"Motivation empowers reason, willingness, and desire." — Jonas Cain
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They had only just reached the woods when the bombardment began, and the sudden crescendo of cascading explosions became so loud it felt like their ears were bleeding.
With nowhere to seek shelter, the three acted quickly and ran to a nearby ravine, hoping the natural cover of trees might slow the falling debris.
Torrie collapsed to the ground under a giant pine tree and grabbed ahold of her dog, Martha, who was shaking uncontrollably. Together with her husband, Ilya, they closed their eyes, ready to die.
The young couple lives in a suburb of Kyiv called Kriukivshchyna (Cree-kivsh-cheena), where the roads in and out of the neighborhood are now controlled by armed soldiers. At the onset of the invasion, Torrie downloaded an app onto her phone called Air Raid Alert, which sends push notifications in the event of an imminent attack. It’s not a foolproof system, though. Some strikes come without any warning, which is how Torrie, Ilya, and Martha became cornered in the ravine without cover.
“It seemed something was approaching us,” Torrie later told me. “We had no idea what it was—a missile or whatever. But there was no fear as we were already familiar with too loud sounds.”
Just as suddenly as it began, though, it was over—with the three narrowly escaping with their lives. It was at that moment that Torrie took to heart what a military officer told her when the invasion first began: “Every strike which you can hear hadn't killed you.”
You cannot hear the bomb that kills you, because you are already dead.
Though the bombing had stopped, adrenaline still rushed through Torrie’s veins. “I tried to write a message to my mom that I'm alive,” she told me, “but my hands were shaking so badly that I could not type the correct letters on my smartphone.”
That was how Torrie spent her morning on Friday March 4, and the experience serves as a clear demonstration of how doing something as simple as walking the family dog has become a drastically different activity now that her community is a war zone.
Life in a War Zone
I first connected with Torrie in 2017, when I contracted her to do graphic design work for my company. She is a talented artist, blending both digital and freehand creations for a unique and compelling style. Since then, I’ve enjoyed living vicariously through Torrie, witnessing her life and career unfold on Instagram through the photos and videos she shares—including those of the beautiful hiking trails around Kyiv, of her adventures with aerial yoga at the New Me Yoga Studio, and, my personal favorite, pictures of her adorable dog, Martha.
But life in Kyiv has been much different since the events of February 24, 2022, and what Torrie refers to as her “regular life” is now a thing of the past—with nearby homes destroyed by missile strikes and neighbors being struck down on their way home from the market.
In a recent email, Torrie told me: “I am going to add some text to my dog's address locket, and this is: ‘If I'm lost and the phones of my owners do not answer, that means that they are dead. Please, take me with you. Martha.’”
In her “regular life,” she never would have dreamed of such a thing. “But that's what the war is,” she says.
To survive, Torrie lives by a simple motto: “Do anything that keeps you busy.” Any activity is better than reading the news and waiting for what's next; otherwise you will lose your mind and panic. To keep busy, Torrie cleans, cooks, washes dishes, cuddles with Martha, phones loved ones, creates artwork, and shares information on social media.
And it is the sharing of information that Torrie is most motivated to do.
From Graphic Artist to Information Soldier
Ukrainians are like bees, she says: passive and friendly—flying around, collecting pollen, and making honey—bringing harm to no one. Until you threaten their hive. And Torrie is doing her part to sting the enemy.
Though both her parents are from Russia, Torrie was born and raised in Kyiv, instilled with the Cossack’s values of freedom, dignity, loyalty, honesty, courage, and self-sacrifice. In a recent email, Torrie declared: “I want the world to know that our army, as well as civilians, will die defending our land, our freedom, and our loved ones.”
It is these core values that motivate Torrie to stay and fight rather than fleeing to safety—fighting what she refers to as the information war, by sharing the truth of what is happening in Ukraine. “My weapon is a word,” she says. “Luckily, I'm good at both Russian and Ukrainian languages, and I can lead the informational war with our enemies…[I] will never be afraid to speak out loud. Because I can't do it any other way.”
As part of the informational war effort, Torrie reaches out to Russian civilians, “begging them to break through the regime of silence.”
Being on the ground in Ukraine, Torrie sees and hears firsthand what is happening. She doesn’t have to sift through news stories diluted with propaganda to try and parse out the truth. True to her Cossack values, Torrie is willing to sacrifice her life so she can use her eyes to see and ears to hear, and then sing that truth to the world—motivated by freedom, justice, and a moral duty to serve.
“I want the rest of the world to know that Putin sends young guys (18-21 years old) to be killed, promising them money, but also sends their way mobile crematoriums to pretend that nobody was killed…I want everyone to know that Russian troops do know why and where they are going: to Ukraine, an independent country, to kill people—military and civilians. All this information about ‘our commander lied to us and tricked us,’ or ‘we were on military instructions and then all of a sudden found ourselves in Ukraine,’ is a lie…they were trained to tell it to save their lives if they are captives.”
It’s been said: “If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live,” and if this is true, then Torrie is a worthy model of someone who is fit to live.
My heart aches thinking about Torrie, Ilya, and Martha. The first thing I do every morning is look for updates from her on social media, for even bad news from her is good news—because it means she can still hear the bombs and can therefore continue fighting the good fight defending freedom and justice.
I am in awe of Torrie’s character, courage, and commitment, and can’t help but wonder what would happen to this world if the hearts of more people would reflect that same motivation for their own lives and the lives of those they serve.
How Can You Help?
Many people want to help, but may not know how. In a recent email, I asked Torrie how the average world citizen can support the Ukrainian people. Here’s what she said:
I asked Torrie if there were specific organizations that she and her fellow citizens trust, and she provided the following links for agencies that are providing tangible support to their cause and which are fully endorsed by Ukrainian people:
These are specific requests from the people on the ground in a war zone being attacked as I write this and as you read this. Every moment delayed is a moment too late.
And of course, please share the truth. I promised Torrie I would share her story to anyone who would listen—because if I was in her shoes, I would want someone in my corner too.
Torrie says that if she survives, the most frightening thought is how they are going to raise their country from ashes when the war is over. She suggests that if world citizens are so moved by the heart, then they can help by investing in small Ukrainian businesses—perhaps by commissioning orders from freelancers such as herself—to provide them with opportunities to work and sustain a living while they embark on the road to rebuilding.
Whatever happens from here, may our collective efforts be empowered by these encouraging words:
“We cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that this story has a motive.
This war in Ukraine feels different. As the historian Yuval Noah Harari recently observed:
“Since 1945, not a single internationally recognized country was wiped off the map by external invasion. This was a common thing in history until then, and then it stopped. This is an amazing achievement, which is the basis for everything we have...and this is all now in jeopardy.”
This feels different; like a violation of humanity. Torrie is a trusted colleague and friend who was peacefully living her life—yet this peaceful life has now been thrown wantonly into disarray.
This feels different; like if it can happen to Torrie, it can happen to me and it can happen to you. And because of this, it feels strange seeing people going about their everyday lives as if everything is “business as usual.”
This feels different—but then again, isn’t this the true promise of life? As Frederick Douglass reminds us, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress,” and as St. Paul the Apostle further encourages: “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
This feels different; therefore, I wonder with fascination: how can we use this as a force for good?
Jonas Cain is an educator, facilitator, and coach, working to engage, empower, and encourage leaders and the people they serve to experience joy.