22 August 2022

“Heroes are mortal. I know it from my own experience. I do not believe in the boomerang effect. Our invaders, their children, and grandchildren will enjoy the results of their wrongdoings unless we defeat them,” Volodymyr Shevchenko, the founder of the Veterano Coffee and MIM-Kyiv MBA student said in his very emotional post. In 2015, he joined the military to fight for freedom against the Russian invasion.

Thanks to Elon Musk’s Starlink, we could talk to Volodymyr Shevchenko in between his military activities. Here are his opinions on business, war, and values.

- Let’s start with your Facebook post and your call for action. Are there many people around us who still do not understand that we are at war?

- Very many. Unfortunately, it is only natural. Activists’ share does not exceed 10 – 15%. In my opinion, it is quite enough at this stage. Proneness to war fatigue is our main enemy so far. Our war is very hard. Any victory covered in media comes at a huge price in people’s lives. I said some years ago that when the full-scale war starts, everything we knew before would seem small. We are witnessing too many heroic deeds at the contact line because our enemy is strong and uses all kinds of weaponry it has. We are outnumbered as well. But they are not as motivated as we are. They also do not have such unanimous support. We are destined to win but it will take us long. We will lose too many people. When I studied marketing at MIM-Kyiv, our professors told us not to target the wrong audience. But we can talk to those who are thinking about things like ours. If I write a post, I write it for doers rather than dreamers. I am addressing those who are exhausted or hope for a quick victory. There will be no quick wins in this war. Many will not live to the victory. It was not a breakdown. It was a realistic assessment.

- War fatigue does exist and it accumulates. Psychologists advise on how to cope with it. How do you recover if you have a chance?

- We do not have a choice as we accomplish our missions no matter how exhausted we are. Recently, our worn-out battalion was back from one of such missions. But in the morning we learned that we needed to go on a mission because there was nobody else available. As people say, the paratroopers do what they can and after that what they have to. The “have to” may last for 12 hours, a day, a week, or a month.

That makes reinvigoration a very dubious concept. When we have time, we eat, sleep, and talk to families. We all understand that we are in a war for a long. We all understand that we could have been killed already. But we are aware of what we are doing and why. The chances of survival could be calculated but it is often luck and fatalism. Some are superstitious. I have a mascot, a Mjölnir pendant. I like it and hope it will keep me safe but have no idea how. 


How do the “cross-pollination” of war and business experience work in your case? I mean what war lessons do you apply in business and vice versa?

- Veterano Coffee is my fourth business. I have been an entrepreneur since 1999. I have a vast collection of failures. My war lessons prove that war refines people’s qualities both positive and negative. If you were good at something before the war, you’d become the star. You become psychologically more stable as well. You acquire the approach “if we face a problem, we shall find the solution.” Everything looks small compared to the risk of being killed. People who managed to work through their combatant experiences turn into superhumans. As for my business experience, I cannot separate war from business or business from war. Everything is too intertwingled.

- Who do you fight together with? 

- My unit may be different from others. People joined it in the first hours and days of the war. I showed up in the Zhytomyr brigade at 5 pm. The way to Zhytomyr was not an easy one. There were many like me and we formed the nucleus of our paratroopers’ unit. We are very different from a stereotypical paratrooper. The third of us came with no military experience. They learned the craft. They are not superhumans, they are guys next door to us. More than a million people joined the army. It quadrupled. Ordinary people master military skills and turn into heroes.


- Now we are fighting for our country. However, what are the other reasons that bring people to war? How do they deal with the fears? 

- In 2015 patriotism was one of my main drivers to join the military. I love my country and my most of my compatriots. Self-respect was the second one. I do not understand how people could respect themselves if they stayed away from defending their homes. I have children to bring up as well. As you see my motives are very egoistic.

We all understand who we are dealing with. We do not see any room for compromise. Our enemies long to see us, Ukrainians dead. Historically, we are the only colonized nation that the empire could not suppress. The empire took its revenge for peasants’ uprises of 1920ies – 30ies with Holodomor. Nowadays, Olenivka, Bucha, Mariupol, etc. is their take on intimidating us and breaking our will. But it does not work.

- Your business works although you went to the war. Your wife runs it now. Was it a spontaneous decision?

- I was preparing my team and developed standards, policies, and instructions from the day on of Veterano Coffee since its foundation in 2016. I understood that we were going to have a full-scale war at a certain point. Nobody listened to me and many thought I was too pessimistic. Regardless, I was involving my wife in management to prepare her for running the business. My team was also ready. I was developing policies, procedures, etc., or did what small businesses do not usually do. Before the war, I was preparing to scale my business. We need capital to scale. So, we are rich in loans and plans. I also worked with my team. I strongly believe in motivation and morale. After the short break, they restarted operations practically without my participation. The re-launch was a kind of a crush test. My wife and the team restarted operations in May, and it is successfully developing now.

- We all understand that we plan short-term so far. But still, what is your vision of the future? What is your personal cause of the war?

- At this point, I have the same objective as the rest of us: survive, push back the enemy and win this war. Our top priority is to survive and come back home. The future of the country is a kind of academic question. It is difficult to think long-term future when you are fighting. My dream Ukraine is a well-developed country with no corruption with responsible citizens who elect their leaders smartly. I dream of Ukraine becoming a global intellectual hub. But we have to survive and win the war.

- Today people who did not know adult life without the war join the army…

- They are fighting and sadly dying. My son is 12 and I am aware that the next war is his. I cannot and will not talk him out of participation. I will be dying of worries but will do nothing to stop him.

- it sounds like we are in for the long and exhausting marathon.

- Even if we finish the war quickly, in half a year or so, they will be back. We will finally win when the terrorussia collapses and break into smaller states and they have no resources available. It will mean security for us. Unless they break into small states, we have no peace. It may take 5 or 7 or 10 years, but they will be back as soon as they accumulate enough resources.

- Can this war end up unexpectedly?

- Absolutely. Some day we may wake up to the news about the coup. Chechnya and Dagestan will separate. Far east will drift way. It can happen tomorrow or in 20 years. Nobody understands what is really happening there. Plus, Russians are irrational and violent. Our Bucha shows us how inhuman those mobs are.

- Some people say that this war is the final battle in a centuries-long war. Do you have a feeling that is our chance to balance the centuries of genocide?

- I think that our ancestors also believed that they were waging the final war with russians. I do hope this one is the final. But they will bounce back as soon as they can. They made a mistake in 2004, 2014, and 2022. But they are quick learners. We need to understand that they can plan for a long and wait for their chance. Then we are ready.