A Stranger on the Train.

Heroes are not born. They are made.

Sergey Leshchenko
4 min readMar 19, 2022

Fate, at least once in a lifetime, gives us all a chance to do the right thing. Sometimes — these actions can rescue you from dying. And even more so, as it happened in the case of Valeriy — rescue not only himself but about 30 people who followed their leader and escaped from the occupied village of Kopilov, in which they suffered for 8 days of the war in Ukraine.

But let’s backpedal a bit.

March 11, Ivano-Frankivsk, 20:00.

I’m at the station, trying my luck at the box office to buy a suite ticket to Kiyv.

Someone returned the ticket and I got the last seat, which destined me to spend the entire night with an absolute stranger — a person the fate threw at me.

This was one of the groundbreaking experiences I’ve ever had in my life — I was accompanied by a man named Valeriy, who I spent 12 hours with — straight-talking.

Valery is a 55-year-old man who holds a high position in one of the state-owned companies that manufacture traffic lights and road signs in Kyiv. (yup, those that have a well-known direction we send Russians to) Valery made it clear to me that the sphere is teeming with abusers who want to bypass the Prozzoro tender system, and that he sends those who try to bribe him in the same well-known direction.

I don’t know how come, but I learned to see people inside out, and I immediately knew I am in presence of the person of honor and dignity.

Long story short — Valery fell into a trap in the first days of the war, when he and his wife were leaving Kyiv by car, and saw Russian tanks riding on them from Makarov direction. He turned to the left: to the village of ‘Kopilov’ —where he spent a week and was on the verge of death not once and not even twice.

  • Valery described in vivid colors how he and the locals did not leave the shelter for 5 days in a row, including children and women.
  • He told me about the altitude the plane flies at, dropping a bomb, from which a funnel 12 meters deep remains.
  • He told me about the noise a cruise missile makes and how to understand that it is flying in your direction.
  • He told me about the power you are thrown into the wall during the explosion.
  • He told how he led the locals into the shelter by the scruff of the neck, in a matter of seconds before the blast wave.
  • How they ate what was left, and fortunately how they found a well from which they drew water.
  • He told me about hunger.
  • He told me about fear.
  • About the lack of electricity and communications.
  • He told how they finally dared to go outside, the Russians approached them, and he, shielding others with his body, said: “What are you going to do — shoot at civilians?
  • About Chechen evil — bastards, which you can literally scan the crave for blood on the faces.
  • But most importantly, Valery told me that the Russians had promised to kill anyone who got into a car and tried to leave. And it was Valery, when the remnants of food and strength were running out, who gathered all the locals and said — “I’ll go first — be as it may — but we must try.”

Leaving in a column of 10 cars, a tank stood at the Russian checkpoint. This tank, as the column approached, led by Valeriy’s Renault Sanderro, began to turn its muzzle on him, and point it straight at Valeriy.

It then froze.

These seconds, as Valeriy said to me, seemed to last forever …

The column slowly passed by, with white flags put out and emergency lights blinking, drove past the checkpoint, and people were able to escape, having been born again.

You know, being next to Valery on this night train to Kyiv, in the middle of the war in our homeland, I shed tears several times with a sense of pride and gratitude that there are people like him in our country.

Without any military past or present, being an ordinary man, the person rises to the occasion and demonstrates incredible courage and heroism.

Courage is not being afraid of nothing; courage — is to be afraid, but do it anyway.

It was an honor for me to learn about the life of Valery, his son, habits, hobbies. I wanted to get to the bottom of the matter: what exactly allowed him to behave the way he did. But you know: I think there is simply no answer to this question.

We either have it inside us or we don’t, and going back to my introductory thesis — at some point, you either do something or you just don’t. Something from within helps you make this choice.

Of course, I do not want anyone to be in a life-threatening situation, but yesterday, March 17th, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The guys from the territory defense began to lay me down on the ground, and then I had a thorough conversation with very competent and educated military representatives. Something clicks in your head when the muzzle of an AK47 is pointed at you: something changes in you every time you realize that everything in the face of death does not matter: neither your fears, nor complexes, nor conjectures.

Nothing matters when it comes to the most valuable thing you have — Your Life.

And when we got to Kyiv, I said “Valery, thank you for you; I’m proud to have met you.” We shook hands and exchanged phone numbers. He, like me, did not want to stay in the West. Almost certainly, simply definitely, we will soon go fishing with him in our beloved Kyiv, where he will teach me how to hold a fishing rod and do fishing on our free, peaceful land … (c.)

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Sergey Leshchenko

I’m a Proud Ukrainian. I write in 2 languages. Mostly about business and personal development. I have co-founded DexDigital. Now I develop Beverly English.