Would you drop everything, pack your bags, and head into a war zone to fight for freedom? That's exactly what our guest, Dan Hackney, a bonafide YouTube engineer did when he volunteered his skills and time to the Ukrainian military during the Russo-Ukrainian War. We dive deep into Dan's mind, understanding his reasons and the rollercoaster of emotions that came with his extraordinary decision, and explore his dedication to the objectivist community.
From the surprising moment of finding a live grenade while building a drone to the experience of the vibrant nightlife of Ukraine - Dan's experiences paint a chilling, yet authentic picture of the reality of war. The everyday mundane moments turn into acts of defiance and survival, and we get to hear about Dan's unexpected adventures. But it's not all guns and grenades - we also stumble upon a startup company creating military drones amidst this chaos.
As we take a step back from Dan's personal journey, we delve into the wider implications of the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Drawing parallels between Putin's ambitions and Hitler's atrocities, we consider the potential consequences of supporting Ukraine and the lasting impact of this war on Ukraine's identity. Tune in to hear about Dan's profound personal growth, and how his unique journey has shaped his perspective on life, war, and freedom.
Segment 1: Introductions
On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. This marks an escalation in the Russo-Ukrainian war that began in 2014. This invasion represents the largest military offensive against a European nation since World War II. Roughly 8 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced, with over 8.2 million fleeing the country by May 2023. Both sides have experienced tremendous devastation and destruction.
Tens of thousands have lost their lives, with millions more lives irreparably altered. Beautiful cities have been reduced to rubble. While some may have witnessed rusted Russian tanks destroyed by Ukrainians, many get their news sporadically, often changing channels after briefly viewing disturbing images. Despite this, it's worth noting that Ukrainians are still living, dancing, playing, and aspiring to their values. They continue their daily lives even amidst sirens warning of potential bombings.
In this episode, we have Dan Hackney as my guest. Although Dan is an engineer at YouTube, he decided to support Ukraine's fight for freedom, a significant movement for liberty since World War II. Though not a soldier, he is a developer and builder. We will discuss his experiences volunteering in Ukraine, the challenges posed by Putin, the spirit of the Ukrainian people, and the importance of understanding the ongoing conflict.
The host then delves into a personal conversation with Dan about how they met after the Snowpocalypse in 2021. They discuss attending Objectivist conferences, and the host provides an outsider's perspective on Dan's interests and habits. Dan is described as a sleep-deprived tech enthusiast with a penchant for creating and building. His videos on Facebook, often recorded in the early hours, showcase his various projects.
They then discuss Dan's role at YouTube, where he develops software tools to aid other engineers. Despite his success and busy career, he's always willing to try new experiences, even if he doesn't necessarily enjoy them. The conversation touches on the importance of testing and ensuring software infrastructure works seamlessly.
SEGMENT 2: Something bigger
It's relevant to mention your recent experience. Your decision surprised me and many others. When you think about your character, it sort of makes sense, but it's still shocking.
You recently visited Ukraine, right? Not for dancing?
Yes, I did go to Ukraine, though I danced a bit. But the main reason wasn't dancing. I went to Ukraine just a few weeks ago, not back in 2015. I returned on September 2nd, 2023.
There's ongoing turmoil there, right?
Yes, it's the largest war in Europe since World War Two. I was there to use my engineering skills to assist the Ukrainian military, primarily related to drone technology. I won't delve into the specifics.
You were assisting the Ukrainian military with drones?
Exactly. The closest I got to the front lines was a small fishing pond near Kyiv, which is centrally located, similar to Austin in Texas. The actual conflict is more towards the east. Ukraine is about the size of Texas.
Why did you decide to go?
When the war intensified, I became engrossed with news about it. I don't know why it captivated me so intensely. I had minimal prior knowledge about Ukraine. I was aware of the 2014 invasion and had a few Ukrainian acquaintances, but that's about it.
I became deeply engrossed in the situation, watching daily updates. I learned about towns being captured, tank movements, weaponry, aid provisions, and discussions about sanctioning Russia.
Have you always been interested in wars?
To the extent of any average adult, perhaps. But in the early stages of this conflict, I began developing an app to assist Ukrainian refugees, connecting them with Polish hosts. Another team launched a similar app before us, so we halted our project. It affected my mental health, thinking that any delay in our app might leave countless refugees without shelter.
It's human to feel affected by global tragedies, but investing oneself entirely in every global issue can be overwhelming.
