By Steve Richards
Memorial Day is about commemorating our fallen American fighters. In this it seems an occasion to consider the Ukrainian soldiers that have died and are dying each day. American soldiers are fighting alongside them. In many ways, this is America’s war as well.
So, it seems fitting to reach back to the days when the Minutemen at Lexington and Concord fought for the exact same reasons Ukrainians are fighting today. Liberty. Freedom.
Sounds sort of corny because we take it for granted here. We are taught in grade school about the Boston Tea Party, the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution, etc. But for most of us that’s as far as it goes. History books and movies.
Ukraine is a real-life reminder of what our forefathers died for on Lexington Green in 1775. Love of freedom is a universal human sentiment that Phillis Wheatly spoke of when she wrote in 1774:
Of course, Phillis was a slave, a Boston slave, so she spoke from a point of view far different than those first Americans that died for their country on the Green. But the sentiment is the same. It’s in our DNA apparently. And it certainly is present in all that I met on my trek to Bucha and comes through in every interview.
The people dying and fighting and surviving in Ukraine are just like us in their love of freedom and their willingness to die for it. It’s not complicated. Turns out phrases like ‘Live Free or Die’, ‘Freedoms not Free’, and ‘Russian warship, go fuck yourself!’ are all born of the same zeal for freedom and the willingness to die for it.
When I get involved in a project like Trek to Bucha, I have a mind to do something that is too big for me to have much of an impact. The War in Ukraine is just this kind of quixotic endeavor. What can one guy do? Not much. But one guy with a camera and the ability to produce an engaging documentary? Well, that’s a force multiplier. Because the uniquely powerful footage I shot has the potential to move millions given the worldwide interest in the war and awareness of what happened in Bucha. We have the potential to improve the situation in Ukraine, and ourselves. Because what is happening in Ukraine directly affects us throughout the world.
I came away from my month in Ukraine with a deep appreciation that its citizens will need more than just guns and ammunition. They will need loans to rebuild their homes and help rebuilding their economy. The people of Ukraine are not just fighting for their freedom. Through hard work, love of family and home, the rule of law, and liberty, they are fighting for the fruits of democracy and laissez-faire capitalism. Our film and other TheoEco efforts will hopefully influence policy that will further these goals.
Lastly, all of those I interviewed echoed the sentiment of thanks for our support of Ukraine and for bringing awareness of what’s happening there. Perhaps in the end, this is the greatest impact this film can have, to pass their message along. But I hope the film will help Ukraine strengthen and in so doing push back against Putin’s threat to so much of what we hold dear.
Hopefully, this film can engage the sentiments of viewers to continue supporting Ukraine in its struggles against Putin’s Russia.
Think of Ukraine’s soldiers and citizens this Memorial Day. Think of them and their cause and what our forefathers had to suffer through beginning in our struggle against a seemingly overwhelming armed force in 1775 when paying a bit more at the pump. And as we commemorate centuries of heroes in America, God bless our Ukrainian brothers in arms dying for our freedoms as well.
A new feature length documentary currently in post-production for completion July 2022.
One month into Russia’s war on Ukraine, guerilla documentarian Steve Richards began an odyssey to document what was happening in the Western suburbs of Kyiv. The resulting footage provides deep dives into the stories, people, places, and situations resulting from the war few thought would happen.
Regular people just like us enduring air raid sirens, missile strikes, lost jobs, destroyed homes, and unfathomable atrocities being waged around them. All because they demand the liberties most of us take for granted. From Warsaw, to Lviv, to Kyiv, to Bucha, we get a real look at what’s really happening, almost like being there in person. Richards documented what he found, with a 14-part video blog, which we are told is more riveting than network news broadcasts.
All interviews were conducted in English since many in Ukraine speak it well. We hope this makes the film all the more accessible for those in the USA and other English speakers. Much is being asked of people in the west including political, economic, and military support for Ukraine. Especially in terms of higher food and gas prices, and the billions in aid that will need to continue to keep up the fight. A global fight we are winning.
We hope this production will help further this moral and real support that is so vital - and to let Ukrainians know that America stands by them. They are not alone. Because they are in the same position America’s Minutemen were some 250 years ago when the first shots at Lexington and Concord changed the world. Back when Phillis Wheatley, America’s first ever published black author, wrote in 1774:
In every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance.
Again, the people in the film are just like us. We “get” these folks. This production and cause are dedicated to them, their struggles, and the inspiration they are providing the rest of us.
