Real world survival tips from Ukraine (via FerFAL)

thc0655
By thc0655 on Fri, Mar 6, 2015 - 4:26pm

FerFAL, author of Surviving the Economic Collapse, recently posted some very valuable survival tips on his website gleaned from people who are surviving in the current civil war in Ukraine.  There are numerous very valuable lessons we can learn from the survivors' accounts and advice, and we should learn them now vicariously before we have to learn them by personal experience in the "School of Hard Knocks."

http://www.ferfal.blogspot.com/2015/03/more-great-real-world-survival-lessons.html

Those accounts are far more valuable to me than all the theorizing by popular "doomologists" who have never been there or who have personal experience in a situation that may or may not be the situation I find myself in (such as a special forces soldier with combat experience).  FerFAL ends his post with the words below and he has me shouting "Amen!" in the aisle!

It goes without saying that not all situations are the same and what works well or makes sense in one specific case may not in another. Survivalism has no black and white answers. In fact, the key to survival is adaptability. Learn and adapt. Adapt the things you learn to your specific case. Having said that, by far the best source of information to learn from is real world events, other people's real experience. Too often we hear about survival “experts” telling others that things will go down this way or another and when you confront them with FACTS, things that actually happened, that actually went down a certain way, the answer usually floats around something along the lines of: "...yeah... but it would be completely different here, cuz this is 'Merica!". And if you ask why is it that they rather not learn from things that have actually happened, rather than prepare based on what they see on "The Walking Dead" the answer doesn’t make much more sense and it goes along something like "... cuz... this is 'Merica!"

Don’t be that guy. Learn from these experiences, from what others have gone through. It may not happen exactly the same but there are a TON of similarities, there always are. This is much more useful than wasting time debating the survival lessons seen in some TV series.

So here are some of my own personal insights triggered by his post to get the discussion going:

1. As FerFAL writes: "the key to survival is adaptability.  Learn and adapt."  And even though all people have the innate ability to be adaptable and to learn, it constantly amazes me how few people cultivate that adaptability and keep learning their whole lives.  One illustration: I was directing traffic at a major city intersection after a nasty auto accident had taken out the entire intersection with mangled cars.  I was making all the eastbound traffic turn southbound (and they  couldn't back up or do a U-turn).  I was amazed how many drivers were clueless about what to do after turning southbound.  One driver pulled up to me, blocked both lanes of drivers behind him needing to turn southbound and told me he HAD to go straight through the intersection (in spite of the mangled cars blocking his path) because he lived four blocks down that way. 

Me: You don't know any other way to get home?

Driver: No.

Me: How old are you sir?

Driver: 72.

Me: How long have you lived in South Philly?

Driver: My whole life.

Me (with impatient drivers honking their horns at us): You mean to tell me that after living here for 72 years you don't know any other way to get home four blocks from here except to go straight through this intersection?

Driver: No.

Me (biting my tongue, utterly amazed): Turn right here and go one block. Turn left at that light and go another block east. Turn left there at 13th Street and go north one block. Turn right there at the light and you'll be back on this street and you'll be home in three blocks.

So I have nightmares wondering what people would do when somebody starts shelling their neighborhood or when all their attempts to use their credit/debit cards don't work. It's most important that we ADAPT and OVERCOME.

2.  The challenges of various survival situations will place some very different demands on survivors.  FerFAL's post helped me divide survival situations into five types based on the broad types of resources, skills and strategies survivors would need:

A. Natural disaster (plague, earthquake, flood, etc.).

B. Economic collapse

C. Civil disorder (for whatever reasons: politics, economics, natural disaster)

D. Civil war

E. War (including invasion by foreign troops).

Imagine how different the survival advice would be from those in today's Ukrainian civil war from those who survived the Great Depression 1929-1939 or from the Indonesian tsunami in 1994.