Previously, when learning about the US civil rights movement, I felt a sense of envy towards those deeply committed to the cause. There was a raw, unwavering dedication that I hadn't felt in my own life. Fighting against an external adversary seems to carry a unique weight. Saving lives by building a dam, for example, doesn't compare to a battle against human opposition.
Longing for Purpose: The Search for Meaning in a Globalized World
"But I don't, you know, having never built a dam, I don't know. But I would think it wouldn't have that same kind of energizing struggle against something, as going and marching and doing stuff to help a war. I think there's something there that makes it different when it's against people. That's a tough one."
"I've thought a lot about living in this globalized world that has had thousands of years of cultural development that's not really real for most of us."
"My father was in the Vietnam War. His father was in World War Two. They were in history. It feels like we're in a post-history world. And yet we're still living in it. People desire to fight for something."
"Our heroes growing up were these types of people that we see in movies, TV shows, literature, and music. We want to be part of that, but we don't have anything like that now."
"We have... oh, I have to be on my final. My dad took shrapnel in his arm. There's a pull to do something. Maybe I'm too old to join the military?"
"I almost joined the military out of high school. They turned people away out of my contract before I went."
"We didn't really build this world. People say the great accomplishment of humanity is we ended slavery. But we just got to benefit from the people who fought for it."
"There's an unearned experience. People in the past struggled for the good things that I have, and I don't have a struggle comparable to that."
"There's a romanticism to fight. It's not a fully formed thought, but when you're developing the world, there's a 'doer' mentality."
"I think there are bureaucratic things in our lives. Doing woodworking and home improvements is being able to do stuff without impediments."
"I was really interested in this and stayed following it. A friend of mine, an Army captain, had been to Ukraine several times. He said, 'If you want to come to Ukraine, I can get you there.'"
"He invited me to Ukraine. My first thought was, 'That's insane.' My second thought was that it's unbelievably insane. And my third thought was, well, maybe."
"I was feeling burnt out from work. A friend of mine said I hate sales so much that I'd rather go to Ukraine."
Navigating Bureaucracy and the Call to Ukraine
Yeah, I understand that you didn't like the bureaucratic stuff in your job. But when you're in a big corporation, bureaucratic issues are inevitable. Over time, as we discussed it, I warmed up to the idea and reached out to a friend, Isaac Dance. I proposed to him the idea of volunteering in Ukraine, and he was instantly on board. He had been living in Poland, which is relevant to our story. It was comforting to have someone familiar with me on this journey, especially during the long train rides.
We had a lot of luggage when we arrived, including medical kits, drone parts, and electronics meant for donation. And there was an unusual moment when we found a decommissioned rocket launcher in the trunk of our car. It was rendered inoperable and was painted by a local artist for a fundraising event. The launcher itself was just an inert metal tube by that time.
It was humbling to see the gratitude Ukrainians showed us. They were often thankful for the support the US provided, even attributing things like Bradley infantry vehicles to our tax contributions. For many Ukrainians, their biggest fear is being forgotten by the world. They're willing to fight, even with limited resources, but international support accelerates their efforts and reduces their casualties. Just our presence there was a morale booster.
The ongoing war is significant and not just a distant conflict. It's essential for us to understand its implications. I recommend the Iran Brook Show for those seeking knowledge, as Brook has extensive experience in the field of foreign policy.
For context, I'm wearing a "vyshyvanka", a traditional Ukrainian shirt I bought in Lviv during their Independence Day. I also have a hat that symbolizes both Ukrainian and American flags. The Ukrainian flag represents the country's agricultural heritage, with the yellow symbolizing wheat fields and the blue the sky above. Agriculture remains a significant part of Ukraine's identity, even today.
Ukraine: A Continuation of Conflict
Sure. What's the first thing you want me to understand?
Well, this situation can be seen as a continuation and escalation of the war that started in 2014. Briefly, in 2014, amidst a tug of war between aligning with Europe or Russia, the Ukrainian president chose the latter. This led to popular protests which eventually drove him out of the country. The country then found itself in turmoil. In the midst of this, Russia annexed Crimea.
Trying to recall the president's name...
It's Viktor Yanukovich.
