When I grew up, it wasn’t much of a secret that I was adopted. My mother from Indonesia, my father half Dutch and half Indonesian, it wasn’t difficult to guess that I wasn’t there son in the biological sense. Looking back at family pictures when I was a kid, my white square face gave away the “secret” at the first glance. Some of the kids at school made a fuzz about it but that never bothered me much because I had the best parents any kid could wish for!
When i was old enough to understand everything, my parents explained me about the adoption, the little things they knew about my parents and where they came from. Always educating me about my background, encouraging me to find my roots when I was ready for it. When my parents, my loving adoptive parents were still alive, finding my roots was not so much on my mind as my parents wished for. My father always asked me about it, challenged me to find out before it is too late but I kept pushing it away, not able to accept that I had other parents than my parents. It felt to me like betraying the parents who adopted me and loved me, my father kept telling me I was wrong in feeling that way and as always, my wise loving father was right and I was just stubborn.
Some years ago, when my parents were already sick and knew they wouldn’t have much days left, I promised my father to finally search my roots, finally find out if there was still family of my parents. It took much more effort than I expected and I had many moments in which I considered to give up. Luckily there was always some kind of progress when I was about to throw in the towel and eventually I found the brother of my father, my very own uncle. And a year later, I found my aunt, the sister of my mother. My family!
Continue reading Family ties
We returned to our table to find Vlad’s uncle waiting for us, pretending to be angry about the unfinished plates. Being half Italian, he did an hilarious impersonation of those Mafiosi from the old movies, asking us why we don’t like the food and if we want to ruin the reputation of his restaurants. New plates with delicious food were brought, we ate with the family and enjoyed our dinner, laughed. Life goes on, even though not for all. Afterwards, my girlfriend decided to return to the hotel and I stayed with Vlad to hear the end of his story. We went outside with some drinks and a box of cigars from Vlad’s uncle.
Victims get arrested
After the badly wounded and some of the dead were brought outside, the police entered the building and started to place the survivors under arrest, bringing them out and pushing them into waiting busses, cheered by the crowds. The same police that stepped away when the Pravy Sektor tugs started their assault on the building, the police that at first refused to protect the Medical and Emergency Services, was now arresting the survivors, the victims of this horrible massacre. When the members of the Emergency Services started to understand that the police intended to arrest all the survivors, they quickly gave some of the survivors their uniform jackets, helmets, ID’S, etc. and told them to pretend to be members of the team. They managed to smuggle around 20 survivors out like this. Our group was around 30 people so roughly 50 escaped.
The numbers vary in reports but I estimate that there were between 200 and 250 people inside the building when the assault and inferno started. With 50 people escaped, that leaves 150-200 people who either died or were arrested when they didn’t die. Some say 60 people died inside the building, others say up to 100 people died and as far as I know, another 13 people died in the following days of their injuries. According to the doctor, most of them could have survived if they would have gotten timely medical treatment. Just like my cousin…
Continue reading The #Odessa Massacre – Part 4: The Aftermath
We sat there in silence, playing with our food. There wasn’t a word of comfort I could come up with and I didn’t want to disturb Vlad in his thoughts. My girlfriend broke the silence by asking if my feet were cold and I nodded. She knows about what happens, she is there for me when the phantom pains drive me up the wall and she calms me when I endure the explosion over and over again in my nightmares. Her question must have caught Vlad’s attention and interrupted his thoughts because he asked me “what feet, you don’t have feet?”. I told Vlad about what happened with me and we both laughed nervously when he told me that he had always thought that I was born this way. Vlad and I worked together when I was still denying my fate and in that time I never mentioned to him or anyone else what happened or my life before it happened.
The waiter came by and we ordered some local wine. Vlad asked me if I wanted to change the topic but I declined, wanted to hear his story no matter how traumatic it was and is, knowing that Vlad still had to tell us what he knew about his cousin. Vlad agreed but decided to go outside for a smoke first, snoring a pack of cigarettes from his uncle who owns the restaurant. When he returned I told him that I didn’t know he was smoking, when we worked together I have never seen him smoke. Vlad said he didn’t and doesn’t but somehow it seemed like a good idea at that moment. When he coughed, we all laughed the tension away somehow and we knew we were ready to continue.
Continue reading Odessa Massacre – Part 3: Interview with a survivor (2/2)
We meet in the back of a restaurant. For a moment I feel like in an old spy movie and my friend must have noticed that this makes me nervous, with a smile he tells me not to worry. “We are safe here”, a sentence I have heard a lot during my stay in Crimea but this time it means much more to me. This time it means my friend feels safe here. I can’t put to words how happy I am to finally see my friend in person and in safety, more than a year after the horrible Massacre of Odessa which changed his life permanently. Here he sits, smiling, greeting me, looking at my fancy wheelchair with the skilled eye of a technician. Luck and what I believe to be Divine Intervention in the bravery of some bystanders are the reasons why my friend is still alive and happy to meet me on this summer day.
