Essays On War

Bohdan Lohvynenko. And Now Good Night

And Now Good Night

I still remember what it was like to be among those who, even before the war, did not doubt that there would be one.

In December 2021, we were preparing for one of our strategic sessions. Oleksandra Baklanova and I spent half a day discussing what adjustments were needed in our team and how to conduct the next few busy days of working together for the future. We left the office, and were finishing our work online when Oleksandra texted me: „Good night.“

I answered: „By the way, Oleksandra, let’s also talk about a backup strategy in case the war begins. And now good night.“

Oleksandra wrote that my message had made her laugh, although she took it quite seriously, and again wished me good night. It honestly sounded funny to me, too. The next day we devoted no more than an hour and a half to our backup plan. Despite some team members not taking the possibility of war seriously, those ninety minutes ended up shaping our entire strategy for 2022. This strategy was for a team consisting of dozens of employees, several hundred volunteers, and an audience of several million in fifteen languages.

In December, I remember seeing a map in Bild that depicted a potential attack on Ukraine. I posted on Facebook to ask if anyone else was preparing for this scenario. However, many people dismissed the idea, calling it „nonsense“ and a „Russian hit piece,“ hoping it was just Moscow’s latest attempt at information warfare. At that time, I also wished it was just a false alarm.

Nonetheless, in January, I bought large cardboard boxes from Ikea for equipment evacuation in case of an emergency. If I could have foreseen the future, in which JYSK would continue to operate during the war, while Ikea would not, I would have purchased those boxes from JYSK instead. When I brought these boxes to the office and started sorting our archives, someone questioned if I really believed in the possibility of an attack. I hesitated to answer „yes,“ but I also couldn’t explain what I was doing if I said „no.“

Later, I realized that it is unlikely possible to delegate the development of an evacuation plan for hundreds of volunteers and their families to someone else. That is when we began negotiations with all those who had housing in the west of Ukraine, all those who were ready to leave from the east, south and north, all those who had transport, and those who did not. In the process of these synchronizations, I caught sneers and felt distrust of  the very idea.

And then something quite amusing happened: we found ourselves short of cars. So, I reached out to a few car rental companies I had previously worked with, making an unconventional request. I explained that we didn’t need their cars immediately and wouldn’t be using them soon. However, I was confident that they must have had some vehicles lying idle at that moment. By then, foreigners were already actively evacuating Kyiv, and the car rental market was definitely expected to decline. I proposed they provide our volunteers with two cars from their reserve fleet. If an invasion occurred, our volunteers could use these cars to save themselves and the rental company’s property.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to ask for favors from rental companies for cars after all. And on February 24, several rental services put up ads offering free cars or seeking drivers to take their vehicles.

I felt like a lone swimmer battling against the current while hundreds of people downstream happily crossed the Bosphorus. Please misunderstand–there were no insults or anything of that sort, but the public’s reluctance to consider the worst-case scenario had left me with a sense of war fatigue in mid-February. At that time, I wrote a note to myself: „I hope that all the work I’m doing right now will never be needed.“

Until the very last second, I found myself hoping that I was wrong and that those who doubted me were right. From December through to February’s end, my preparations for the impending war had turned into arduous labor, not because of any inherent narcissistic tendencies that craved social approval, but rather because I was responsible for ensuring the safety of hundreds of people and the preservation of thousands of historical pictures and videos. At times, I found myself doubting whether the war would even materialize.

I spent several hours trying to convince my mother and grandmother to go to a sanatorium in the Carpathians and was ultimately successful in arranging for them to go at the end of February. As I drove home from that meeting, my thoughts turned inward: Was I being paranoid? Was it time to seek out psychotherapy once again?

Western intelligence first predicted that the war would begin on February 16. I was ready. But it didn’t start. I spent hundreds of hours preparing for the day that never came. Meanwhile, my fellow student from the Kyiv-Mohyla Business School, Oleksandra Matviychuk,  who went on to receive the Nobel Prize, had been working on a thesis project titled „Helsinki 2.0: for the sake of preserving peace in Europe.“ We had planned to collaborate on unfinished work, but our time ran short. I was also supposed to write a thesis but instead found myself focused on a business venture few believed in, a venture that Western intelligence had also misjudged.

On February 17, I was utterly exhausted from lack of sleep, and worried that the concert for the Ukrainian rock star Misko Barbara might be postponed yet again, this time due to the Russians. I couldn’t help but think that Misko would find it amusing. After all, it was he who had sung the lyrics, „And Iran says that there will be a war“ and „Bomb shelter, hide me, hide me,“ while dedicating the words „Dance with me, sister. Let this dance be the last“ to a free Ichkeria. Misko had been the driving force behind the idea to revive the UPA radio station in our time and create the album Radio Aphrodite. Sadly, he passed away six months prior to the full-scale invasion and just over a month before the concert commemorating his fiftieth birthday. While the Russians may have been planning an attack on February 16, they didn’t prevent what had become a memorial concert from taking place. We discussed this extensively that night.

After Blinken announced the upcoming meeting between Biden and Putin, I felt reassured there was still time to avert a war. On the evening of February 23, I found myself abroad and realized that the delay in the conflict meant it was time to focus on my thesis. Determined to make progress, I sat down to write at dawn, but nothing came to mind. Even my thesis topic seemed irrelevant, much like my presence outside of Ukraine. It was clear that I needed to return home.

The first month of the full-scale invasion was a blur, with everyone working tirelessly and creating countless chat groups to stay organized. Despite initial chaos, things gradually fell into place, and I found myself among a community of grateful individuals who appreciated the work we had done in advance. Hundreds of „How are you?“ messages were exchanged, and thousands of „Good night“ wishes after a long day’s work. Surprisingly, the onset of full-scale invasion made many of us calmer, as we had been preparing for this moment for centuries. This was our chance to seek revenge for everything – from Pereyaslav to Mariupol. And now good night.

Translated by Yulia Lyubka and Kate Tsurkan