Ah, right. So after Yanukovich was chased out, Russia took advantage of the chaos. They swiftly invaded Crimea, seizing it without much resistance. Meanwhile, in the eastern part of Ukraine, known as the Donbass region, revolts against the Ukrainian government broke out. It’s believed Russia supported these rebels, leading to heightened conflicts. By around 2015-2016, fighting had died down, but no peace agreement was reached.
Then, in 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion, advancing toward Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. They moved from multiple directions, capturing significant portions of the country.
So, what's the key takeaway here for an American?
This war represents one of the clearest battles between good and evil we've seen in recent history. While there have been other evil regimes and events worldwide, this conflict stands out. Ukraine was minding its own business, and Russia invaded without provocation. Their subsequent actions, including the deportation of Ukrainian children and committing various war crimes, showcase their malevolent intent.
So much of these atrocities aren't prominently featured in mainstream American media. Many have had to rely on alternative sources like live tweets and independent reports to get a comprehensive understanding of the situation.
One particularly chilling incident was the Buka massacre, where between 75 to 450 people died. The event prompted the start of war crime investigations against Russia, because, as per international laws, the execution, rape, and torture of civilians is prohibited.
"Analyzing Russia's Actions in Ukraine: A Historical and Cultural Perspective"
This feels much like the UN, doesn't it? The Geneva Convention, Russia's involvement — they seem to only participate until it becomes inconvenient for them. Look at the invasion in 2014; it was a clear violation of the Budapest Memorandum. This agreement, signed in 1994 between Ukraine, Russia, the U.S., and the UK, saw Ukraine relinquish its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. Photographs even show Ukrainians dismantling their long-range bombers. All of this was done in the spirit of de-nuclearization, and Ukraine even handed some warheads over to Russia. The deal? Ukraine gives up its nuclear arsenal, and the signatories respect its territorial integrity. Yet, Russia's subsequent actions made their commitment questionable.
To the average American, there's a perception that both Russia and Ukraine are tainted regimes with little to differentiate between the two. Some argue: let them settle their own disputes. However, while Ukraine was undeniably corrupt before the invasion, it's crucial to differentiate between a nation grappling with internal issues and another that, despite similar internal struggles, chooses to invade a non-threatening neighbor.
One could argue that Ukraine was slowly making strides towards a more Western orientation even before the war. There seemed to be a movement away from Russia, potentially a reason Putin felt pressured to act. His justification revolved around cultural ties and historical narratives, presenting Ukraine as a lost fragment of greater Russia. Yet, such justifications are reminiscent of arguments Hitler used to annex Sudetenland and Austria, under the guise of protecting ethnic Germans.
The question of ethnic identity resonates differently in Europe compared to the U.S. European countries have a millennia-long history of established ethnic identities, unlike America's relatively short and diverse history. This difference does not, however, validate tribalism. The danger arises when individuals attribute achievements to their genealogy or skin color, overlooking the fact that individual contributions shape history, not just ethnicity. After all, many of us possess a tapestry of heritage from various nations, making it all the more important to prioritize individuality over tribal inclinations.
**On Cultural Assumptions and Experiencing Ukraine**
But you know, because it's so arbitrary, I could probably go into certain right-wing back doors and play it off as a white boy, because I look white. So it's all made up. Yeah, it's all a bit of a construct.
I want to make sure we really discuss more of your experiences. We have touched on some of your stories from Ukraine. Tell me more about your experiences there.
Give me a starting point. You have this story about being in the middle of a war. What was your first experience there? Like using a rocket launcher on a car?
It was interesting. When I was preparing to go, I was talking with my contacts in Ukraine, like John Leathers, the founder of Ukraine Torch, the nonprofit I went with. Ukraine Torch is an organization people can support. But deciding what to share and what not to share is difficult. But there's a website, and I've even got some items from them. There's this patch with a liberty torch with wings and the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag. It even has an outline of Ukraine including Crimea and the Donbass regions.
When I was planning the trip, I was wondering about logistics. Like how would I get cash? Would my card work? Can I use my cell phone to tap and pay? Are there modern amenities like toilets? It's funny because they have all of that, but sometimes our assumptions can be so far off.
When I first got to Ukraine, I was unaware of certain realities. I slept through the first air raid siren because I was exhausted after a long train ride. I couldn't fly directly into Ukraine, so I had to take a train. I flew into Warsaw, attended a dance festival, and then took a train to Ukraine. The train system was interesting due to the Soviet legacy; I had to switch trains because of the difference in railway gauges.
