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The Warrior

Leonid, our first guest on Season #6 of the podcast, is not an easy man to land a conversation with. He is a drone operator on Ukraine’s front lines and, understandably, quite busy. Preventing Russian invaders from killing him and his compatriots takes precedence over talking to me and, via this link, with all of you.

The furthest east I made it in Ukraine was Kyiv, hundreds of miles from the front. But I wanted to talk to someone who is there. A friend of a friend’s friend introduced me to Leonid (I’m withholding his last name for security reasons). When not flying missions, he’s up deep into the night assembling fresh drones, thus the difficulty of finding a free 30 minutes.

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Late one afternoon last week I got a text. “I have 30 minutes.” He was seven hours ahead of me, so it was already late at night for him.

The audio quality is not great. It’s partially in Russian, with me translating in real-time. (Shout out to my producer Dave Manahan for patching up the audio). This talk changed how I understand what is going on and I hope it will do the same for you. I believe in making abstract topics like “geopolitical conflict” as concrete as possible. Conversations like this help.  

Before the war, Leonid ran his own pizzeria in Kyiv. Now he runs a team that kills Russian soldiers, destroys their equipment, or directs artillery. He sees his job as maintaining the safety of the citizens behind him and the other soldiers on the front line. 

“I’m not a psycho,” he says. “I don’t like to beat someone.”  But he doesn’t feel like he has a choice.  “They came here to kill me.” True that.

The Russians drop cluster munitions on the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians collect the fragments, what Leonid called “arrows,” and re-package them into homemade bombs, as shown below, which they then drop on Russians.

The center is filled with TNT. Below is a picture of his improvised work desk, including TNT from the US.

Two lessons I came away with from our conversation.

First, media reports suggesting an imminent Ukrainian breakthrough are either propaganda or wishful thinking. Leonid believes the conflict will be protracted. That means the stakes of a shift in US political support are very high for all of us and particularly for Leonid and his comrades. Candidate Vivek Ramaswamy’s suggestion the US must drastically cut Ukraine support, cede seized territory to Russia and end sanctions must make Putin elated. 

Second, we all have a warrior within, no matter how much modernity seeks to numb these instincts. If barbarians attack, you are programmed to resist and defend not only your life but everyone you love and care for. It’s like when you become a parent. You didn’t know you had it in you to raise a child and then you have one and it turns out all the wiring just needed to be activated. 

Leonid shared this film of their nightly work. In the background, he says, “so you understand…this how we deal with pedophiles” (he means Russians, in this context it is sort of like “scum”). We keep welding and fucking soldering.”

I forgot to ask Leonid what the biggest lesson he has learned about life that he didn’t learn in school. I followed up in a text. His answer was that you get what you give. That’s an ancient lesson, but a good one. As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

To my readers in the US, happy Labor Day. To my paid subscribers, I’ll send out a market-related, subscriber-only post later in the week. I am going to focus on European bonds unless I hear of a more pressing topic. My year-to-date PNL is below though I am still waiting on some returns and the below is UNAUDITED. Also, part of what funds a trip to Ukraine is your subscription, so thanks for your support.

Things I Didn’t Learn in School is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.