- Personal Branding
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That’s not a very popular thing to say right now, but I’m proud of it. Putin is not Russia.
Until recently, I was a typical guy with a wife, two kids, a mortgage — and a future. (I’m sure a lot of Ukrainian guys could say that, too.)
I had a pretty successful career at the biggest Russian ad agency, working with international clients from all sorts of industries, from condoms to baby food (or, if you prefer, from stain removers to luxury cars).
I started out as a creative strategist and worked my way up to senior creative strategist, but I always dreamed of being one of the people who actually made the ads, not one of the flies buzzing around them (no offense to the strategists out there). So when the opportunity finally presented itself, I jumped at it and became a copywriter. I worked hard and put my heart into it, and my career took off. Eventually, I found myself promoted to creative team lead.
My dream was coming true. I was looking forward to becoming a creative director or even starting my own agency, and I saw a bright future for myself and my family. But if that was my dream, then I must have woken up, because my bright future seemed to disappear as thoroughly as the stains on a shirt in one of my commercials.
When the war started, I couldn’t believe it. It seemed crazy to me that in 2022 we were talking about tanks and bombs. But when I spoke to friends in Ukraine, it was all too real. Real tanks. Real bombs. Real death.
I didn’t want to be a part of it, so I started coming up with ideas for how global brands might do something to help — to restore some sanity to the situation. But it quickly became clear that this problem was far beyond advertising’s capacity to solve.
I began to think about relocating, even though my background in copywriting made me feel like this wasn’t a viable plan. I mean, come on, Max — you only write in Russian; you can’t work abroad. But now I couldn’t even write in Russian, because every word I used to make another commercial felt like pointless crap. I kept working, but my mental health suffered.
When they started the mobilization, it became clear that I had to choose between leaving my family or my homeland. I chose the latter.
So on that same day, we packed up our car and headed to Georgia. It was a nightmare road trip that should’ve taken one day but took four. I won’t go into the details, but just imagine driving your family away from one abyss and quite possibly towards another one, not knowing if you’ll even be able to cross the border. Every minute we spent in traffic and every news story we heard made me think the border was closing. I was in despair.
I have to say, our kids were absolute angels throughout all of this. Even when we were stuck for days on end and ran out of food and had to find toilets in the middle of nowhere, they didn’t cry. (Well, hardly at all.) They didn’t choose this journey, but they had to endure it just like every family on every congested road we sat on for hours had to endure it.
Finally, we made it across the border. Were we really in Georgia now? After the gloomy wind and the dreary rain that we experienced on the way, this place was like paradise. The scenery was breathtaking — green mountains, snowy peaks, clouds, winding roads, and the Terek River. It was all so beautiful. If it hadn’t been for the blurriness in my eyes and the soreness in my butt from having been in the car for so long, I would have been happy. Actually, I was happy, all things considered.
After a few hours of enjoying the beauty while dealing with the discomfort, we arrived in Tbilisi, met by billboards and graffiti reading, “Fuck Russians.” I understood.
Our next challenge was to sell our car after only three days in a foreign country. And guess what? We managed to do it. We had to sell it for a very low price, but we didn’t have any other options. My kids were crying and kissing their beloved “Orange-Chocolate” goodbye. (That’s what they named the car.) It was the first time in 15 years that I didn’t have a car.
And then we just bought tickets to Israel and relocated. The process of getting all the paperwork done and renting an apartment was long and tedious and filled with bureaucracy and dealing with the bank, but it’s not really worth discussing. What we were experiencing was nothing compared to the deep suffering of the hundreds of thousands or millions of people who are the real victims of this mad war.
We’re living in a beautiful country now. It’s warm, the sea is just a ten-minute walk away, and I can even cook on a grill on my balcony. I’ve exchanged one dream for another.
Our future isn’t as clear as it used to be, it’s true. It’s going to take a lot of hard work to shape it into something new and better. We’ll have to learn about a new culture and start our lives all over again, with just the clothes on our backs and the stuff we brought in one measly suitcase. It’s a tall order, but we’re up for the challenge.
We’re lucky. I know that. The future may not be clear, but at least we have a future. And I believe it’s a bright one. (Thankfully, this future-removing war didn’t work nearly as well as the stain removers I used to advertise. For us at least.)
So am I still Russian? To me, the answer is simple: of course I am. Being Russian doesn’t mean condoning all the craziness that comes from the government – because I don’t. It’s about loving my homeland, its heritage, and its people. And I’d like to think that the majority of us feel the same way.
Just like every person comes from somewhere, I am Russian. I will always be Russian, no matter where I find myself now and no matter how long I will stay there.
In the meantime, I have a life to build.
And build it I will.