When I finally arrived in Ukraine, I slept through the first air raid siren. The second one was during the day, and I debated with my roommate if we should seek shelter. We found a parking garage beneath our apartment, but after that, we didn't pay much attention to the sirens. It's not that we weren't concerned, but observing the locals' reactions provided context. They seemed so nonchalant about it.
Some places did get hit after I left. The risk wasn't zero, but I soon started ignoring it. If you're not going to take action when you hear the siren, what's the point of being constantly alerted?
The frequency of the sirens varied. Sometimes there'd be several days without one, and other times, we'd hear multiple in a day. It almost became like predicting the weather. There were jokes about it, but I always tried to be sensitive, understanding the gravity of the situation.
Reflections from Kyiv: A Glimpse into a City at War
Want to know how to handle it? You have to talk about it for sure. You can't be super serious and freaked out the whole time. You know, I always share this story of a doctor friend in Saddam who once told me, while laughing, about some of the grim realities he deals with daily.
He mentioned that he has a kind of "death jacket", which horrified me initially. But when we discussed it further, he expressed that in his line of work – seeing young patients in terrible states and delivering bad news to families – he can't operate without the release that humor provides.
I imagine it's similar in Ukraine. From what I've heard, initially, many people sought shelter in the subway system. Kyiv is a hilly city, making some of its subway stations deep underground. After the threat of an immediate attack on the city decreased, especially after Russia was repelled to the north, life had to continue. The city felt like any other European capital, with people going about their daily routines, shopping, dining out, and jogging. It's only when you'd hear an air raid siren or notice the absence of planes overhead that you'd remember the ongoing conflict.
Strangely, I sometimes felt like Kyiv could be a vacation destination. It felt safe, despite the circumstances. Of course, visiting purely for leisure might seem insensitive given the situation. Still, supporting their economy by buying local could be seen as beneficial.
Due to the conflict, a midnight curfew was imposed, affecting the nightlife. But, in a way, it was beneficial for sleep schedules. Everything shuts down by 10 p.m., so there's ample time for everyone to get home safely.
Communication wasn't a challenge, as many locals spoke English. While I did use Google Translate to discuss technical aspects with a soldier, day-to-day tasks like shopping or banking weren't issues at all. I picked up basic Ukrainian phrases, but I wish I'd learned more.
We had the opportunity to visit a drone factory where they used civilian drones for various purposes. They had drones for spotting, for dropping bombs, and even kamikaze drones with live explosives. One surprising moment came when we were informed that a drone we were examining had a live round attached. The way they modified and repurposed these devices was both impressive and a bit alarming.
They also showcased destroyed Russian military vehicles in central Kyiv. The sheer damage made evident by the anti-tank missiles and other artillery was a somber reminder of the reality of war. These vehicles were relics from the initial Russian assault on Kyiv. Some were towed away by local farmers, acting as a symbol of the Ukrainian spirit and resilience.
"Tales from Kyiv: A Glimpse into Modern-Day Ukraine"
And so they had this display in the middle of Kyiv, sort of as if to say this is the only way that Russian tanks are getting into Kyiv, in flaming, twisted ruins. Did you write this? Oh, no, can I read it? Yeah, go for it. I didn't write that because it's in English.
Prepare yourselves, listeners, for some language. "Dearest Putin, just die. You dwarf dictator, little bitch, motherfucker. Sincerely, America." There you go. I like it. But that was just on there. You said people had written on them. They tied blue and yellow flags, the Ukrainian colors, onto them. Kids were climbing on them.
I got some pictures on a T-72 tank and I think a Mr. S self-propelled Howitzer artillery system. I might get it printed and frame it. But yeah, it's just a small subset of all the things they destroyed. There's just like a Ukrainian lady, you know, just there.
Hearing you describe it and seeing these pictures is interesting. Because as an American, I think of movies like Schindler's List, like Poland after they were invaded, and it's not what's happening at all. Ukraine is actually fighting back. But that's what I meant about it being a nice place to visit purely as a tourist. I'm sure it did get a lot of tourists.
Another fun Ukraine story is that I got to see a test flight of one of their bomber drones. They have various drones, from small commercial ones to custom built military drones that can fly long distances and drop bombs. We got to see them run a training mission, spotting with a smaller drone, then deciding if they should send the bigger drone up, and dropping dummy rounds.