Frankly, I believe civil war (such as in Ukraine today) is by far the most difficult disaster to survive and for a number of reasons.  There is no front line of the conflict/disaster: it's everywhere, nowhere, constant and changes from moment to moment.  Not only that, it's difficult to impossible to discern who's dangerous to you, why and how they're dangerous, and who's on your side (and that includes the active combatants and your own family members and neighbors).  And once military and police start taking sides, they bring to the disaster the most destructive and effective weapons mankind has to offer. Civilians cannot hope to find ways to cope with those weapons: battle tanks and other armored vehicles, aircraft, artillery, missiles and high tech surveillance methods.  The best way to survive a civil war is to avoid it geographically, if at all possible.  Otherwise, you end up in the many no-win situations FerFAL's survivors share in his post.

CAVEAT: Now, of course, there are some other disasters that would be worse than a civil war: an EMP that takes out the grid in the part of the country where I live and a nuclear weapon that detonates over my city.  Short of those two nightmares, I imagine a civil war would be the most difficult to cope with.

3. Road blocks and checkpoints complicate survival in extreme ways, especially if you can't be sure who's manning the road block and how/why they're going to respond to you if you try to pass.  (And here I'm not talking about a simple DUI or Border Patrol checkpoint.)  Once the first organized road blocks start going up, you have just a few hours or at most days to find an avenue to escape and solve your disaster problem with a geographical "cure."  After all or nearly all of the routes out of your city feature road blocks by organized criminals and/or civil war combatants your only option left is to survive in place (bug in).  Road blocks that are set up by organized criminals taking advantage of the inability of police or military to stop them would be extremely dangerous but would still be much easier to cope with than para/military road blocks in the middle of a civil war.  Criminal road blocks would be limited in scope (they wouldn't be able to block all the routes out of a city, but would focus on easy intersections/routes or on certain neighborhoods.)  Furthermore, if you were of a mind to do so, criminal road blocks could be handled with an assault by the good guys with superior fire power and skill.  Once the conflict had escalated sufficiently, road blocks in a civil war would be pretty much everywhere and essentially impassible.  One of FerFAL's contributors even pointed out that those who blocked the road also often thought to plant land mines in nearby fields to prevent attempts to skirt the road blocks with 4-wheel drive vehicles!  It was also noted that 4-wheel drive vehicles and nice cars were often simply confiscated at the road blocks.

4.  Accurate and timely information is POWER and SAVES LIVES.  If you're at the beach and you see the water withdraw drastically from the shore and fish flopping around on the sand, you should know that means a tsunami is going to hit in a few minutes and you can flee for your life.  The Ukrainian survivors often made it when others didn't because they had some piece of information which they acted upon which saved them (eg. how to act or what NOT to possess when observed or confronted by the combatants).  This is true in all aspects of life, but it's crucial to one's physical survival in a disaster scenario.  Survivors must put a high priority on acquiring and sharing pertinent information.  They must have the relationships, equipment and keen interest to gather the best and most timely information.

What did YOU gain from FerFAL's post?

Tom

14 Comments

capesurvivor's picture
capesurvivor
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Bummer

Hi Tom,

Thanks for posting, I've gotten out of touch with Ferfal since his move. My first depressing thought was...I just might not be able to deal with it and might not make it. Resilience declines with age IMO and the blog folks noted the older folks had a rough time. Actual strength, reaction time, even will, can be affected by chronic pain and illness. I had been an erstwhile prepper  for a long time but hastened my efforts and broadened my outlook after attending Chris's 2008 Rowe Conference. Seven years later, at Social Security age and with aforementioned infirmities, I'm much less optimistic about my abilities to weather a catastrophic reality. I never saw the movie " No Country For Old Men" but the title stayed with me. The very young and the old, however you want to define old, have the roughest times in any crisis. I think the day to day uncertainty of waiting for a knock on the door reminds me of my family's fate in Europe during the Holocaust.   The anxiety of waiting for pro-Russian soldiers to come and roust you is just not as clear cut as choosing to take several Nazis with you before you're shot. As an aside, Jews in any of these circumstances are always scapegoated and I would suspect Ukrainian Jews have been seriously evaluating their travel options, if they're still there.

Fortunately, many on this thread would, no doubt, fare better than I in that situation.

 

Steve

 
Boomer41's picture
Boomer41
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Many Good Lessons Here

Ferfal's lessons, gleaned from those who learned the hard way in Ukraine, are extremely enlightening. Many are counter-intuitive, which makes them even more useful.

