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6 Things I Learnt in Besieged Mariupol

As much as I loved writing about marketing, translation and time management, I had to learn there are more important things in life.

Everybody has heard about the Russian Nazi invasion to Ukraine. Probably many people have heard about Mariupol. This used to be a beautiful and cozy town, a perfect one to live in and raise your kids. I stayed in the besieged city for a month with my family.

I can say on behalf of all the civilian people that this war is nothing less than hell.

But this article is not centered on the horrors of war or Russian crimes. When you find yourself in such extreme conditions, you re-evaluate your life completely. You start seeing things you have not realized before.

So here are my life lessons I want to share.

1. Life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans.

I have found out that this is a quote presumably from Allen Saunders, not John Lennon. Whoever its author may be, the saying is very true to life.

Do not get me wrong, planning is great. I had many plans for this year, but the war changed everything. The lesson I learned is that it’s important to be as flexible as possible. To be agile.

It is very good to have everything planned, but be ready to adapt and change your plans any day. The better you will be at this, the more effective you will become.

2. Money is not worth anything, but human kindness is.

I understand that this sounds pretentious, but money is essentially bits of paper. I had a certain amount of money, but there was nothing to spend it on. No single store was open. And money is not any good if you cannot buy anything with it.

When Russians started targeting places where civilians hid from the shelling (the Mariupol Drama Theater was not their only target), I moved from my initial bomb shelter to a cellar in another district. I was one of the people who brought drinking water to the people hiding there each day. Mines were flying over us on the way, and sometimes we heard bullets flying by. A Russian plane once dropped a bomb on the road circa 350 to 400 meters from us. In other words, that was dangerous. You may understand why other men in the cellar were too afraid to get out. One shady person even offered us money for the water – and, frankly, I did not get it.

In this situation, sharing and helping each other meant so much more. I do not think we would have survived if others did not help us. When we fled from the city on foot, some good people helped us get to Mangush. From there we headed to Berdyansk. We were picked on the way by a person without a driver’s license on a car severely hit by shelling. Many people helped us, and I am grateful to them all.

What I am trying to convey is that we should always help each other. Be kind to each other. Provide help to those in need. Do whatever we can.

I was a homeless person for some time. And it does not feel great.

I am returning the favor the way I can: by donating to charities, bringing food and other stuff to shelters for temporary displaced people.

Believe me, anything you’ll do can make a difference. I know this from my own experience.

3. Do not buy anything you do not need.

I am not talking about consumerism.

I got a present for my wife – a telescope she’d always dreamed of.

We bought a brand new vacuum cleaner.

We never got a chance to use them.

What was the point in buying all that stuff?

When we fled the town, we only had a backpack each, and a couple of sleeping bags.

Wanna know what was in my backpack?

A laptop with our family photos, a T-shirt, some underwear, several pairs of socks. The rest was food.

And you can survive on that. Sure, that is not something you can have a comfortable life with. But the idea is that there is no point in buying stuff you might never use.

4. Do not collect anything.

I had a great collection of CDs I had been buying for almost 20 years. That included rare and autographed albums.

All gone.

When you collect something, it just takes space. You do not use most of the things you collect, so why get them in the first place? They would only accumulate dust. And, no matter how trite it sounds, you will not be able to take them with you when you’re gone.

5. People who judge you by your looks are not your kind of people.

I could not wash myself or brush my teeth for three weeks. As I have mentioned, I was a homeless person at some point. When I left the Russia-occupied territories, I hardly had a decent change of cloth. But I was happy to return to free Ukraine.

Did I look great? Certainly not. I had a shabby coat (it had actually been brand new before the invasion) and a worn-out sweater. And a pair of shoes that looked pretty bad, since I did not have a chance to change them. And I had not shaved for quite some time.

But all these clothes did not change who I was. I still was the same person. A professional and highly qualified linguist.

Did I care one bit about my looks when I walked the streets of the city that had not been touched by the war that much? No way.

Because your looks may influence the first impression you make, but they do not change who you are. And, to tell you the truth, it does not matter at all.

When people judge me by my looks, I get it. But I hardly want to do anything with those people, because they don’t see what is important in this life. And it will save me a lot of trouble and time if I stop dealing with them.

You should try it and see how it will make social interactions so much easier for you.

6. You might benefit from changing your approach to exercising and fighting anxiety.

I’ll try not to bore you with the details.

The easiest thing to fight anxiety is working. Doing something. Preferably something valuable and important.

If I did not make myself busy with any work I could get to, I would lose my mind.

Try it. Pick a problem and try to solve it. Do the dishes. Do whatever you can now, and try not to think of the things that bother you. That is the easiest thing you can do.

As for the exercising, there’s so much space to improve if you tend to be lazy. You can always find the time to exercise.

Going to the groceries? Hop on your bicycle.

Take the steps instead of the elevator.

Clean up your room. Throw away the robot vacuum cleaner and vacuum with your hands.

Scrub the surfaces to make them clean.

This way, you’ll do something valuable, and still get to exercise a bit. Not the perfect way to become fit, but that is a good start.

So, these are my life lessons. There is nothing special to them, but it will ring true for you if you find yourself under extreme circumstances.

For anything, you do not have to believe me. Just try these pieces of advice and see how your life will change.

Take care!