Fun fact, they only told us the rounds were dummies after they had dropped them. They were having some fun at our expense. I even got to fly the drone for a bit. I have a video I can probably share with faces blurred and locations obscured. This company I went to, they're like a startup, only a few steps up from a guy in his garage, getting funding from the Ukrainian military to design and build these drones. They even had company merchandise.
There was this startup guy there who was super energetic. Running around giving instructions, checking on 3D printers, bouncing from one place to another. At one point during a training exercise, they even considered flying a drone to get pizza!
At another event, we were at a poolside venue for a charity concert where they played pop and rock music with an orchestra. They auctioned off a rocket launcher painted by a local artist. I'm kicking myself for not buying it, though transporting it would have been a challenge.
At one point during the concert, someone launched a drone to take a video, and I noticed the Ukrainians in the audience looking up nervously. I felt the tension too, even though I saw someone launch it from the ground. For those on the front lines, spotting a drone could mean artillery shells are on their way.
That's legitimately scary. And I could feel some of the tension there. I don't know if you want all of this, but these are some of the stories from my time there.
The Delicate Balance: Geopolitics, Dictators, and Supporting Ukraine
I mean there's a lot more questions I have depending on timing. Just because there's this, I mean like, you know, I know you can't talk about a lot of the details, but I think basically anything that's not like, "here is the location of this", so I understand exactly what I experience, I'm totally fine.
Because I'm the experience. To me, the broader question is, why now? Is it just an adventure? What did you believe in the cause? And then there's this war that is happening, and you chose it because of these two reasons. There's a continuation. It's been going on for a while. This is good versus evil that you've ever known, based on your value system. And one thing you haven't mentioned that's not a personal experience, is the experience of good and evil. You go here to use your skills to help them with this cause.
But there's a real relevance to all of America, and I think we should make sure people know. There's one very strong argument by people like Jordan Peterson who's like, we should not support this because it will lead to World War three. We're going to have nukes, we're all going to die. And then there's the other side. The other reality is dictators are not rational. They have a sweeping vision, and they're always going to expand their vision until they're stopped.
That's something we know about dictators. This specific dictator, like, what do people need to know about them? Because supporting Ukraine is what I believe in personally. If we don't do anything and we don't give support, it's going to be way costlier once we have to go to Poland. And that's going to be a different situation, and that's where nukes might more come into the picture.
Because at this point, we're in a hot war with countries of massive magnitude. Russia might feel threatened with massive movements by the Americans, and now we can at least try to put a stop to them, halt their economy to such a degree that maybe someone takes out Putin or Putin just gives up.
From a geopolitical standpoint, those are the two arguments I hear. The fear of nuclear exchange is not fundamentally unreasonable. I don't want there to be a nuclear war. Supporting Ukraine is the best way to avoid that. If Russia wins in Ukraine, their lead propagandists have said that once they finish with Ukraine, Poland's next.
Like Hitler mentioned earlier, they just kept giving him a little bit more. The same dynamic is at play with Putin taking Crimea in 2014 and part of the Donbass. People thought maybe he'd just be happy with that. But turns out, he's not.
We're not losing American troops now. We're giving financial aid. But a lot of what the US has been giving is weapons. People argue that we should take care of our own here. But what I understand is that a lot of the military equipment we're giving is old. It's just sitting there anyway. And it's unfortunate that Russians, who probably don't know what they're getting into, are dying too, but that's not our problem.
It's a weird view that we have in America today in our understanding of the world. But that's another reason I wanted to make sure we got clear on this podcast, understanding why you did this, why it's important. Not necessarily you have to go volunteer, but just being aware and understanding what's happening and why it's relevant to you. It's part of the general geopolitical American relevance, and the message it sends to other dictatorships.
"The Global Ripple: Impact of Military and Political Decisions on Global Dynamics"
But if Russia invades Ukraine and we don't do anything, don't impose sanctions or anything, it signals to other dictators that they can invade and conquer lands without consequences. On the other hand, if China believes that an invasion of Taiwan would lead to an embargo or blockade of their fuel supplies due to severe repercussions, they might reconsider their actions.
Sending a message not just to Russia, but to other dictatorships, that they won't get away with such actions is important. Even if a country isn't directly tied to us, America is integrated into the global system. We rely on supply chains from various nations, and disruptions elsewhere can impact us. The more dictators think they can invade countries aggressively, the more likely they are to act on those impulses.
