An Interview with Santosh Govindaraju (USA)
The Awakening Times (TAT): What initiated your involvement in ACT4Ukraine?
Santosh Govindaraju (SG): After watching the news for a few weeks, I decided that I could no longer just watch what was happening, and I had to go out and do something about it. I remembered from studying World War 2, how some people just sat aside, not doing anything about what they saw, and I didn’t want to be one of those people. If this was purely a military fight, where armies are fighting armies, I wouldn’t have gone, but with the civilian impact, it really yanked my heart to do something about it, go help and serve and be part of the solution. I’ve always maintained a strong sense of stewardship in all of my work and activities, and that urge is really drives me.
TAT: Speaking of World War 2, do you think the Ukrainian situation has the same potential gravity on the international stage as WW2?
SG: Only to the extent that ordinary civilians, innocent civilians, are being affected, being attacked and affected. With the Geneva Convention, there are certain policies that we, as a global society, have set regarding what is acceptable, and when civilians are being targeted and attacked, that for me is the parallel to World War 2.
TAT: How have the ACT4Ukraine activities grown since you started being involved?
SG: Initially, ACT UK arrived with the delivery of food supplies, which are much needed in Ukraine. They discovered, while they were in Romania, that Ukrainians are no longer fleeing Ukraine into Romania, but staying in Ukraine, and when I arrived, I realised why. I’ve been a student of war and strategy for decades, since I was a young child. It made a lot of sense to me in that their bank accounts, their purchasing power, their currency, their cell phones, are all Ukrainian and their language won’t get them very far in foreign countries; they’ll be very dependent. The feeling of dependency is something that people who are accustomed to being free, are not used to. I understood why they’d rather remain in a safer part of Ukraine; the area in southwest Ukraine. It’s far from Russia, far from Belarus. Unlike Levine, which has a lot of humanitarian activity, but gets attacked because of its proximity to Belarus, this is a low value target area, no major cities, and many displaced Ukrainians are residing in this area because it’s safer. There it doesn’t even feel like there’s a war, other than that there are 1000s of internally displaced Ukrainians living in the area. We found that many of these internally displaced Ukrainians are being housed at facilities that were not intended for residential occupancy.
Our work is broken down into 3 areas. 1 is adapting these facilities to become more hospitable to residential occupancy, which includes building showers, purchasing washer and dryer systems so that they can do laundry, we buy more commercial cooking equipment so that the staff and volunteers can cook more efficiently for their 100s of guests. Now the residents feel much more decent. Think about your own life: if you can’t take a shower every morning, how productive are you? How good do you feel about yourself? Having addressed that, has allowed us to become much more engaged in the arts, yoga, meditation, and all the other mental health activities. Mental health is still a huge issue. We’re working with women and children who are away from their husbands, most of whom are fighting in the war. There are deep scars and worry and stress in these families, for their families and loved ones that are in conflict areas. Our efforts where to first address the physical issues of the buildings, and supply them with food and pharmaceuticals, which has allowed us to elevate the residents that we serve. The displaced residents are engaging wholeheartedly in the arts activities, the yoga and meditation, and they’re seeing and feeling the changes. Our presence alone is an uplifting element for them; they are just so grateful. The spirit of gratitude that people from other countries would actually come and help, come to a country of war and help these folks, gives them so much comfort, knowing that the world cares about them.
TAT: So, there is a sequence of requirements that need to be addressed… Beyond your basic survival: food, shelter, clothing, the next step is simple dignity, and only then you can begin to address the more emotional and psychological requirements. Would you say that the biggest need at the moment in Ukraine right now, is that basic dignity?
SG: Yes. If you think about even laundry: we purchased laundry machines, washer and dryers, because these people came with a small bag and the clothes on their back. They often wear the same set of clothes. When they left, it was winter and now it’s summer, so we’re bringing summer clothing to them
TAT: You mentioned that you are student of war and strategy. What else are you into? Are you full time into public service?
SG: The way I was raised, I was educated in all aspects: academics, the arts, I’m a dancer, I’m a performer in the theatre. Understanding war and warfare are part of some of the ancient traditional Indian studies. You have to be a master of all these different areas. Not only did you need to be an academic and study history, you had mathematics and sciences and so on. You had to be a master in the performing arts, so I’m a performer and a theatrical person, but I also had to study politics, economics, warfare, all these different things. I didn’t have a choice, I just had to learn. My profession is more creative. I’m a creative person that happens to be really good at mathematics. My personal businesses are in real estate development. I develop commercial properties like hotels and resorts, office buildings, retail centres, communities where people live. It requires a balance of being creative in the vision and the design, as well as understanding economics to make it financially work. I also produce Hollywood feature films. I bring the business to show business: it’s not “show art”, it’s “show business”, but in all these things, I carry a spirit of caring for our community, of concern for how to govern, of stewardship. Everything I do, I make sure I leave it better than how I found it. Making sure that the properties I developed are better today than how we found them yesterday. I’ve been blessed to be able to focus on what I want to do, so only right now I’m 100%, focused on ACT4Ukraine. At other times, I might be focused on another project, then I might say, “Now, I’m gonna go work on this film,” and so I choose those things that I enjoy working on. Whatever I do, I give it a single pointed focus. I want to succeed and be the best at whatever I’m doing. I don’t want to just go for a couple days and come back from Ukraine, it wouldn’t really accomplish much.
