Russians Attack Ukraine · Rob Ens

Hello, everyone! This is Morten from INKISH. Today’s episode is a bit different from what we usually do. I’m excited to talk to my good friend, Rob Ens, from Toronto, Canada. Welcome to INKISH, Rob!

Thank you, Morten. It’s a pleasure to speak with you.

Likewise, Rob! It wasn’t too long ago that we met in Düsseldorf at Duba. It was great you could come and see me, even though I was a bit stressed.

That was one of the main reasons I went—to see you in action.

And it was worth it! Recently, you reached out to me after I announced my plans to visit Ukraine next week. I’m going there to cover a story about a printing company, Faktadruk, which was deliberately bombed by the Russians on May 24th. Seven Heidelberg operators were killed, and more than 20 people were injured. Seeing the devastation on CNN and other major networks, it’s a miracle more people didn’t die. You mentioned this resonated with you because your family has roots in Ukraine and faced similar hardships after World War I and before World War II. I’d love to hear your story. But first, can you share your thoughts on the current situation in Ukraine?

I usually avoid discussing politics online, but here we are. I support Ukraine. I have many Russian and Ukrainian friends, and I love them dearly. However, my family lost their land and privileges in Ukraine, and many family members died during the Bolshevik Revolution. So, I deeply sympathize with the Ukrainian people. They want to live in peace, and I believe they deserve our support.

I bring this up because I, too, have Russian friends. Most of them now live in Denmark, the USA, or Canada. Of course, I still have connections in the industry in Russia. I believe that most individuals are not to blame for the war. In my opinion, which is political, Vladimir Putin bears most of the responsibility for the tragic events in Ukraine. There are similarities to the Bolshevik era you mentioned, which was around the 1920s, right?

It was around 1919. My family kept detailed records and even wrote a book about it. The story feels different when read from a distance. Let me tell you a bit about the background.

This book, housed in the Mennonite Archives in Winnipeg, was partly written by my great-grandmother when she came to Canada. I hadn’t read it until the war broke out, and it was an emotional experience. My great-grandmother wrote in factual terms about their hardships. Mennonites, originally Germans living in Ukraine, were pacifists invited by Catherine the Great to farm the land. They thrived peacefully for over 100 years. My great-grandfather, a learned teacher and lay preacher, was tragically killed by bandits during the revolution, which targeted landowners. The family faced immense hardships, including typhus brought by occupying soldiers. Despite these challenges, my great-grandmother’s resilience shone through, seeing even the foggy day of her husband’s funeral as a blessing for its safety.

Hearing these stories makes us appreciate our fortunate lives today. They remind us of the resilience and hope that can emerge from the most difficult circumstances.

Do you still have distant relatives in Ukraine, or did your entire family leave or disappear from there?

Most of our direct relatives left Ukraine. An aunt who visited in the 1970s, whose husband had been sent to a Siberian gulag, initially thought our life in the West was staged because she couldn’t believe our prosperity. This underscores how fortunate we are to live in a part of the world with security, education, free speech, and other freedoms.

That’s why I decided to go to Kharkiv, despite the risks. Faktadruk is one of the largest printing companies in Europe, printing schoolbooks for all of Ukraine. When the Russians attack such a significant institution, it’s a deliberate attempt to undermine Ukrainian culture and education. Ukraine is a vast country, as big as the entire Midwest in the US. Covering this story is essential to highlight the impact on the printing industry and the resilience of the Ukrainian people.

Your heart drives you, Morten. You consistently seek the truth, which is why we admire you. I believe you’ll uncover important stories that can’t be orchestrated.

I received a message from a Ukrainian woman who hopes I’ll see some of Kharkiv’s beauty despite the war. Documenting the damage to the printing company and its importance to the industry is crucial. Rob, do these family stories still resonate with your family, or do they fade over time?

I’m the one reviving these stories. My cousin, a historian, and I keep history alive, ensuring we understand both sides. My uncle shared insights about the challenges wealthy landowners face, emphasizing the need for benevolence.

Thank you for sharing your story, Rob. After my trip to Ukraine, I might call you again to share my insights.

I’d love that. Stay safe, and I look forward to hearing from you.