It’s weird thinking about the way that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine creates deep side effects that have little to do with the original goals of the conflict.
These complexities have helped to stress-test our broader global culture. It’s been eye-opening, in a way, to see how quickly companies have shifted their models and their messaging because of the conflict—whether it’s Starbucks or McDonald’s shuttering stores or DuckDuckGo welcoming outcry from conservatives by admitting it’s going to downrank propaganda on its search engine. (One particular example worth keeping an eye on: The Ukraine-based MacPaw, the makers of the popular Mac-based tools SetApp and CleanMyMac, has taken a very public stance on the conflict, to the point where it recently dropped an ad-blocking service from its SetApp offering because it believed the app tunneled traffic through Russian servers.)
I understand why these sanctions exist, but I hope they end soon—as Russian leadership comes to its senses. But at the same time, I worry about Russian culture being hit with the same broad brush as the Russian economy. To me, seeing concerts based around the works of Russian composers cancelled because of this conflict is counterproductive—especially, as in the case of Tchaikovsky, they’ve long been dead. (The joke I made upon hearing this, as dark as it sounds, is whether we’re going to see boycotts of Tetris, despite the fact that Alexey Pajitnov has lived in the U.S. for more than 30 years.)
It’s in this light that I find myself in a position where I’m helping a friend, based in Russia amid this strange conflict, keep his website online.
Yuri Litvinenko, a writer and journalist who has worked in multiple languages for a few years, is one person, of many, who was caught in the middle of all this mess—and he would be quick to tell you that he has it easy right now. Over the years, I’ve worked with him closely, and his track record as a journalist is strong—he does good work in a challenging field.
But, beyond his day job, he’s also someone who has fostered a love of vintage technology with his work. I stumbled upon his writing one day, and was wowed; soon after, he became a regular contributor to Tedium. Eventually, he started a site of his own, called 30pin, to publish his own reported pieces on vintage technology. (I syndicated a piece of his in January, on rubbery materials on vintage gadgets.)
Because of the sanctions, he had a problem. He would no longer be able to maintain his site, because (beyond the obvious challenges of the moment) he literally had no way to pay for his hosting and domain ownership, because the major payment processors cut off access to the global financial system. This bothered me, because as someone who helped Yuri write some of his earliest pieces for an English-language audience, I saw him having to give up work he was passionate about because of something he didn’t cause.
When it comes down to it, Yuri’s website does not deserve to go down. Those are his words and his ideas, and his perspective is his own. And ultimately, I made the choice to help a friend and fellow traveler in the self-publishing game. Last week, I took temporary ownership of 30pin’s hosting and domains. My hope is that I do not have to do so for very long, that I can give them back to him sooner rather than later, so he can restart this thing he clearly put a lot of work into and only had to give up because his country’s leader decided to attack another country, unprovoked.
This is a difficult time; these are difficult circumstances. I’m not going to say this gesture is world-changing. It’s, by definition, an exchange between two friends. When it comes down to it, a lot of people are getting caught in the middle of this conflict, on both sides.
In this strange moment, let’s not forget to stay human.
Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes
Time left on clock ⏲: alarm goes off, and then some (wanted to get this one right)