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There was no small talk with Stuart: he would dive straight to difficult topics; Fundamental differences in perceptions of time, society’s predictable behavioral patterns, and its lack of communication and empathy. And in the midst of all of that, he threaded his conviction regarding his vocation to Volunteer in Ukraine.

When I asked him what led him to this decision, the answer was very simple and straightforward. “It was very strange, it felt like God was telling me to go. Naturally enough it was hard to check on the reliability of that source & make sure on my end.” Stuart had a clear sense that it was the right thing to do. Before leaving he made what preparations he could;  packing, planning & contacting everybody necessary. He did his best to reach out to people who might be able to help him get clear “being called” as he put it, but it was harder than he had thought. Instead of understanding and support, he was met with judgment, pleas to reconsider & willful misunderstanding from people he had supposed he could rely on. This didn’t stop Stuart, he managed to identify the quality of his message & carry out his plan, and travel to Ukraine. While the reception his conviction had gotten him back in Germany had surprised him, he expected an altogether different reaction in Ukraine. “When I got there, people would ask me ‘why did you come?’ When I would them I came to help, most men gave me a strange, suspicious look. They simply couldn’t understand why I was there.” In the end, Stuart’s lack of relevant professional experience meant he wasn’t eligible to be a medic but that didn’t deter him; he was committed to his cause. 

During his stay, he didn’t meet many other activists who, like him were determined to travel to the center of the conflict and assist but there were some. The odd Canadian, a few Americans every so often, and even an Englishman or two. All had felt a similar calling as he had and who also could not comfortably just stand back or stay at home or simply be content talking about the need to help Ukraine but who decided to actually act and even be prepared for the worst scenarios “You know, I was aware I could die when you decide to go to a country where there’s war, that’s part of the preparation” answered Stuart. I also asked him if there was anything that surprised him or that was distorted in the media he read before going there and his answer surprised me. Stuart told me that he didn’t expect that he would feel very safe in Ukraine. “Apart from sirens, and hiding in the bomb shelter during the risk of attack, I felt safe there, safer even than on the trip getting there. On the train in Poland, for example, you constantly have to watch your bag. In Ukraine, the train wasn’t like that at all…” 

After nearly two months, Stuart returned to Berlin with an old analog camera he brought as a memory from Ukraine. Now back in Berlin, he’s started several small Ukrainian aid efforts locally. Apart from that, he’s returned to his regular job, which is based around demystifying critical theory for regular, everyday people.

One of the first things I heard from Stuart when I was serving him a drink was that he moved to Berlin because “when I got here, Berlin was a lot more like Baltimore than Baltimore was. Like Philly but with extra grime”. That already sounded so interesting to me and I wanted to find out more about this person who was shining with energy from the very first moment. At that time I had no idea that he went to Ukraine to volunteer in the war, and that he was trying to raise awareness and understanding between people on the spectrum since he knows what it is like to live with ADHD. It was a bit challenging for me to follow Stuart’s sophisticated language and very fast, complex thoughts but he’s the sort of company who’s a very enriching experience regardless. We met for lunch and over coffee & pizza, we conducted an interview that was, frenetic, unique, open, and full of introspective insight.

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