By demonstrating through economic and military means that the Western world will stand against such actions, we can deter potential invasions, like China considering Taiwan. And, we should ask, what is the U.S. military for? Primarily, it's designed to protect against threats, with China and Russia being at the top of the list.
We invest heavily in capabilities to confront Russia, hoping never to use them. Now, we're seeing the benefits as Russian tanks get destroyed without American casualties. Supporting Ukraine not only aids them in their conflict but also fosters a deep sense of gratitude, building long-lasting goodwill.
Understanding global events is vital. Even if we're not immediately aware, world events impact our daily lives. Studying culture, history, literature, and philosophy provides the context needed to grasp what's happening and its relevance to us. The world is vast, and we might not always see the entire picture.
Decisions made internationally have repercussions at home. Important elections loom, and understanding the bigger picture can guide voters. Expressing opinions, even through simple actions like writing letters, can have an impact.
There are public figures like Jordan Peterson and Tucker Carlson whose opinions on Russia and U.S. support for Ukraine differ. Discussions on these topics can sometimes become entangled with American domestic cultural debates. Russia's image in some American circles is that of a nation resisting modern Western values, which can influence opinions on how the U.S. should respond.
Using Hitler as a reference is common, even if some see it as cliché. Yet, Hitler serves as a benchmark for tyranny, reminding us of the potential consequences of unchecked power. It's essential to remember other historical villains, like Pol Pot and Stalin, to avoid minimizing or normalizing their actions. History is filled with dictators and their brutalities, and understanding them can guide our responses to modern-day challenges.
Putin's Actions: Unraveling the Mind of a Dictator
But I believe Putin doesn't do certain things not because he doesn't want to, but because there are too many cameras now. He's been known to send people off to Siberia, but not with the same intensity as before.
You know, someone who invades another country without provocation would likely commit massacres or starvations. Russia has done that in the past. The Ukrainians remember well the starvation and genocides Russia imposed on them not so long ago.
I once spoke to a 90-year-old man who lived through the post-World War II famines created by Russia. He shared some truly horrific stories, painting a picture of a time that's still fresh in the minds of many. Today, it's ironic that Ukraine, with its past of terrible food shortages, now feeds millions around the world. They understand the stakes.
With Putin, there haven't been mass executions on the scale of Nazi Germany. His actions tend to lean more towards torture, deportation, or individual killings. It's a small solace, considering the atrocities he is capable of.
Considering Hitler's tactics, do you think Putin would hesitate to cut off an entire population, letting them die if it furthered his agenda? He might see it as a tactic of war. If he could further the grandiosity of Mother Russia, do you believe it's beyond him? This is reminiscent of what happened in Mariupol at the start of the war – the city was heavily shelled, and so-called "humanitarian corridors" were set up, only to be targeted.
He's shown he's capable of certain actions. What if he took parts of Ukraine and paused for a while, contemplating his next move? What lengths would he go to? This ability to commit evil acts, to cut off a portion of a population, is what I equate with Hitler's atrocities. The extermination of the Jews wasn't just about racism; there was a grand vision behind it.
Once a dictator starts down a certain path, there's a range of capabilities they can exhibit. While we haven't seen Putin commit murder on the scale of Hitler, we do see deportations, city obliterations, and widespread abuses. There's accountability that should go up the chain of command for these actions.
He might rebuild cities as a part of his propaganda to say they're better off under his rule. It's all a façade. Given the opportunity, and if it was necessary for his vision, I believe he has it in him to go to great lengths.
Echoes of War: Reflections on a Ukrainian Journey
If there was, I don't know enough about the makeup of the territory race wise and all the cultures. But if he identified as one of the core problems some group, he wouldn't hesitate to eradicate them if he could do it discreetly. If he could starve them and not have people know about it, I don't think he would have a problem with that.
Yeah, that's my principle behind this. Certainly, it's prevalent in the occupied areas, like The Ukraine. They forced Ukrainians to speak Russian, forced them to adopt Russian culture. We've heard countless stories of Ukrainian soldiers being abused or witnessing other prisoners being beaten to death.
Part of the goal might be sadism, but there's also an effort to force them to assimilate into Russian culture. Okay, why don't we wrap up with some last stories of Ukraine, be it lighthearted or serious?
We've touched on many serious issues today. Regarding highlights from my three-week stay – originally, it was going to be a week and a half, but I felt compelled to extend my time there. One experience that always gets me emotional: the first weekend I was there, we played soccer with some soldiers, and they absolutely outplayed us. However, the experience afterward was unforgettable.