Glory to Ukraine!
By Steve Richards
Spring has sprung as I head back to Poland with a new little Ukrainian refugee.
My final hike in Ukraine was to the Kyiv train station from my hotel near Independence Square on a beautiful spring Saturday. As I was about to take the scenic route through a flowering park on the way, another siren reminded me that the war continues on for all trying to enjoy a sunny day in the park, pushing baby carriages, walking their dogs, playing at a playground; just enjoying a beautiful day. The wail of the siren was just a kind of background noise for most. Life goes on.
The trek back to the USA from Bucha was almost as complicated as getting there and took days. The train out of Kyiv on April 23rd would have been much easier were it not for the cancelling of a deluxe sleeper train to Warsaw I had booked. Not an unusual thing to have trains running a little unreliably for obvious reasons.
So, I wound up taking a rather convoluted route which switched trains at a blacked-out train station somewhere in the middle of Ukraine. There I was loaded on to a 4-person sleeper compartment of another train that picked me up solo just after midnight on Easter (Orthodox calendar).
There was no light on in the compartment as my fellow travelers were fast asleep. The train was headed for Przemysl just over the Ukraine border in Poland. A little town made famous for the processing of countless numbers of refugees from the war; including one little lady with whom I spent the entire 13-hour ride. Turns out there were five of us in the compartment. She made me realize that I had run into just about every Ukraine story that one hears about. Refugees, fighters, victims, even soldiers from the USA. She also made me understand better what this whole thing is about in the end.
After another 6-hour train ride to Warsaw and an overnight stay I flew out of Chopin Airport on the 25th.
I was forced to fly back to the USA out of Warsaw because the airports in Ukraine were closed when the Russians invaded on February 24th. This points out one of the biggest issues confronting Ukraine: How to get their economy back. When it takes days for a traveler to navigate the planes, trains, and automobiles – not to mention the occasional van or bus – to get to Kyiv from the USA, well, it’s daunting. Few business travelers, let alone tourists, will brave the trek. But that’s a topic for another post.
Anyway, back in the USA I am. And, as always, it’s nice to be home.
By Steve Richards
A city coming back to life.
My last days in Ukraine started with a return to Kyiv on April 21st on the way home via Warsaw. I believe I crossed paths with Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on my way.
The drive back to Kyiv from Bucha was much more convenient than the hike to Bucha a little more than a week before. The road was wide open now and the armed checkpoints were largely abandoned, though the fortifications were still in place. They seem to be unconvinced the Russians aren’t coming back.
I could now see just how straight a shot it would have been for the Russian columns to attempt the assault on Kyiv from this highway. An assault that never happened thanks to the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces.
Over the next two days I retraced my steps to see what, if anything, had changed. The hotel I stayed at was about a 15-minute walk south of Independence Square. Admittedly a small sample size, it is however a highly trafficked area in the center of the city; right where the Russians likely would have poured in if their advance had succeeded.
There was a big change in the mix of people on the streets with more civilians and fewer soldiers. AK-47s were few and far between now. Air raid sirens continue 2-3 times a day though no one seems to take notice. Life goes on.
A telling feature of the more relaxed environment was my ability to take more video of sandbagged buildings and fortifications. Though I still dared not try to get obvious shots of soldiers and police.
More coffee kiosks were open though most stores were still closed. The electronics store I bought a power adaptor from when I first arrived had brought back their entire i-phone inventory, tables which were empty before. And more restaurants were open including excellent pizza and fusion Asian fast-fresh food. A huge indoor market was now open with vendors selling everything from fruits to fish, to beef, to caviar. McDonalds, KFC, and other American restaurants were still closed. Nike was still open. A lovely candy store stocked me up for the upcoming train ride to Warsaw.
But the highlight for me was still Match Restaurant. We featured it in a video earlier as a World Central Kitchen meal production site. It was still going strong. As I’m sure it is today.
I look forward to returning to Kyiv when the airport reopens. Unfortunately, it takes many days to get there at present. Which is really the end result of Putin’s ongoing attacks on the city and throughout Ukraine. He can’t win the war, but he can terrorize the country and keep the economy down by keeping travelers out simply because they can’t get there.
Hopefully, that will change in the not-too-distant future. I promised my new friend Victor at the Victoria Park Hotel that we would hold a screening of our new film “Trek to Bucha” there as soon as I could fly in. It will be June before the film is ready so I have my fingers crossed for an early summer return.
Just in time for the start of the hotel’s high season.