"I won't be able to love them the way I used to if it turns out they don't care."
Denis Chernov is 41. He studied and mastered programming in Tomsk. Now he lives in Seattle and works as a QA engineer. After Russia's attack on Ukraine, he did not find himself at home. As a result, Denis cancelled his trip to Scandinavian countries and spent his vacation at the Lublin Humanitarian Aid Center.
- I was a software tester in the Tomsk office of an American firm. After the annexation of Crimea the office was closed, but before that they gave employees the opportunity to move to work in the United States. Like many of my colleagues, I left. I had my doubts for a long time before that, though. On the whole it's not bad here, but the later you leave, the harder it is to make friends in a foreign country.
Before the war, my wife and I went to Tomsk once or twice a year. We were drawn there, and we still are. As soon as the current regime falls, we would be happy to move back.
On February 24, I couldn't believe what was happening. When the news of the outbreak of war broke, it was evening here. We were going to a concert of our favorite band. We were really looking forward to it. I said to my wife: "Maybe we shouldn't go anywhere. Definitely not a concert mood." But we went and really didn't have any fun. Because instead of listening to the songs, we watched the news feed every 2 minutes.
It's hard for me to describe my feelings after the war began. I had a friend here from Ukraine, his parents live in Kiev, and I hesitated to write to him. I would have understood him perfectly if he didn't want to talk to me anymore. In the end I called him and we talked.
It was the most ordinary conversation: "How are your relatives, are they all right? How are you?" You just worry about the person. It's as if you want to say, "That's not me. Even though you feel involved, "Yeah, it's my country throwing bombs on your country." I still have turmoil in my soul. Every day I try to convince myself that this is about to end, just like the war. But the war doesn't end, and it all seems to last.
Most of my friends are not in Russia now. But there are also those who stayed and feel the same pain as I do. They are the worst off. They feel like they are in a ring of enemies with ruthless propaganda blaring from every iron.
My parents live in Kazakhstan. The first thing I managed to do in the first days of the war was to have a fight with my dad. It wasn't even because he was for the war and I was against it. At one point in our conversation he said: "What the hell do you care about those khokhlys?" After which I said, "That's it, goodbye.
In my opinion, this is a manifestation of indifference. This is the biggest problem. All of these events were on the agenda in March, April, and May, and then everything fell silent. Most people in Russia and the rest of the world do not care.
I had a few weeks in Europe. I was going to travel to Scandinavian countries, but I realized that it was better to help people than to enjoy the sights. So I went to the humanitarian center for Ukrainians in Lublin (the largest "humanitarian" warehouse for Ukrainians in Europe). I found out about this place thanks to Dudya's show about comedian Dima Romanov. Parcels with humanitarian aid from all over Europe are brought to this center, then repackaged and sent to Ukraine. Found the link, wrote to it, "Do you guys need more volunteers?" I knew that mostly Ukrainian refugees were working there. I thought that if I started writing in Russian, they would be offended. So, since I am from Seattle, I built all of our communication in English.
I arrived in May. There wasn't as much of a workload as in the first few months. Half the time we sat and waited for cars that required unloading. I was surprised that, despite the Dudya video, I was the first Russian to arrive at this sorting center. The rest were Ukrainians: women, teenage boys who are not yet able to serve due to their age, and occasionally adult men from those who emigrated long ago. I found that most of the volunteers communicate with each other in Russian, and I also switched to Russian. There was no aggression toward me. We unloaded trucks, repacked boxes and loaded them back. A 17-year-old boy taught me how to operate the forklift, he had managed to study at the university for half a year.
Everything will be fine with Ukraine. From the conversations at the center, I realized that Ukrainians are much more optimistic than we are. I don't know if they took me into account, but the topic of the war rarely came up. And even more rarely did it come up in a painfully negative way. It seemed to me, sitting next to me, that I was more worried. Perhaps it was because they'd already partially lived through what had happened to them.
In the end, I came to help, but, in fact, they would have done just fine without me. So the big question is who helped who. I guess working there made me feel a little better, but only as long as I was working. You think, "Finally, I can do something." But then that same agonizing feeling comes back.
It's probably guilt. Although the real culprits are the Russian leadership, they started all this. I went to rallies in the late noughties. Maybe I should have been more politically active, but I don't know if that would have changed anything.
There are more people who agree with this war than those who disagree. Perhaps we could change the minds of such people in our midst? I hesitate to answer that question myself.
Yes, there are people in my circle who need to be reassured. But do you do that, Denis? Hell, no. I'm afraid of losing my friends, so I don't ask them. Because, obviously, I won't be able to love them the way I used to if it turns out they don't care. So I only ask those I'm sure of.
The majority of people in Russia are people whose lives haven't changed much to begin with. What's the big deal, they stopped issuing visas! They need to save themselves somehow. They have distanced themselves as much as possible from the war, and this leads to indifference. For me, that's the worst thing.