they are part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Ukrainian Red Cross Society (URCS) has an exclusively national mandate and operates only on the territory of Ukraine. Regarding the recent precedent with the controversial decision of the ICRC to open offices and humanitarian centers in russia, aiming supposedly to provide aid to Ukrainians forcibly taken to the territory of the aggressor state, the Ukrainian Red Cross Society has issued an official statement. In it, the organization emphasizes: "The Red Cross of Ukraine has nothing to do with the official visit of the ICRC to the russian federation, has nothing to do with the opening of offices or humanitarian centers in rostov-on-don."