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The day we fled our happy lives in Kyiv

The day we fled our happy lives in Kyiv

It was called Purpose, and it starred such big names as Mia Farrow, Peter Coyote, and Hal Holbrook.

“Because of this war, we realise that it is not the latest mobile phone or something on social media that makes us happy. A peaceful night’s sleep is way better than any technology.”

What does change mean when your world turns upside-down, and how do you find a way to restore the balance?

Ronnie Apteker has lived his life in the frontline of change. In the mid-1990s, when cellular telephony, the Internet, and democracy came to South Africa, he co-founded a pioneering company called Internet Solutions.

Later, flexing his energies as an artist and dream-maker, he uprooted to Hollywood to make a movie about finding and defining purpose in a world of change and chaos.

It was called Purpose, and it starred such big names as Mia Farrow, Peter Coyote, and Hal Holbrook.

Back home, the ever-restless Ronnie busied himself with multiple entrepreneurial endeavours and a variety of movies, including the Joburg gangster epic, Jerusalema, the East Rand comedy extravaganza, Footskating 101, and the inspirational tale of an aspiring standup comedian who defies his traditionalist father, Material.

Then, a few years ago, Ronnie set up his nest in a spacious, modern apartment in the heart of a city he calls “one of the world’s best kept secrets”. Kyiv, the gracious and dynamic capital of Ukraine.

He married Marta, became a proud father to a baby boy he calls “the Bunster”, and settled in to make the most of life. But life, as always, is subject to change.

In March this year, as Russian tanks crossed the border, and the sound of gunfire and artillery shells could be heard in the distance, Ronnie, Marta, and the Bunster made the arduous trek by bus to Poland, and then, finally, back to Johannesburg.

We caught up with Ronnie to hear his views on overcoming trauma and managing change.

You went through a massive life-change earlier this year, when you had to leave your beautiful home city of Kyiv behind as a result of the war. Looking back, what would you say was the single most important lesson you learned from this experience?

Family is everything. This is what you realise when you go through trauma like this. My brother Alon told us to get over to SA and come and stay with him. Alon and his family have shown us a lot of love and support. This is something you thank God for.

Most people in Ukraine do not have family outside of the country that they can go to in times of real trouble. The other thing you realise is that you don’t need much to live. The pandemic also showed the world this.

We left with our phones, credit cards, laptop, passports, and the clothes on our back. And of course, a bunch of stuff for the Bunster. A baby changes things. Food, nappies, clothes, books, toys…whatever we could fit in our bags.

To what extent do you embrace and welcome change in your personal and business life?

I know that change is a good thing, but I am quite set in my ways and overly sentimental, so I am not a big fan of physical change.

In terms of work, and new projects and adventures, that I am always excited about.

The change of leaving Kyiv on the second day of the war was not a fun change at all. I hope we never have to deal with anything like that ever again.

How do you manage change on an everyday basis? Do you have a particular app, strategy, or other tool that you use?

No apps or strategies. Time is the real challenge. There is never enough time to deal with change, let alone the daily routine.

The key is to learn to say “no” more. Gently, politely, respectfully.

A good night’s sleep helps. If you are well rested, you can deal with most change.

For many years, you’ve been involved in an industry that is at the forefront of change. What do you think is the most exciting technological change that society is undergoing at the moment?

Sadly, and I now see it with the Bunster, technology is all too controlling. Yes, I love technology. We all do. But it is not loving us back.

Again, because of this war, we realise that it is not the latest mobile phone or something on social media that makes us happy. A peaceful night’s sleep is way better than any technology.

Hang on, I think there is an app for sleeping. You can keep it! Peace brings a good night’s sleep.

How easily do you change your mind, especially when it comes to business decisions?

I am very open-minded, so I can change my mind if someone shows me a better way. The things that should not change are values.

If someone shows you an alternative, but it is a shortcut, then for sure this going to bite you one day. There are no shortcuts.

There is luck, and when you are lucky, thank God. But hard work underpins everything In business.

Looking back over the years, what is the biggest “life-changing moment” or event that really stands out for you?

Leaving Kyiv on the second day of the war, with the building shaking as bombs were falling on the city. We knew then that life had changed.

Of course, this is not a normal story, like a car accident or a divorce. There is trauma that is commonplace. This war is not the norm.

How has parenthood changed your life and the way you see the world?

I love this question. I became a dad late in life, at age 53. And on the journey of parenthood, we had the pandemic and now this nightmare war. And the one thing that is always the most important is the baby. It is all about the Bunster.

Everything we do is about making sure he is healthy and happy. I am sure at some point we will get some time back to ourselves.

The Bunster is becoming more cool with each passing week. He is now saying quite a few words, and soon I imagine he will start talking. I’m really looking forward to that.

I like to laugh, and I love a good joke. I can’t wait to be able to share a joke with this little man, soon.

Fatherhood has been an exhausting journey filled with magical moments.

If you were able to change one thing about yourself, what would that be?

The hoodie I am wearing. We left Kyiv literally with the shirts on our backs. If I could change something, I would get some new clothes.

All my favourite clothes are back in Kyiv. We don’t really buy anything here, because we don’t know where to put it. Living out of a suitcase is only fun when you are on holiday.

Is there any single book or movie you can recall that played a big role in changing your outlook and perspective on life?

For sure. My own book, Funny Business! And now, there is Rise, coming out in June on Disney+. You don’t want to miss this film. It’s about a family who move from Nigeria to the US to pursue a dream of playing basketball in the big league. You can see the trailer here.

What change are you most looking forward to in your personal or business life?

Getting back to Kyiv. We hope still this year. Please God this nightmare war ends soon.


Change expert, BrightRock, believes that the big change equals big opportunity.

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