I was encouraged to learn that the outskirts of a city (which is where I live) may well be safer than a small village and confirmed my opinion that the best defense is anonymity. Another important lesson is that a safe is no defense against a house search and anything valuable, useful or incriminating should be very well hidden.

Like CapeSurvivor, I am very aware of the limitations being increasingly imposed on me by advancing age. I have been quietly preparing for SHTF for over a decade now. At the rate things are going my canned beans will be past their 'use by' date (and maybe I won't even be around to eat them) before it finally happens.

thc0655's picture
thc0655
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More real life survival wisdom: Balkans edition

http://shtfschool.com/trading/first-trades-after-collapse/

If you aren't familiar with Selco and his shtfschool.com, here's your chance to start.  He survived the collapse/civil war in the Balkans and shares his experiences.  This most recent one focuses on buying, selling and trading when society is falling apart.  Not pretty, but you have to make yourself look in case you're ever in that kind of hell.

The items for trade during my SHTF very often changed value, and some of them became unavailable for some period of time, just to suddenly show up again much more expensive.

Yes, situation in the city dictated that, but also people, the black market lords made this happen. The whole situation was always changing where and if you can find what you were looking for.

Some of the items that were circulating in the city were completely new to everyone, one of the reasons was that all sorts of stuff from humanitarian aid was coming to the city through different channels and from all different parts of the world.

Some of those things became popular fast, others remained completely strange for us, but all had some kind of value...

I remember that trade very well because we were scared, but much more important was feelings afterwards when we all realized that feelings of „kindness“ but also „fear“ went away. That day we realized we are living in new world with new rules and acting like we did in civilized times or showing weakness can have brutal consequences.

We started to change and learn. We started to look and act like those guys during our trades, and whenever we found someone who was even harder and better at trading we also did what they did to us. We were lucky or maybe smart enough that we learned new rules very fast. There was little room for error. either you end up dead, or learn fast.

That was one of my first trades after the collapse, I traded many times later again, and I often used similar setup of intimidation like those guys there.

But there I learned for the first time few simple rules about trading like: never go to (closed) places where you do not know who to expect, how many, how well armed they are and similar stuff. Never have all your goods (or money) for trade with you, have plan what to do in case of surprises, never accept offers so easily because it can be seen as weakness, and weakness is sometimes call for problem, and many more.

And one more rule that we learned and you should never forget is to never go and risk your life because of pure „luxury items“ like that powdered eggs were for us at that moment.

 

 

A. M.'s picture
A. M.
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Selco

Runs one of the best websites on the topic out there. I find almost everything he posts is both useful and grounded in experience. It's well worth the time to check his writing out.

Cheers,

Aaron

Boomer41's picture
Boomer41
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Black Market Currency

Argentina, Ukraine, Balkans, Zimbabwe, Russia and other places which have had serious social and monetary problems all quickly developed a functional black market. When the local currency failed, the black market currency in most cases was the US Dollar.

Here in the US, we will not have an alternate currency to fall back on. When the dollar goes, the only thing left will be barter (and possibly pre-1963 'junk' silver coins). Ferfal wrote that he cut off links from a gold chain to finance small purchases, groceries etc.

I believe the lack of an alternate currency will be a major problem.

 

jgritter's picture
jgritter
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Assumptions

Thanks Tom,

This has been a very thought provoking post.  The idea that I'm struggling with is that of the Alpha Predator.  We have all seen the posts on line from the guy that say "Har, har, I don't have to prep, all I have to do if the shit hits the fan is take what I want from preppers".  Generally I've held that position to be repugnant, I'm rethinking it.

Ferfal has long said that an isolated, rural retreat is a mistake because they don't tend to have enough personal to maintain effective security.

The "Gray Man" tactic will not work in rural areas because everyone already knows who you are, were you work, your politics, etc.  If you are challenged and you are not a member of, or able to name someone who is, a member of a prominent family, local church or civic group who will vouch for you, or if you do not have a local address on your ID, then you are meat waiting to be processed.

