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“And” Not “Vs” | TEDx EF Academy New York

“And” Not “Vs” | TEDx EF Academy New York

Next up in our TEDx EF Academy series is New York student Artem:

“And” Not “VS”

Fourteen thousand people – that is the official number of casualties in the war between Russia and Ukraine, (which happened in 2014). And 13468 of these people were Ukrainian, including 3400 civilians. It would take many hours if we would start talking about the political background of this ridiculous conflict, but I want to speak of my perspective as a young person whose life is divided between these two countries, Ukraine and Russia.

My Mother is Ukrainian and I was born in Moscow, Russia. The rest of my relatives live in Ukraine, in the city named Odessa on the shore of the Black Sea, where in my childhood years I used to spend all summer, in our house, waking up early in the morning and going to the beach with my brother and granddad, eating ice cream there and hiding this fact like it was an important secret, because my grandmother was cooking us soup for lunch. Spending the afternoon swimming in the pool, walking in the garden, cherishing the taste of home-raised fruits and vegetables – strawberry, bramble, grapes, fig, tomatoes and cucumbers larger than our cat, peaches with more juice in them than in the actual juice.

Half of our home was a guest house and dozens of people were coming to us starting in early May and staying until September to simply enjoy this feeling of being home, to eat this real fresh food, spend mornings by the sea and evenings in splendid restaurants better than in most of Europe. These people were my mother’s friends and kids who I was studying with in Moscow, tourists from France, England, Italy and Turkey.

So the late two thousands and early ten’s were spent in abundance, love and peace, but this all suddenly ended in 2014. Now people staying in the hotel were people from the areas affected by the war, who were trying to save their lives and these people didn’t even know what is happening to their home, they weren’t spending the whole day by the pool or on the beach, they were sitting in front of the TV, watching news.

The war destroyed tourism. Russian tourists, who brought the most income to the country and to my family, were now restricted, and this destroyed the business.

Airplane connections between countries stopped. It used to take around five hours for me, my brother and our mom from getting in the taxi to the airport in Moscow until drinking grandmother’s lemonade at our backyard. Now, we had to spend more than 24 hours in an uncomfortable, stifling bus, which turns your back into some geometric shape and makes your legs swell like you are in the last month of pregnancy. My mother was in sincere fear every time we were passing the border on that bus, because she didn’t know if we would be allowed to pass it or if officers would dislike something in the way we look and would take us off the bus in the middle of nowhere. The road from house to home turned into a torture.

Back in 2015 my grandfather was one of the passengers on the very last flight from Moscow to Odessa and 3 years later, when he died, the funeral had to be postponed, so his daughter and grandchildren would be able to get there on that damn bus. I remember how I wasn’t upset, I was feeling complete emptiness, the whole day and night sitting in the bus thinking how I will see him lying in the coffin, this person who was building all these swords and planes out of wood for my brother.

And all this is because of the conflict not between the countries, but because of the conflict between several men. Their conflict doesn’t mean that people stopped sharing their life between Ukraine and Russia, there are thousands of families like mine. And it’s so painful to see how mutual relationships which were built over centuries are falling apart in front of your eyes, how easy it is to ruin something so big and… how hard it would be to repair it.

What else is painful is that there wasn’t any war for Russia, in history classes in the Russian school you would be told that there was no war, just a conflict. One of the deadliest wars of the 21st century is just a conflict. In Ukraine, there is a wall in the center of Kyiv, hundreds of meters long and it’s all covered in the names of people who died in the Ukrainian-Russian war.

This really brought a feeling of separation. I don’t really remember how it feels to sit at the big table with all of the family members, how it is to celebrate New Year or Christmas with my family, because people just can’t get together. All of these moments were taken away.

Mom had to put the house up for sale and it put all of us in such a sorrow, for me it was the only place I was able to call a home, the place where my good childhood memories are coming from. But, who needs to buy a house in the country surrounded by one thousand tanks? So we still got it.

What I want to say now, when there is a serious threat of outbreak of war again, is that… no country is to blame. The leaders of the countries who are going against each other with the interest in personal benefit and not the benefit for the people in their countries, are destroying this friendship countries used to have. So, no matter which way the current situation is going to end, remember that there are always people who have no peace, who can’t see their relatives and don’t make enough money to buy themselves food. As cheesy as it sounds, remember this and cherish what you have like you are cherishing the juiciest peach or any other fruit you like and dream.

Thank you.


(The TEDxEF Academy event was held in February, 2022)

Find more TEDxEF Academy stories here.