Human : Rostyslav Danylenko
Country: Kyiv, Ukraine
Domain: UX / UI, Graphic Designing, Animation and Design Research
Job Profile: CEO & Founder – Amusic, Lead UX/UI Architect
Some art transcends time, some art change history, and some art achieve immortality. The Ukrainian national icon, poet, and artist, Taras Shevchenko’s works and poems have resonated through the ethos of his nation for centuries. Once more the poet’s beloved country is at a test of fate and the people once again find themselves fighting for their right to exist. His works hold the key to what Ukraine – a faraway land in eastern Europe symbolizes for its citizens.
Як умру, то поховайте
Мене на могилі,
Серед степу широкого
На Вкраїні милій:
Щоб лани широкополіTaras Shevchenko’s ‘Zapovit
І Дніпро, і кручі
Було видно, − було чути
Як реве ревучий!
‘When I am dead, then bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain,
So that the fields, the boundless steppes,
The Dnieper’s plunging shore
My eyes could see,
my ears could hear
The mighty river roar…….’– (Translation by John Weir)
A nation can only be as great as its citizens. And the past few weeks have only shown us how sometimes in the darkest of days and the most turbulent of times, people find the strength and resolve to stand up for what’s right. And this was a promise that a nation and its freemen were going to keep to stand up for ‘Pravda’ / ‘правда’.
And nothing else.
So this is a promise we are keeping too. To be on the right side of history. To use our words and voices to bring forth a story of a gallant nation and one of its citizens, who has made the same promises to someday be able to tell and show his children what their ‘tato’s’ home was like. So here’s introducing our next human in the series, the alluring Rostyslav Danylenko, from Ukraine – the land of indomitable people and undaunting spirit, who found the freedom to create through art and has become a passionate proponent in using art to advocate for anti-war campaigns.
Growing up in Dnipro
It was Christmas in 1991 when the USSR flag came down for the first time in Kremlin and signified the end of an era and the start of a new world order. Ros recalls the effect of the early twentieth century’s changing political systems across the world with the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union around him. The place he calls home – Dnipro was one of the thriving space research centers in the cold war era. Like most of the people that inhabit the town, his father too was an engineer who had a degree in rocket systems and his mom was a librarian. The home he grew up in was a unique amalgamation of science and arts.
His early years were marred by the hard times Ukraine had to endure as the country had to rebuild itself after the cold war ended. There was a brief moment of instability as well as disorder and miscreant activities were on the rise.
He ponders and tells me, ‘It was very difficult times.’
He recalls how his father found himself out of a job as nobody would hire a rocket engineer in those times. His ‘tato’ had to learn the art of business to survive through that era. So, the senior Mr.Danylenko had to reinvent himself as a businessman to be able to provide for his family and eventually formed a company that sold metal goods. Dnipro in due course of time did become one of the flourishing industrial cities of the country. The economic situation was changing steadily for the next decade. He recalls the long queues in front of essential shops and markets. Austerity and survival with the basic things they could acquire were what they learned during those difficult years.
Things had started to look up again in the 21st century as the economy opened up and created an opportunity for Ukrainians to open up their own companies and businesses.
Ros tells me , ‘We realize how we could generate employment and provide job opportunities. We could own the things we create. ‘
The simplistic idea of ownership reflected the changing economic system the country was going through as it sets its foot in the world of globalization.
The decade-long struggle to make ends meet was officially over. The country had put itself on the global map as one of the largest producers of wheat grains earning its title of ‘the breadbasket of Europe’ and an international destination for students worldwide with its world-renowned medical universities offering a haven for quality education. Even his hometown was slowly getting back to its space-age heydays. The resilient citizens had rebuilt their country from the ashes.
In remembrance of happier times
Ros recalls happier days in the Crimea peninsula. The coastal towns flanked by the Black sea were a vacation hot-spot that the Danylenko family were fond of visiting annually. Its lush green forests and azure blue sea were a sight to behold.
He tells me how it is one of the best memories he has of his childhood when the whole family would hit the beaches and frolic around the sand leaving all their worries behind. Those summer holidays were something he would anticipate and he narrates to me how beautiful the historic place looked like frozen in time in his memories.
In his youth, Ros had won three gold medals for the National Badminton Championships. He recalls heading to Poland and Hungary for open tournaments. Those were simpler times when he and his friends would gather in parks and talk of their dreams and their lives. He recalls how the ‘Disco fever‘ had reached his homeland and gripped the youth back in his days too.
He reflects on how the Christmas season is one of the most bustling and happening holiday seasons of the year. And the date on which the locals celebrate it depends on who you are asking. The various Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches follow either the Julian or the Gregorian Calendar, so 25th December and 7th January are considered Різдво or Christmas day. And Ros fondly recalls illuminated streets and , ethereal колядки or carols and piping hot ‘varenyky‘ or dumplings in such occasions.
The picture he paints of his homeland is something he wishes his three children would get to experience too. Here was a father desperately wanting to stop a war that could derail all that he has worked for. Uncertainty for a future is what looms in the mind of every single one of his countrymen today.
There was once a fundamental question on what war really conquers and the answer was plain and simple – ‘Nothing‘. In conquering ‘nothingness‘, war destroyed cities and towns, war separated families , war made parents bury their children and war ended a future that could have existed.
Finding the freedom to create
He fondly recalls his ‘babusya’ giving his 3-year-old self a choice to either take a nap or draw. The young boy would grab the crayons instead and start drawing what he saw around him. And his babusya was never far behind to encourage the tiny artist. But art was not a domain that had many takers in those days and the tech industry hadn’t seen the boom of the 21st century. His love for art had to be kept on the back burner for a few years of his life.
