Theatre Of Horror In Ukraine

We took prisoners, brought them to the detachment… We didn’t shoot them, that was too easy a death for them; we stuck them with ramrods like pigs, we cut them to pieces. I went to look at it… I waited a long time for the moment when their eyes would begin to burst from pain… The pupils… What do you know about it! They burned my mother and little sisters on a bonfire in the middle of our village…

— Svetlana Alexievich, The Unwomanly Face of War

This is her first book. Exiled and hounded in Soviet Russia, this Noble-prize winning journalist has lived most of her life out there and in Belarus, currently ruled by another dictator, Vladimir Putin’s war-mongering buddy. Surrounded by women who fought the bloody battles in the Second World War against the marauding fascists of Adolf Hitler, the journalist documented the lives and times of scores of Soviet women: snipers, nurses, doctors, tank drivers, captains, soldiers, mothers and sisters and daughters who were at the front.

She quotes Osip Mandelstam: Millions of the cheaply killed / Have trod the path in darkness…

She writes, with deep sadness, borne out of the history of her own ravaged land which defeated the fascists: ‘‘During World War II, the world was witness to a women’s phenomenon. Women served in all branches of the military in many countries of the world: 225,000 in the British army, 450,000 to 500,000 in the American, 500,000 in German… About a million women fought in the Soviet army…

Svetlana writes in the second chapter, A Human Being is Greater than War: “The children of the victors. What is the first thing I remember about the war…? My childhood anguish amid the incomprehensible and frightening words. The war was remembered all the time: at school and at home, at weddings and christenings, at celebrations and wakes. Even in children’s conversations. The neighbour’s boy once asked me: ‘What do people do under the ground…? How do they live there…?’ We too, wanted to unravel the mystery of war… It was then that I began to think about death…”

Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, painted with the immense intensity of immaculate pain, in the backdrop of bombings and the Holocaust, has been resurrected yet again in our own special distances of angst and anger, as Ukraine fights back, and it is indeed fighting back with its back to the wall, and the Russians know it, especially the detached, dehumanized, dictator in Moscow, who seems to have learnt no lessons from the Nazi barbarism in his own beloved homeland which sacrificed more than 20 million fighting people in the war, as the Red Army conquered Berlin and Hitler committed suicide.

Other memories of immaculate insomnia are creeping back, as real time war stories, as Kiev holds on, children die, run for their lives, and more than 1 million Ukrainians are turned refugees in a senseless war which Russians do not support and which even Putin seems to have no clue about.

Is he thinking of Adolf these days in his hallucinations of becoming Peter the Great, the Tzar of the erstwhile Russian empire, the immortal King of Kremlin? Isolated by the world, his banks and economy squeezed out, his own people hating him, and even China fudging its bets since it has huge stakes in western and global economy, this suicidal shadow he has willfully cast upon himself, seems so historically familiar. Indeed, this could be the last hurrah for Tsar Putin, with his personally stocked up billions in hidden accounts and the many luxury yachts and dachas at stake, seemingly appearing like dust in a desert.

An Indian student walks across and is shot. Others somehow escape to the border, helpless at the various check posts. Ukrainians hugging each other, as if for the last time, lovers and beloveds, mothers and daughters, soldiers, young and old. Women learning how to operate the famous Kalashnikov. A world boxing champion picks up the gun. A tennis player builds up a solidarity network while playing in Mexico. A former beauty queen joins the barricades.

ALSO READ: Will Putin Dismember Ukraine?

And along with their gutsy president, in fatigue, no more a comic artist of great excellence, but a soldier leading from the front, refusing to run, becoming a democratic role model when compared to a totalitarian Putin.

How many Russian soldiers have been killed so far, and how many wounded in this mindless, meaningless war, is a conjecture not even Putin can solve. Now, it is being revealed that they did not even know why they were fighting the war in the first instance: surely, this is no war against fascism! And will Putin be able to eliminate the truth even as he bans all national and international media telling the bitter stories in Ukraine and Russia?

How many Ukrainian civilians, kids and soldiers, have been killed so far in this nasty war, and how many wounded? The death count multiplies, as the brave shed their blood on the barricades and on the streets. Russian soldiers giving tea, sharing love and compassion with the captured Ukrainian soldiers. Talk to your mother, a young Russian woman soldier tells her neighbour. Tell her, you are safe, that you will be back in the warmth of your cosy home in this cruel winter once again. Tell her, mother, dear mother, don’t you worry, I am with old friends, and they speak our language, like we speak theirs, and we share the same history, mother, and we know so well the difficult childhood memories of war!

The Guardian in London reports that Otaci is border town in the poorest country in Europe: Moldova. It is located on the opposite of river Dniester, across the city of Mohyliv-Podlsky in Ukraine, as a friendly town next door. A bridge links the two.  There are other old, cherished, shared bonds too.

So, the people of Otaci, like the people of all border towns, have stood up like a rock to reach out to the people of Ukraine. They are providing them with warm food, warm shelter, internet and free onward travel in cars and taxis across other destinations in Europe. ‘‘Where is your wife,’’ asks a volunteer in Otaci. ‘‘She is across the bridge.’’ “Don’t you worry”, tells the volunteer, “she will make it.”

UN news reports that amid dwindling food supplies in embattled areas in Ukraine, the conflict could have devastating consequences beyond the country.  It has reported that an unpreceded number of traumatized people are desperately leaving the besieged country in ruins, being bombed out from all sides, but still holding ground with millions staying back and refusing to move, fighting it out till death must come, if it must come at all!

Heavy fighting is being reported from the nuclear plant in Ukraine. Radiation levels are normal and the facility’s cooling system has had no impact, a senior political affairs official of the UN told the Security Council in an emergency meeting. Now, this Putin’s war, is turning into a deadly theatre of the absurd.

The concluding chapter of Svetlana Alexievich’s book tells the story of Ukraine as it dies to live. It is called, ‘Suddenly we wanted to desperately to live’. She writes:

It was Stalingrad… The most terrible battles. The most, most terrible. My precious one… There can’t be one heart for hatred and another for love. We have only one, and I always thought about how to save my heart… For a long time after the war I was afraid of the sky, never of raising my head towards the sky. I was afraid of seeing plowed-up earth. But the rooks already walked calmly over it. The birds quickly forgot the war…

The question is, will Europe and the world forget this one-dimensional war in the days to come? Will all the children come back home yet again? Will the dew-soaked birds choose to fly in the dawn, tweeting, across the black sky, ravaged by a mindless war?

Yes, they will.

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C G Prince
C G Prince
3 months ago

The sad true story of blood n flesh still searching ways to survive…

Sreela Das Gupta
Sreela Das Gupta
3 months ago

Other memories of immaculate insomnia.. Brilliant article as always!

Rakesh Agrawal
Rakesh Agrawal
3 months ago

I think, Putin’s attack on Ukraine, is perpetuated by the promoters and heros of the military-industrial complex and as long as the capitaist regime keeps hoisting it’s flag, invasions like these will not be forgotten. Remember, this isn’t a war as a war is fought by two or more adversaries, but an invasion.

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