It is generally assumed that there may be some kind of mass egress from urban areas.  Large scale evacuations are difficult even when authorities are facilitating.  If authorities and bandits are deliberately stopping traffic to collect food, weapons and equipment from displaced people, offering only the options of compliance or death, and sniping anyone with a weapon at long range, the idea of "the good guys" breaching a roadblock becomes moot.

Rather then rural areas being over run early in a crisis by throngs of desperate and disorganized people they may be over run at some later date by groups that are well organized, well armed, well equipped and well provisioned.

So, attempt to hold the moral high ground and be executed, compromise your morals and become a perpetrator, comply with the perpetrators ("I was only following orders", "I didn't know about the gas chambers"), or do nothing and let yourself and your loved ones be subjected to come what may (probably something very bad).  

My personal options are narrow.  I have been very vocal about the 3 E's.  I have been very vocal about the need to prep.  I am known to be a prepper.  I am well connected to the local powers that be and an elected official with the local government.  I have a reputation for being a liberal in a moderately conservative area.  If it were just me, I'd play the game for the thrill of the sport and if I crap out, oh well.  If I'm serious about assuring the best possible outcome for my loved ones then there seems little option but to attempt to run with the alpha predators, the prospect makes me feel a little sick.

John G

A. M.'s picture
A. M.
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Wild pessimism

JGritter,

I think that you're looking at the fringes of this issue as the 'most likely' outcomes. Chances are, the guys who think "har har, I don't have to prep..." will be starving, cold, miserable, and sick by the time they realize they have to raid people for supplies. We have seen a tremendous amount of romanticizing about raiding parties in media and literature, because it plays on our fears; those who act irresponsibly preying on those who are prudent. Sorta like our monetary system. But, like our monetary system, that model is horribly defective. 

For one, we need to discuss tactics, which I don't think will ever take root here.
Tactically, a numerically inferior defender has major advantages over the external threat. Having a plan, being able to execute it, and continually adapting the battlespace to be disorienting and stealing initiative from your adversaries will be very effective in dealing with numerically superior hostiles. 

Add in the fact that most people are unconsciously incompetent when it comes to handling weapons, and you've got this guy (who I partially blame for popularizing this fallacy), and this summary here is well worth consideration: 

Let’s make one thing clear – Smith is not a prepper.  He is not representative of what we do.  He’s an embarrassment to the preparedness community.  He is a thug, plain and simple.  He’s an out-of-shape criminal who is afraid to get caught, so he’s waiting for the breakdown of law and order to commit the crimes he so clearly wishes to perpetrate, without fear of spending time in prison.

There are people like this out there. In an "all out" collapse, such as what happened in Croatia/Bosnia/Ukraine and across Africa, these people come out of the woodwork to do evil. No doubt. 
But calling them Apex predators is a stretch. They are successful only so long as they don't run into opposition, and can retain mobility. 

Rural communities, when hit by raiders, will probably be hit harder, but with less frequency and premeditation. FerFAL, while an interesting character with some good anecdotes, presents rural survival as a sort of fearful situation in which nightmares unfold, but there are never specific accounts that can be cross-referenced. Selco, of SHTFSchool, stated here:

In fact, relatives who survived in rural setting simply had much better time.

From what I know about emergencies, and preparedness, that lack of anonymity within the rural community is going to make it very hard for any sort of raiders to launch effective campaigns against small towns. Communication, proximity and readiness will all influence how well individual families do, but smaller towns will be far more defensible than densely populated urban centers which are "target rich environments". 

The second charge I'd like to address is the countryside being overrun by desperate and well-armed groups. This is largely a question of mobility, and without functioning vehicles and ample fuel, it's just not going to happen. Without a doubt, if things get bad enough, this kinds of groups will emerge - but they will still be bounded by their fuel supply. 

If we define Rural as 15 minutes from downtown, and populations of 25-50,000, well, yes, Rural areas are in for a hard ride. If we're talking about places that are a couple hours from major population centers, and have no obvious strategic advantages, then rural areas just aren't important enough to risk your neck over.

If you're thinking of established authority as Apex predators, well... I think you'll be sorely disappointed. Bad leaders don't last long in true emergencies. Bold and vicious ones come to power quickly, and that's a problem... but they realize quick that attrition will sink them if they are overly aggressive. 

