I don’t care who you are: You don’t love Muddy Waters as much as Yuriy Matsarsky.
Because while you and I sit in coffee shops, check emails and bitch about our bosses, Yuriy is wearing his Muddy Waters t-shirt under his military uniform as he heads off to fight. He’s covered battle zones and conflicts across the globe as a journalist, including the Middle East: in Iraq. Syria. The Gaza Strip.
But no ruthless demon in his worst nightmare could’ve prepared him to trade in his laptop for an assault rifle.
Yuriy is a Ukrainian journalist who in his media life has proven himself battle hardened and fearless. But while fearless still foots the bill, he told me: The missiles go off all around him. Every seven minutes by his reckoning.
It’s made it impossible to sit on the sidelines any longer.
“Thursday last week I was woken up by airplanes,” Yuriy told Qwoted in an exclusive interview. “It was really, really hard for me to decide what to do. My personality was split into two”
But with his people in agony yet showing fierce resistance; with youngsters standing in line to get their rifles; with mothers making homemade Molotov cocktails from wine bottles; with peaceful city streets turned to rubble and blood; with nuclear plants and Holocaust memorials under attack—with all of this and more, Yuriy made a decision none of my media colleagues should ever have to make.
Yuriy Matsarsky went from a man who covered wars to fighting in one.
“As a journalist I thought, ‘You shouldn’t be involved in this. You should be watching from the sidelines.’ But the Ukrainian citizen part of me told me, ‘No, this doesn’t work anymore. You should protect your country, you should protect your loved ones, you should protect your freedom—you should protect your people.’”
The deadline and the dead
My fingertips and head are numb as I type this. I spoke to Yuriy moments ago as he hunkered down in Kyiv for the next round of battle against Russian troops, many of whom must be perplexed at having to shoot at and kill innocent people, every single one of them innocent in this mess.
Think about this:
It’s entirely possible that by the time you finish reading this, Yuriy will be one of the war dead. That he will join the disfigured, dismembered and disgorged piling up around him like so many slabs of raw meat for rabid dogs.
If so, Yuriy’s Ukrainian blood on the hands of an ex-KGB agent, now a despot who has lost not just his mind but also his heart. If he ever had one. This is not a “special military operation,” as the shameful Russian press has capitulated to communicate. It is an unjustified war.
No, it’s not even that.
War implies two sides. This is slaughter and savagery in the name of blind political ambition.
As for these supposedly tough sanctions, the only media images we’ve seen are of long lines at Moscow mall ATMs as people stock up on Hot Topic t-shirts and Nutella. Matsarsky insists sanctions will not work. Journalistic objectivity be damned, I agree. Putin is a bully and all bullies understand is when someone stands up to them.
As for now, that seems as remote a possibility as the world forsaking its appetite, even through all this, for Russian oil. If we don’t get tougher, then it is Putin who has us by the balls, not the other way around.
Until we meet, my media brother
Chicago and Kyiv are sister cities. Somehow, after just a half hour together, I felt as though Yuriy were my brother. If he gets out alive and hits the Windy City someday, I will take him to every blues club he could ever wish to visit. Perhaps the spirit of Muddy Waters will join us for a beer.
But there is no time to go there. Not now. Maybe not ever.
Call me crazy but stepping outside into a crisp Midwestern morning, I felt vibrations from across the ocean: the pain and anger of terror and shock of a cornered people filled the air. I can only compare it to dark volcanic ash blowing in from across an ocean. It tasted to me of poisonous gunmetal and sickly sweet gunpowder. War is hell enough. War against peace-loving nations is frightening beyond anything we’ve ever known.
What can I do? Unable to pick up any gun, I can can only pick up my pen and hope in some minuscule way that it proves as mighty as a sword. Absent that, may it help deliver the death of a thousand cuts to man who is not, as a clown and fellow autocrat in Florida put it, “a genius.” No. Vladimir Putin is the very instrument of death and evil: a man who, as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham just put it, must be taken out by an assassin’s bullet.
What can you do? Here is a link to a GoFundMe campaign where you can donate to keep Ukrainian journalists safe. It’s a start, a way to do something meaningful.
But as for what can give Yuriy Matsarsky back his existence of just a few weeks ago , I stand at a loss. By the grace of God, I hope he will someday be able to turn in the rifle and munitions and once again take up his laptop. This will make it easier for us to trade letters, photos and blues videos: the stuff of precious peacetime life.
Your battlefront dispatch
Here is Yuriy’s message to you:
“I want Ukraine to be prosperous, to be a happy country, my people all around me to be happy. Putin is following in the steps of Hitler right now. Every day, with every bombing, with every rocket fire, it’s more and more and more dead Ukrainians. More dead Ukrainians.
“This fight is not only for us. We are fighting for the whole world. I really, really love the United States, and the United States people. We love the same music, we love the same books, we love our kids in the same way. Please help us.”
Will we love the Ukrainians back? A besieged nation has precious little time, days or hours maybe, to await our answer.
My heart is numb as I write this. Asleep.
Please. Wake up.
Listen to the full interview with Yuriy Matsarsky here:
February 14, 2023