TAT: Would you say would you say the broadness of your education makes you more valuable to society?
SG: I’ve found myself the most effective in areas that are multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary, where the different disciplines intersect. Even in real estate… it’s creative design, it’s engineering, multiple aspects. Then there’s economics and finance involved. I like to use the different parts of my brain. But it also allows me to evaluate every situation from different verticals of thought processes. I look at every situation with multiple layers, and I can figure out what the optimal execution is. It helped that my intuition is really strong, when I’m in the field, I can quickly figure out, like in Ukraine, what’s necessary.I had no plan when I arrived, I can’t make a plan until I see what the conditions are. It’s hard to perceive those conditions from a desktop.
TAT: How much of your time are you spending in Ukraine now?
SG: I arrived in Ukraine on April 7 and I planned on being there until the middle of June. I only came back for one week, for my wife’s birthday and Mother’s Day; I still have to be a good husband. This trip for 6 days, is for my oldest son’s high school graduation; I still have to be a good father. Other than those mandatory requirements of good husband, good father, I am in Ukraine.
TAT: What have you got planned for Ukraine? What’s in the pipeline?
SG: Last week we uncovered that there are 4 facilities that are housing women, 2 of them are women suffering from mental health, who have been evacuated from the worst parts of Ukraine in the Luhansk. area. Similarly, there are 2 other facilities that house women who are victims of domestic violence. One of the psychiatric hospital facilities for women with psychiatric issues, with over 200 Women only has 1 shower, so we’re building 5 five more showers and that facility right now. Our team is already working on that plan. We’re buying new commercial ovens for them. We’re buying industrial size washing machines as well.
Part of the job is we find these facilities with great staff, and the staff and the volunteers in Ukraine are phenomenal, and we’re only sweetening and improving their ability to serve by giving them better tools. To have a longer term sustainable process, if I can give tools to the existing volunteers, to make their lives easier than they are, they can last longer, otherwise they’ll burn out. The next step is training in yoga and meditation, for them so that we won’t be dependent on a constant stream of volunteers.
TAT: Making yourself obsolete as soon as possible…
SG: That’s how my products usually work. That’s why I can work on a project and disappear, because at some point, they don’t need me anymore. I like to be not needed.
TAT: If you’re talking about yoga, and meditation and that kind of stuff, where do you draw from to teach that? Are you working with Mohanji Foundation for that, or the Himalayan School of Yoga?
SG: Yes. Several of their acaharyas have come out and taught classes. Devi Mohan was just here this past weekend in Ukraine, conducting some classes; they’re the ones that are going to be teaching the teachers there. We just translated the Power of Purity, meditation into Ukrainian: on my first day there, we were passing out food and one woman was just so emotionally touched, and started speaking to us, I said, “Wait a minute, you speak English?” The next day, I messaged her, I said, “You know, will you help us in executing our plans,” and she has found amazing new, positive purpose during this difficult time in helping us help other Ukrainians. She translated Power of Purity into Ukrainian for us
TAT: Tell us about Casa Karuna.
SG: We needed a facility that was more affordable for volunteers to stay at and we were receiving 30 tonnes of food from ACT UK, and we needed a place to store that as well. This facility was actually ideally designed for us. The ground floor is a storage hall, where we have stored the food, then upstairs, there are two flats with three bedrooms each. We currently have 2 beds in each room, so we could staff up to 12 volunteers at any given time, quite comfortably.
TAT: Are you looking to get as much of those of that stuff from Ukraine itself as possible?
SG: This facility is in Romania, but you bring up a good point. Maybe we can find displaced Ukrainians who want to serve and work with us and we can give them this place to stay, they can find comfort and decent housing, as well as purpose by serving our mission…
TAT: Tell me a bit about some of the best and worst things that you’ve seen while you’re over there.
SG: The best is the constant gratitude that we get from Ukrainians. They just keep sending us messages of gratitude to us, even the children, who are missing their fathers. They’re seeing a lot of trauma. They just come up and want to hug. When you’re there serving, you can feel how your presence has a calming influence on the people there, that’s what touches me the most. The worst… There are people who profit from devastation, which goes against every ounce of my moral fabric. Luckily, we have a good sixth sense about that, and good people around us to warn and guide us. We saw it with pandemic too, people profiting off of the masks and all the personal protection for the first responders, like people are importing these things, selling these things, the government contracts, and making fortunes…
TAT: From what you’ve seen, do you reckon it’s going to be a prolonged conflict, or can we look forward to speedy, peaceful resolution?