In short, I don't think your options are "run with the Apex predators or die". I think you've misjudged what/who the Apex are, and how effective the wannabes will be. 

EDIT: I think this is worth reading: http://shtfschool.com/general/urban-vs-rural-in-case-of-shtf/

Cheers,
Aaron

jgritter's picture
jgritter
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Cuz this is 'Murica

Aaron, 

What do you see as the most likely out come, and why?

John G

A. M.'s picture
A. M.
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Likely Outcomes

Hi John, 

That's a complicated question, but I'm more than happy to think it over with you. 

So in responding, there are two ways I thought to approach the problem; Either I can rely on anecdote and you'll have to sort of believe that I have some frame of reference, or I can cite events and we can forecast how those events would manifest in a "collapse" or austere society, because this topic is huge.

So, here's a loose breakdown, and we can talk on these points going forward with anecdote and case studies (if you're intersted):

1. It won't be homogeneous. How it goes down will vary between places. Places that have naturally good rainfall, access to rivers and the ocean and fertile soil will be better off. Interior regions which rely on large scale agriculture are going to see some hard times. Urban areas with large populations and staggering wealth gradients (which means basically any city in the U.S.) will be hit hard. 

Cohesive populations will be the key to maintaining security, and those rely on good leaders. This might be something as simple as an urban community watch that can provide security, or it might be a rural town. It's just impossible to tell who will come out on top, and why. 

2. Urban cohesive populations will be more at risk than rural ones. I say this because of their proximity and probability of hostile contact. Being in close proximity to other people who are desperate and well within walking distance will make security a continual problem for urban dwellers, no matter how well organized.

In addition, the urban scene is anonymous in many regards, where the rural environment is not. One of the common threads I've seen in accounts of collapse is random violence. From Afghanistan to Syria, Detroit to Croatia, people who want to know murder will use the collapse as a vehicle to commit it. Sniper alleys, ambushes and gangs will emerge, and they'll be hard as hell to deal with. 

Some of the will emerge in the countryside as well. 
If people choose to rationalize with them, to engage them in dialog and try and convince them to relent, they'll die. Don't go out the the house. Put security measures into place immediately, and prepare to hold the line. With ego on the line, these characters will be far more dubious, as there's an unspoken language that gangs only tolerate the vicious. Plan accordingly.

3. The concept of Law Enforcement will be utterly gone in urban populations. 

Police are people just like everyone else, and honor-bound as they may be, their first responsibility is their family. In collapses, we see time and again, that once LE can do nothing about the situation, they go someplace they can have an effect. In rural communities, where that anonymity doesn't exist, I think you'll be far more likely to encounter emergency deputizations and the formation of community militias as a 'mutual defense' co-op. These will be instrumental in keeping rural areas defensible, especially if they're close to a city.

4. The first "apex" wannabes will be thinned out rapidly. 
This is another thing that collapses reveal; often times the ones who just want to commit violences lose their minds. Literally, they stop rationalizing. They steal cars, drink recklessly, shoot at anything that moves, dance around in ladies wigs and rape their way into an early grave. Liberia/Sierra Leone in the 90's, as well as Zimbabwe, ISIS, Croatia and even more recent events in Ukraine have shown that these proto-warlords show up, and shock people with their propensity for violence. In many cases, they're wiped out quickly, as learning humility under those circumstances is likely fatal.

5. Those who survive are going to be a handful. I'm lookin' at ISIS here. There's absolutely no reason that if we collapsed, the U.S. couldn't be turned into a series of Islamic republics. I'm not saying this as an Islamophobe, it's happened in history, and is happening right now. 

We hear about Coptic Christians being murdered by the hundreds. What happens to those who renounce their faith and become Muslim? Any ideology that requires fealty or death will be wildfire in a post collapse society. We're not ready to deal with this as westerners, and I see several groups who are perfectly capable and willing of taking this opportunity if they had the opportunity; Marxists who have been consistently fomenting violence in places like Ferguson, and Right wing militants who use the the constitution to justify their agenda are both potential sources of this kind of trouble, if they amass power too quickly.

