Last week I was planning to write about Gorlovka, one of many friendly places I visited during the summer of 2012. Not a big city with flair and extravaganza and no ambition to become such a place. Just a typical town for this region. Schools, small and large businesses, students, bars, restaurants, churches, a famous cathedral. Nothing out of the ordinary and still very special. Special because the place is filled with friendly people. Or to be more precise, was filled with friendly people. Since the uprising in South-East Ukraine against the regime in Kiev, Gorlovka has been the center of war. Shelling of houses, buildings, infrastructure and even churches has become an almost daily routine. In the past days, the violence against this once peaceful town has escalated again and lives were lost, again. Children died and others were badly wounded.
I wanted to call a friend’s friend of whom I know he still has family living in Gorlovka but then my blood froze and I feared to hear bad news again. During my trip in 2012, I met so many friendly people of whom I don’t even know now if they are still alive. One evening, we ended up in a bar and watched the football game of the European Championships. We had a couple of beers, we ate some local food, we talked with many people. About the game, about the weather, about my wheelchair, about music. Smiling grim looks when I told them my father was Czech because the Czech Republic won the finals from Russia in hokey, followed by becoming “nascha Pavel” and a round of free beer when I added that my mother was Russian. Explaining that some day I will learn to speak Russian and the challenge to start right there at that moment. My friend from Moscow and our exchange student from Lugansk joking that they should learn to speak proper Russian themselves first and as always the classical joke “visit Russia before Russia visits you”.
It was a very pleasant evening in Gorlovka as all evenings were during our trip. So many places we visited, so many people we met. None of that is what it was anymore and I don’t even know if all these people are still alive. The bar in Gorlovka and the building it was in are fully destroyed by an unguided missile, that I know. I can only hope that there was nobody in the building when it happened. The church across the street was also hit. When you cross the street and take a right turn, you will get to the park in a few minutes. The park where Kristina and her baby were killed in a shelling of the town.
Gorlovka is no longer the Gorlovka it once was. Its modest charm and friendliness is destroyed and replaced by a fight for survival. The population has either fled, died, struggle to survive or has joined the defense forces. The scars of this conflict will remain for many generations, some of the wound might never heal. Gorlovka is being destroyed, punished for its uprising and defiance.
Russian news outlet continue to carry the horrifying stories about Gorlovka, about the destruction, about the suffering of the population. Western media don’t mention Gorlovka. Because Gorlovka shows the brutality of Ukraine, the brutality with which Kiev punishes its own population. A reality the sponsors and supporters of Ukraine don’t want to see. In stead of showing the real Ukraine, as it is pounding Gorlovka every night, the partners of Ukraine give statements about Russia and the separatists in breaching the Minsk agreements, about the aggression of Russia in Ukraine, about bribes for FIFA2018 and why it should be cancelled. About prolonging sanctions against Russia.
Not a single word about Gorlovka! Not a single word about the town which once welcomed me for no reason at all. Just because of friendliness and hospitality. Because there was a football championship and don’t we all like a good game of football? And just because that is how those Gorlovkans are. Or were. Once, not so long ago and not so far from here. And now, now these same Gorlovkans hide in basements every single night.
They will not surrender, they will not give up. That is also how those Gorlovkans are and have always been. Their fight will continue and if it weren’t for those brave few who care and report about it, we wouldn’t even know. Think about that when you read the next spectacular findings about FIFA. That is important as it is but also about nothing other than power and money. What happens in Gorlovka is cruel reality, but odds are that you won’t read about it in your newspaper. Think about that for a while and ask yourself why!