SG: One of the earliest books on methods and practices and strategies of war was written around 300 BC by Indian philosopher Chanakya, it’s called the Arthashastra, and everything Putin is doing actually follows a lot of those strategies to the tee. Except for one thing, which is that all those strategies were taught in a way that only works when you have the Dharma (righteousness), when you’re doing it for the right reasons. When I analyse the landscape, what I see today is that there is no win for Putin, because he’ll never occupy Ukraine. It’s impossible. When you see the value that people place on their freedom… 45 million Ukrainians will never allow themselves be subject to a dictator, and you can’t occupy a country 45 million, with 100,000 soldiers. Also, Ukraine feeds the world: Africa, the Middle East, everywhere. So, I don’t see the other powers allowing Russia to successfully control the Black Sea. If he forges ahead in that path, he’ll see additional conflict. If Putin doesn’t have success, it’s the end of him; they’ll remove him from within Russia, for having gone through this. The biggest challenge is: how can the world create a graceful exit for Putin? That’s the hard part, because there is no win, there’s only destruction, there’s no win. And at what point does this become just a war of endurance? And you’re inflicting wounds on yourself in the process, at great financial cost to both sides. So, I think that the biggest challenge for the world is: what does that graceful exit look like? Does it require Ukraine to give up some small piece, as, but if you ask the Ukrainians, they’re not giving up anything, none of that stuff. I mean, sometimes it could be a piece of paper, right? “Here’s a sticker.” Like little kids, you give him a little sticker… But it doesn’t have to be that, it could be something else. If it’s not Ukrainian land, I don’t know what else. I think that’s where the creative thinking needs to come in. But, because I have such a hard time seeing what that other thing could be, I think that it’s going to be a grave situation for Putin.
On one hand, this could end in less than 30 days, but it requires egos to be put to rest. I’ve been in these situations before, in civil litigation, I can’t understand irrationality. I used to play a lot of chess and I can see 10 steps ahead, and I tell people, “This is what’s going to happen,” and they said, “You can’t tell me that.” I’m pointing out that every path that you take leads to this point, based on the other pertinent factors, and so every path of aggression that Putin takes, has zero in, aggression will not yield him a single win
TAT: If the world leaders and policy makers read this article, what would your advice to them be?
SG: The only solution I can think of is dark: that you support internal removal of Putin.
TAT: Espionage, cloak and gagger….?
SG: That kind of thing, and it’s prescribed in the Arthashastra, in 300 BC as well. What Putin is using is 2000 year old strategy, when you’ve studied it, you can see it for what it is. In this situation, that is the only way, and that’s part of what sanctions do; it makes life so hard that at some point, the endurance of individuals in Russia runs out, you know, it’s a war of attrition. The only advantage that Ukrainians have is that they’re fighting for freedom, which has Dharma on behind it, the fuel of positive Dharma behind it: the ability of people to live according to their free will and choice. That is a much more powerful reason to die and fight than the other side. I think most Russians have no idea why they’re there.
TAT: What advice would you give to someone who’s concerned about Ukraine and wants to lend aid and doesn’t know where to start?
SG: There are several aid organisations that are delivering aid through Poland, in Warsaw, you can look them up online. In America, there’s a centre in Chicago, that you can ship aid to, for Ukraine, and they’ll take care of the shipping costs over to Poland, to be delivered into Ukraine. We’re just one of several grassroots efforts. I like to distinguish us as a grassroots effort. I’ve met others who are doing similar things. One is called Hands on Global, hey consist mainly of nurses who go around providing primary care and sourcing pharmaceuticals, for the internally displaced Ukrainians. Most people thought to house Ukrainian refugees in their country, in their homes, but that is really not what Ukrainians want to do. It’s a very desperate situation for them. Although I do hear that some are taking advantage of open visa opportunities that they were previously unable to. Some people are migrating to Germany, they had intended to move to Germany before, but never had the chance to get a visa. They can use this as a as a stepping stone for that goal, but most Ukrainians do not want to leave their country. Helping Ukrainians in Ukraine is most important thing. We found, for example, at our first primary school, that the school facility is housing displaced Ukrainians, doing an amazing job, as are many others like it. Maybe reaching out and finding those places, the schools, that are serving as centres and say, “Hey, what do you need? Let us help you.” I spend maybe 10,000 US dollars per facility, and we get showers, we get laundry equipment, we get commercial kitchen equipment, all these tools. 10,000 dollars gives me all those fixes, so it doesn’t take a whole lot.
TAT: Long term prognosis: doom or optimism?
SG: Optimism. I am the eternal optimist, but also when I see the spirit of Ukrainians, they are going to come back. This has united the country.
TAT: Final thoughts?
SG: If you have the opportunity to come to some of the safe areas of Ukraine, even after the war, you can, Come on out, the presence alone makes a difference in these people’s lives, show them that the rest of the world actually cares.