The medical institutions and healthcare sector were something the country had almost perfected. Thousand of international students flock over to these medical universities to earn their degrees. It was only natural that Ros would be inclined to complete his medical school too. It was considered an honorable job and he could help save lives. The artist had taken a backseat and he was doing what he felt the world needed out of him.
But there is a saying that what is meant to be will always find its way.
He felt the need to be free. He wanted to create things and feel the world around him again. The white coat was a compromise he felt he had to put up with. He watched the world slowly slip by each day in the hospital. He didn’t want to end up in his last days in a hospital bed regretting what he could have done. He was ready to pick himself up again and follow his dreams.
He would claim, ‘All my life I wanted to be a designer and create art.’
I had to ask him if there were any hurdles in the path, he had now chosen for himself.
He swiftly replies, ‘Так’.
But he had kept his passion for art close to his heart for decades and if he didn’t give it a shot this time around, it would be for nothing.
That’s when he gleefully mentions his wife, the magnetic Dr. Alyona Marenko, who has been his greatest support system. They met in a hospital where they both had an internship. He proudly tells me how she was one of the first medical professionals in her country to get a certification from the IBLCE (International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners).
The brilliant Alyona was one of the first people to know about his plans to get into designing and he remembers her telling him every day, ‘I believe in you and you can do it. Someday you will be a famous artist.’
She was one of the guiding forces that made him pick himself up in the initial days of learning how to navigate through the designing world. This wasn’t just a union of love and unwavering faith. She was the constant light that shone through the good and the bad times. As he would later confess that she had the greatest role to play in his achievements and without her calming presence things would have gone in a different direction.
Navigating the UX/UI landscape
When I ask him what art represents to him, he lights up and tells me,
‘I wanted to create art that can change lives.’
He marvels at how small little details like buttons or color schemes can have such significant meaning to applications. He recalls his clients and their experiences with different designs and themes and how they call him ‘Mr.Problem Solver.’ They would bring in blank canvases and ideas. And he would hear them out and interpret it through his designs. He is still dazed by how these designs would go on to be used by billions of people across the world.
Art in any form or shape could indeed stir emotions.
He reminisces, ‘A simple button can bring so much joy.‘
He tells me how he feels the happiest when he sees how his designs have impacted his clients and there was nothing more gratifying than knowing how his art could make impression on people.
And that is one of the reasons why he strongly feels art can be used as a medium to highlight the truth happening in his homeland. He is using all the resources at his disposal to create applications that can be used by protestors across the world. Videos of the heart-breaking ground realities have been circulated online to bring out the truth that the outside world rarely gets to see. He wants to see more protest movements across the globe and has been working day in and out to use art as a platform to help these protests.
He exclaims, ‘The world has to help us. Everybody has to know and see the truth.’
He has started sharing videos made by his company on Patreon to throw light on the realities of war. Using the medium of art and music to make the world see what is happening.
Ros would say, ‘We will fight back with whatever means we have no matter what it takes.‘
He narrates to me how everybody back home was contributing in some way or the other. Everybody wanted to fight for what was right. The Molotov cocktails have become a symbol of a resistance led by people that choose to stand by and defend their homeland. It’s the same spirit that bards and artists have highlighted in their works for centuries. Their resolve has indeed united a world regardless of our boundaries and distance.
The fight for freedom
He remembers how his mother sobbed over the phone as they saw their precious Plóshcha Svobódy/ Freedom Square in Kharkiv go up in flames. It was once a bustling and lively street flanked by swarming cafes and restos. In a matter of seconds, the square was in ruins. It was like a foreboding of things to come over the next few weeks. Everything that the nation and its citizens had built over decades would come tumbling down in front of their eyes. For older generations that had lived through the Soviet era and the 21st century like the senior Mrs.Danylenko, this was like reliving the horrors of the past.
Ros breaks down and tells me how he lives in fear each day when he would call up home to check on the rest of his family members who couldn’t make out of the country on time. He fears for the people he knows back home and each passing day brings news of another familiar face he would never get to see again. He tries to put on a show for the sake of his youngest children who don’t understand yet what war entails.
He would say, ‘I understand that I will never see them again in the future.’
‘I don’t know what will be...’, as his voice trails off.
He fears not just for his family but for his children’s future as well. His kids would grow up in a foreign land not knowing the world they could have been in. He fears what the future holds for them knowing how limited time and how fragile life really is.
Ros would lament, ‘ We want a better future for our children.‘
ми не хочемо бути в минулому
‘We don’t want to be in the past.’
His words resonated through hallways with shattered window-panes in empty schools, his words echoed through the corridors of wrecked hospitals and medical centers that have become overwhelmed with the increasing number of casualties, his words reflected back from the images of a city that is falling apart and its citizens battered and bruised yet holding on gloriously for their right to live .
So if you have never seen the place you call home destroyed in clouds of smoke , if you have never woken up to air raid sirens and hold on for dear life, if you have never been evacuated in the middle of the night, if you have never seen young children and old retired veterans being led away to underground shelters, if you have never seen families separate to survive, if you have never been fearful of what the future holds as you see your country burn in flames , if you have never seen things you have known your entire life gone in a blink of an eye…If you happen to be one of those lucky ones, then you need to tell this story to your children and your children’s children as well.
That there is a valorous land in Eastern Europe filled with people like you and I and that they endure days of tribulation and fight for their freedom to exist.
Every man and woman, young or old fought for their ‘svoboda‘.
These are the promises we have to keep.
Lest the world forgets Ukraine.