We went to Hydropark, an island in the Dnipro River, Ukraine's equivalent of the Mississippi. Kyiv is situated right on this river. There are islands just right next to Ukraine, and you can see the Motherland monument from there – a giant silver statue commemorating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. During my visit, they replaced its hammer and sickle with the Ukrainian trident.
Hydro Park is essentially a nature preserve in the city's heart. We relaxed on its beach, felt the warm water, and grabbed some food. As the day progressed, families with kids joined, reminding me of my childhood. I recalled my times in a similar setting near Philadelphia, playing in the water and canoeing with my father – such pure and innocent moments.
In contrast, at Hydro Park, the river, which would've been bustling with boats in a city like Austin, was eerily empty. Someone explained that boats are banned to prevent potential bomb attacks on the bridges in Kyiv. It was a harsh reminder of the situation.
This realization struck me hard – thinking of how, in an alternate reality, I could've been robbed of those precious memories with my dad because of a senseless war. It's the reality these people face, where simple joys like boating are snatched away due to ongoing conflict.
Indeed. If you had kids, you'd want them to enjoy such experiences, but it can be taken away just like that. In America, we might consider ourselves lucky or privileged in that aspect. However, it's essential to remember the battles fought to ensure that privilege.
**Discovering Purpose Amidst Turmoil: A Reflection on Ukraine**
And yeah, I mean, I can understand the reaction to that kind of dawning realization. It's one thing to intellectually explore and understand something, to study it, read about it, watch interviews. So, you destroyed buildings? Even though it's horrific to see dead bodies on video and understand the reality of it, it's different.
But I can understand when you're swimming in a lake and there's a sense of profound poetry in that experience. That out of everything else, it was realizing why there were no boats on the river that really hit me the hardest.
Yeah, I don't know if you have other stories, but there's a poem you might appreciate given your age. One of my favorites, "On This Day, I Complete My 36th Year." Do you know who Lord Byron is? He went to Greece to fight for their independence in the early 1820s, and that's how he died. He had a profound love for Greece, its history, and its symbolism. That poem might resonate with you given your experiences.
Byron, despite being part of the aristocracy, had experiences similar to what you're talking about. He sought more than just the pleasures of life; he wanted to be part of something grander. While he lived lavishly, traveled, and had numerous romantic affairs, he eventually found a higher calling in Greece.
This poem discusses his desire to be part of a cause greater than himself, while also reflecting on his personal journey and growth. He speaks of a deep passion for love and life despite his struggles and uncertainties.
I wrote an essay on this poem for my magazine, Troubadour, on my 36th birthday. And your experiences and age seem to align with the poem's theme, which makes it particularly relevant.
In any case, as a finale, I found it challenging yet enlightening coming back home. The major issues and conflicts we face here in the U.S. seem small compared to the monumental struggle in Ukraine. And while not every cultural or social issue is insignificant, I've learned to view them with a broader perspective.
In Ukraine, there's a unified purpose. Every action, no matter how mundane, feels like an act of defiance. Singing their national anthem, displaying the flag, or even speaking in Ukrainian becomes a testament to their resilience and resistance.
I think you have some soul-searching ahead. Find that passion and purpose that drives you. As we mentioned before, you're a builder. Reflect on this journey, and perhaps poetry and literature can offer some insights. And don't forget to chat with Dr. Gina Garland; she's a psychologist and could provide more clarity on your feelings and experiences.
**Reflections on Life and Choices**
Yeah, but I think you're not alone in the feeling you have. I think where you stand out is in the action you took. You're one of the few, and it was an extreme action. But it speaks volumes about who you are and the life you envision for yourself, as we discussed at the start.
Your life from here on won't be void of meaning just because you're not at war. If this was the jolt you needed to reassess or wake up, then so be it. Now, go live your life and set your priorities straight.
You have dreams, like spending time with your kids by a lake. I appreciate that sentiment. And I know you have a longing to return to Ukraine. Despite the challenges, like figuring out a steady income source, and despite the fact that your trip wasn't related to any big company like Google or YouTube. But you're determined to go back soon.
Thank you for sharing all this. We've had quite an extensive conversation, well beyond the time we set aside. But that's on me, I always have so much to say. This has been a deeply analytical chat. Thanks for joining, and it's been enlightening in many ways.
Have a nice day.