Hello to all. My name is Harry Mitsidis and I am the founder of NomadMania. Some of you know me, some of you may know of me, most of you don’t. For the first time in my life I am not interested in travel. I have been stuck in bed, with a terrible pain in my stomach, an inability to eat or to really think. Did I tell you I am married to a Ukrainian? That my parents-in-law are in a bunker right now?
In answer to the unprecedented number of messages that were received as a response to our newsletter of March 2 and our statement on the war in Ukraine, I find it necessary to send one more message, a personal one, which will be the last time I, or NomadMania, discusses this issue and our policy.
First, I would like to thank those of you – and you are the majority – who thanked NomadMania for our attitude and support of Ukraine and for taking a clear stand. Thanks to those who said ‘I am proud to be part of NomadMania’ and to those who decided to send an extra donation. And a special, incredibly tragic thank you, to the 3 Russians who wrote to thank us too. This just makes me want to cry more than words can express.
Second, I condemn beyond words those few messages we received which are mean-spirited, bullying, threatening and attempting to intimidate us. Nobody from our team will engage with this kind of messages. Yes, everyone is angry and everyone is trying to find a way to express their feelings, maybe not in the best of ways, granted, but writing and threatening will get you nowhere. I will not allow our Manager to be threatened and mistreated, and if this continues the NomadMania website will go off the air, you can call it one more victim of this senseless war. And for Milana, our manager who comes from Bosnia and Herzegovina and has childhood memories of war herself, this whole experience is much closer to home than you think and she is making a huge effort to do her job in a professional and courteous way, and note that her opinions may be different from NomadMania as well. So, anybody decent reading this, send an email to Milana (firstname.lastname@example.org) because she really deserves it and tell her you love her and her work; if you want to send a real gift, email me and I will give you the postal address.
Third, I want to thank the wise people. I will call you this way. It’s obvious I am too human, too destroyed, too empty within right now to be able to take any decisions that make absolute sense. I am deeply flawed. The wise people wrote condemning the war in every way but expressing their concern that we are forgetting the human factor. These wise people reminded me of the thousands, millions of Russians who are disgusted at what is happening right now in every way, and on top of that have to live with the shame of this being done in the name of their country. Thank you wise people, you are probably not married to a Ukrainian and your parents-in-law are not in a bunker, so you can think straighter than me. Thanks to you, I have decided to ditch the senseless policy of banning all Russians from NomadMania events or not going to events because there are Russian participants there. I apologise for answering to my hurt with more hurt. I am too small a person, I admit. So yes, all people regardless of where they come from who stand against this terrible war will always be welcome in anything to do with NomadMania and anything to do with me.
Let me make clear that at no time was it even hinted that NomadMania, or I personally, are against Russia and Belarus as countries/cultures. Quite the contrary. I am one of the few people to have been to each one of the 83 recognised administrative divisions of Russia. Every time I have loved it, the variety, the food, those conversations with strangers on endless train rides. There is no place quite like Russia and I am pained at the prospect that I may never see it again. I am pained at the prospect that it will take decades for people to want to engage with Russia again. But no pain that I feel, no matter how deep, compares to that of the Ukrainians right now. I try to remind myself just how lucky I am, how lucky anyone is to be able to write an email from bed without fear.
Some of you said we are hypocrites, why didn’t we say anything about other conflicts and hinted that we are racist, that we only care because Ukrainians are Europeans. That shows your own limitations and racism. Anyone who has ever followed NomadMania knows that we have gone out of our way, more than any other site of its kind, to be inclusive to everyone. We have a member of staff from Ghana, and had one from Iran; we just launched the LPI index to highlight people from countries which don’t export travellers and our last interviewee is from Algeria. When I was born in London 50 years ago, I nearly died at birth – my life was saved by a nurse from Nigeria. Perhaps a hint as to why we are speaking now – the UN has spoken, for the first time after 40 years having an emergency session with 141 countries opposing this senseless war. - even Serbia. If the inflexible machine of the UN can do it, then it’s our obligation to do it. Maybe we haven’t done enough to point attention to conflicts elsewhere, I agree, maybe we should try harder but we really do want to focus on the good in the world, not the endless misery of so many people.
Some of you mentioned Yugoslavia, where were we then? Well, NomadMania only started in 2012 so that could not be relevant to our project, but let me tell you a personal story about Yugoslavia. When Belgrade was bombed in 1999, I felt so sick I wanted to die. I was living in Helsinki at the time and was at least thankful that I wasn’t in an aggressor NATO country but still I was from one and I hated myself. I went to the local library where the friendly Finnish librarian found an old Linguaphone method of learning Serbo-Croatian from 1974, with tapes and all. And slowly, for 3 long years, I sat, or lay on the floor with a cassette recorder, listening to tapes, then buying newspapers and underlining unknown words trying to decipher a new (Cyrillic) script and I learned the language and befriended its people, all because of my feelings toward this injustice. Serbian is the only foreign language I am fluent in. Then, when I decided to make The Best Travelled (the earlier version of NomadMania), I contracted a designer from Serbia who was our first IT for 5 years until he decided to move on professionally. Again, to do something tiny to erase the injustice. And when it came to finding a manager, again I looked for a Serbian. What did you do for Yugoslavia?
Our other measures as announced in the newsletter will remain valid until there is peace, and that is how it will be.
I want to thank the 41 people who have chosen to delete their profile from NomadMania and say sorry that we were not the place you had hoped for. I want to especially thank our community of 368 travellers from Belarus, none of whom has deleted their profile yet – that sends its own powerful signal, thank you. And I want to thank those who have clicked the support Ukraine button either privately or openly – this is obviously only symbolic, I wish we could do more as a website but I think the team is now just too shell-shocked; maybe we will wake up soon and become more proactive. When this is all over, NomadMania will try its best to become a bridge of understanding. This will most certainly be needed.
For now, I ask all of you to send that love to Milana, and then send some support to any organization helping Ukraine and its people. And for the Ukrainians out there, we have available accommodation in Warsaw and in Tallinn. Spread the word and contact any of our team for details.