Feb 28, 2022. 5th day of the big war in Ukraine (or full scale Russian invasion if you will). I’m getting on the plane from JFK to Warsaw. I see two guys in the military uniform enter the plane while talking Ukrainian.
I take my sit. One of the guys - Serhii - takes the seat next to me. We start talking. Everything in his story reminds me of myself. We almost of the same age. He is 33. He works as software engineer in the Washington, DC. His family is from the small town near Kyiv called Vorzel (on Feb 28, you didn’t want to hear that anyone lives close to Kyiv, Bucha, Vorzel, Hostomel, Borodianka - those were the places that were attacked). He is also DJing for the fun. He has modern haircut and before the war he was planning on saving money and moving to Hawaii and just do surfing. He has no military background. When the war started he just went to the store, bought what he could (he didn’t even have bullet proof vest, so I gave him one of the bullet proof vests that I got with me from the US), quit his job and got one way ticket to Poland with the goal to get into Ukraine.
Close to us there are two more folks. One is American journalist from NYC. He is going to Ukraine too. He asks Serhii many questions. Then we meet 35 yo Georgian guy who lives in Washington, DC. He has two kids. He is also going to Ukraine. I cannot believe what I’m hearing. The realization of bravery of those guys overwhelms me. I never saw anything like that in my life. Georgian guy is more prepared. He is shooting instructor here in the US. His goal is to come to Kyiv and train Ukrainians at the shooting ranges. He says that his father was fighting Russian army in Georgia in 1990s. He says he couldn’t stay in the US seeing Russian state is doing it again. He wants to help to stop them.
We start descent to the Warsaw Airport. Flight attendant makes her announcement. Serhii gets up and ask her if he can use intercom and do his own announcement. She lets him do it. He makes announcement in English and Ukrainian saying that if there are more guys going to Ukraine they should all see him after we land. This was like a scene from the film. He says “Slava Ukraini” at the end of his announcement. People clap.
After landing few Ukrainian guys go straight to Ukraine. I stay with Serhii, Georgian guy and new Ukrainian guy joined us. His name is Yevhen. He also settled in the US by now. His whole family is in the US. Except grandma. She is in Bucha. He is coming to fetch her. In 5 days since the war started he fully prepared himself - military form, radio equipment, bulletproof vest, drone - he got it all. He is determined to cross 500 km from the Western border of Ukraine to Kyiv region. His brother is also going to join him soon.
So I’m standing at the airport with those 3 bravest men I ever saw in my life. They discuss logistics. 3 of them want to go to the Kyiv region. They are serious but sometimes they crack jokes and the logistic discussion is very casual. It sounds very familiar. I have a flashback to my times in California. I was going camping with my friends and they were standing around the car casually discussing our rote and plan and itinerary and where we are going to stop. This is exactly the same conversation. Except those guys are going to war. The war they might not ever return from.
They are so full of life, full of determination. Also everything seems simple to them. They are doing the only thing that they were supposed to do in that moment of time. They are not lost. They are where they should be.