6. Those groups will establish legitimacy. Whichever powers emerge from the collapse, they won't be able to survive by violence alone. They're going to have to establish themselves as legitimate powers, and who knows what that might look like... Once it happens though, we may see ideological wars between regional factions.

I base this off what I know of criminal and violent types, some experience in a collapsed society, working around disasters and lots of case studies on the topic... but I'm perfectly willing to audit anything I've said for veracity and rigor. Please feel free to challenge anything you don't agree with.

Cheers,
Aaron 

jgritter's picture
jgritter
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Puzzled

Aaron,

Now I'm puzzled.  In reading your response (thank you, at adds a great deal to the thread), I find that I agree on almost every point.

 I don't know if you were being literal or figurative about the possible rise of an Islamic state in North America.  If you were being literal, I can't concur.  I have no difficulty imagining a Christian inspired, deranged and homicidal theocracy, but think it unlikely that a large muslim  movement would get much traction here.

We seem to be defining "Apex Predator" differently.  When I speak of an "Apex Predator" I am talking about a leader who actually is able to put together something effective, not a bunch of gang bangers running around tearing things up.  

Out of time for today, thanks again for you post,

John G

badScooter's picture
badScooter
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selco

Good tip on the Selco thing, thanks!

m

A. M.'s picture
A. M.
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Posts: 2367
JGritter

Hi John, 

As to the Islamic State, I don't believe they will turn North America into an Islamic state. The historical context I was referring to was the initial spread of Islam, which took a region that was complicated, multicultural and diverse in it's belief systems, and through overwhelming force, spread like wildfire. A big part of that success was "Convert or Die". 

The most important takeaway was the "Convert or Die" mentality. It is, unsurprisingly, effective. It could be any ethos that adopts this MO, if things get bad enough, and I could see a violent Christian revival in certain regions. In general, religion makes me very cautious.

So as to where we disagree, I think that the main fulcrum is getting to that Apex, and your choices once that happens. If an organized, systematic apex predator created system of destruction and pillaging without being routed by a good defense, chances are, there are still things you could do to avoid being caught up with those dangerous people. 

The other disagreement was Urban vs Rural. I may have misread your intentions in the initial post, but it sounded like you thought you'd have no choice but to fall in with whatever evil sort of character came to power (or at least toe the line) and that rural survival would be bleak. 

While both are certainly possible, it'd be difficult to substantiate those being your only options (if that's what you meant) so really, I mean to say "stay positive". Forces of Good are at work as well, and will continue to be, even if they're reduced by circumstance. 

Cheers, and sorry if I misunderstood you,
Aaron

jgritter's picture
jgritter
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Comply or Die

Aaron,

I think we're already seeing some of the "convert or die" taking place as reflected in the "Militarization of the police" thread.  We are being converted from "Home of the free and land of the brave" to "Shut up and do as you're told".

I think that the urban vs rural question will vary widely depending on a great many variables.

I was seeing the apex predator as someone who was highly effective rather then necessarily amoral or evil.  My hope is that there will be effective people who will be able to maintain the rule of law and the recognition of property and civil rights, and still be able to make the very hard calls that may be needed.  Someone who has what it takes to stop the rape and pillage even if it means killing those that would rape and pillage.  I believe that someone, sooner or later, is going to have to stake their life and stand their ground for the greater common good, history is full of such people.  I would hope that I might be, or stand with, such a person.  The prospect, however, is terrifying. " Die on your feet or live on your knees " may be cliche but there you have it.

I try to stay optimistic, but I admit to a bit of "a deer in the headlights" ☺ reaction when I look at the possibility of a generalized systemic collapse followed by mass starvation.  I think there is a very real possibility of this ending very, very badly.

John G

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pinecarr
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Life in a war zone: How people in Ukraine adapt to Survive

A Ferfal reader sent him another article about how people are trying to survive in the Ukraine.  Ferfal summarizes the lessons (re-)learned at the end of his article.

http://www.ferfal.blogspot.com/2015/04/life-in-war-zone-how-people-in-ukraine.html

[Ferfal:] Thanks for the email and link.
It is very interesting indeed. These are the real-world experiences I always try to learn from. Sometimes its new ideas, sometimes its the revalidation of old ones, happening and being used yet again.

 

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