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'I am grateful for the NS tekan I received': Ix Shen on how National Service helped him in Ukrainian war

'I am grateful for the NS tekan I received': Ix Shen on how National Service helped him in Ukrainian war
Ix Shen said that his observations of Ukrainians’ resilience and devotion during the war helps him keep faith.
PHOTO: AsiaOne/Yeo Shu Hui

For Ix Shen, drinking teh tarik at the balcony of his home in Kyiv, Ukraine, on the night of Feb 23 last year is an event that will always be etched in his memory.

He was thinking about whether to leave or stay in the capital. Then, he saw a circular flash in the sky. What ensued the next day was Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the worst conflict in Europe since World War II.

Ix's harrowing experiences are shared in his new book titled Impressions of an Invasion — A Correspondent in Ukraine, which was launched yesterday (May 25).

Speaking to AsiaOne at the launch, the 51-year-old former TV actor said he knew at that time that Russian tanks had crossed Ukraine's eastern borders and there was going to be an escalation of the fight, but he did not expect that the Russians would bring the fight into the capital city.

He said: "When I realised that Russia is escalating the fight, it means that we are not able to escape anymore."

Proud to be a Singaporean

In the following months of the Russian-Ukraine war, Ix appeared frequently in Singapore media to update on the battle situation. However, he admitted that he hadn't been keeping up much with news from Singapore as he was focused on getting updates about Ukraine to stay alive.

It was only after he and his wife, an Ukrainian, evacuated to safety in Poland that he read about Singapore's stance against Russia's actions.

He told AsiaOne: "I am very proud that we stand against unprovoked aggression. I would not have expected less because that's how I believe our country has always been."

He added that his training during National Service helped him in Ukraine, as it got him familiar with weapons and their sounds.

"I know when the weapons are pointing in or away from my direction. That helps me to stay out of harm's way," said Ix.

Ix shared that he was in 1st Battalion, Singapore Guards during active service and was in the People's Defence Force during reservist.

He also said that receiving "tekan" during his National Service helped him build up his resilience and understand his breaking point — he found out that his breaking point is actually a lot further than what he thought.

"When things go wrong and the future might look bleak, you will need to find the inner strength that you have and it is quite difficult for you to reach for that strength if you have never really been pushed. In some ways, I am grateful for the 'tekan' that I have received," he shared.

"Tekan" is a Singapore term referring to punishment in military terms.

Not losing faith

Despite the horrors that Ix has seen in the Ukraine war, his observations of Ukrainians' resilience and devotion helps him keep faith.

He said: "There is no logic in fighting the stronger army, there is no logic in fighting an enemy when you don't have enough weapons and there is no logic in staying together as one country when other countries asked the President to flee.

"But the Ukrainians are doing it. These are the values they believe in and this is the life that they want to live for. This actually makes me more hopeful because there is still so much more to observe and learn from them."


He also recalled the time where he returned to Ukraine to provide humanitarian aid. He worked closely with the medical team and found their sense of service very inspiring.

He said: "A lot of medical professionals have almost no regard for their personal safety in the course of saving another life."

Ix added, he heard from a family friend who was working in the medical field that there was a patriotic surgeon in Chernihiv — a city in northern Ukraine — who continued to operate on paediatric patients as the hospital was being "shelled".

"The nurses who were assisting him had to use torchlights to continue the surgery as the electricity had been cut off," he said.

Now, Ix is still helping in humanitarian aid by facilitating in pairing hospital needs with corporate and private donors. He added that the list is still very long.

Meeting up with ex-colleagues and future plans

Since returning to Singapore in February, Ix has been busy settling the book deal, preparing for its launch and being interviewed by the media.

He also caught up with his former actor colleagues for dinner, such as Zheng Geping, Hong Huifang, Yvonne Lim and Xiang Yun.

He said: "Everyone is worried about me. I always tell them the same — just be grateful that we are alive. We also talked about the old times."

Ix also said that his wife, who is a medical doctor, remains in Poland and shutters back and forth between Ukraine to see her patients. He is worried about her and keeps in contact with her every day. As our interview proceeded, he received a message from his wife, asking if she could call him then.

Regarding their future plans, Ix said that they are comfortable in Poland and are looking to live there for the time being. When the situation in Ukraine stabilises, they will return.

He said: "For my wife, Ukraine is still home. We still have an apartment in Kyiv and she has a lot of patients there. So ultimately, when the opportunity presents itself, we would like to set up a clinic in Kyiv."


A post shared by IX Shen (@ixshen)

Impressions of an Invasion — A Correspondent in Ukraine is now available in all major bookstores islandwide and online shops for $23.35 (before GST). Part of the proceeds from the book sales will be used to provide medical assistance to those affected by the invasion.

Ix will also have a meet-and-greet session this Sunday (May 28) from 3pm to 4pm at Times Waterway Point.

ALSO READ: 'Indifference makes me lose hope': Ix Shen releases memoir of surviving Russia's invasion of Ukraine

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