Brave enough to talk about the events of that day and evening but worried about his family still living in Ukraine, we decide to call my friend Vlad, although we both know this is not his real name. Vlad still has family members in and around Odessa and Vlad knows that Ukrainian authorities have given them a hard time to tell them where he is. Vlad is on a wanted list because he survived the Odessa Massacre, officially only for questioning, but Vlad knows that those who have reported to the Ukrainian authorities for this so called questioning have all been arrested. Ukrainian authorities are even so ruthless that they have arrested family members of some of the organizers “for their own protection” although none of them want to be “protected” by Ukraine.
Vlad agrees to publish his story, wants his story to be told as long as it doesn’t cause any problems for his family and friends. I look at the eyes of this strong man and see genuine fear when he speaks about his family and friends, about his concerns. This is Vlad’s story in his words, approved by Vlad for publication and Vlad approves distributing his words on the internet.
Continue reading The #Odessa Massacre – Part 2: Interview with a survivor (1/2)
People will respond different when confronted with traumatic experiences and emotions. Some will be silent for a while, locked inside themselves with their thoughts. Others will scream and shout to express their feelings, anger or frustration. When I am confronted with emotional trauma, two things happen. The first thing that happens is that I become unaware of my surroundings and I stop caring that everything is in the right place. Anyone who knows me, knows that this is very strange behavior for me. The second things that happens is that I start to feel my feet, the feet I don’t have any more for over a decade. This might be difficult to imagine but I literally feel my feet turn cold and I already know that when I will be finally able to sleep, my night will be disrupted by phantom pains and nightmares of the explosion.
The evening of 2 May 2014 started very nice for me and nothing pointed at having my feet turn cold that day. After a good wheel-tennis tournament in which I managed to finish in 3rd place, my friends and I went to our favorite fish-restaurant overlooking the harbor of Amsterdam. When the food was being served, I noticed an incoming call from a friend in Odessa but I decided to call him back after dinner. A decision I still regret! We enjoyed our food and some nice wine and when we left the restaurant I remembered the missed call and tried to call my friend back. Busy signal, it took me some attempts before I could finally reach him.
They are killing us! Our people are burning, they are killing us!
A very hectic conversation, panic and fear in his voice. Bits and pieces of what has happened and what was happening. My feet turned cold while trying to understand what my friend was telling me. A protest and a counter-protest escalated, people locked up in a building, shots fired, fire everywhere, the building set on fire with people inside. Many died, didn’t know how many but must be many. Escaped with his younger brother, beaten by hooligans. Cousin still missing, very worried and afraid.
Continue reading The Odessa Massacre – Part 1: Traumas and emotions
While plotting the downfall of the Soviet Union, months before the referendum which gave Ukraine its independence and empowered Yeltsin to complete his struggle for power, Yeltsin addressed the status of Donbass, Odessa and Crimea with his Ukrainian counterpart and co-conspirator. When confronted with a crystal clear statement that Ukraine was not willing to give up any of its territory, Yeltsin stated that “with a bleeding heart, Russia must pay the price of giving up the Russian cities of Kharkov, Donetsk, Mariupol and Odessa to gain its own independence” and his counterpart only noticed later that Yeltsin did not mention Crimea in this statement. Several months later, during their final personal meeting in Minsk before the collapse of the Soviet Union, both future presidents agreed that there will be no resettlement of citizens between their countries and the current borders will be accepted by all parties involved.
During his flight back to Moscow, Yeltsin told his aide that he would “bring back the mines and farmlands of Donbass to Russia when the time is right and make sure the harbors of Mariupol, Odessa and Sevastopol will once again fly the Russian flag” but that for now he would go along with the agreement. His aide noted in his memoirs that Yeltsin didn’t even bother to mention the people involved and that he wondered how Yeltsin was planning to come back on an agreement he had just committed to. As a result of this agreement, former citizens of the Soviet Union living in Donbass woke up on New Year’s Day as citizens of Ukraine without being asked for their will. A country with which they had neither emotional nor historical ties for in all they were, they were Russians in their hearts and their souls. Forced to be citizens of a country they didn’t belong to, a country which never truly accepted them and abandoned by the future presidents during negotiations over power.
It is those people who Val Lisitsa speaks up for, it is those people who Val gives a voice when nobody involved in the current political environment is willing to listen. Those citizens of Donbass, who were and are deprived of their Human Right of Self-Determination, are the people to whom Val feels connected most and all Val wants is that they will finally be granted that right which is firmly anchored in the Charters of the United Nation, the right of self-determination. And if the outcome of that right of self-determination will be that the majority will democratically decide to remain citizens of Ukraine in the current system and rulings, Val will be the first to accept that, as difficult as it will be for her. That is the Val I know and respect.
Continue reading Val Lisitsa – When a voice is silenced by lies…
During our vacation on Crimea, we visited a summer camp for children. Until last year, this was an ordinary summer camp where children from Ukraine and Russia enjoyed a few days in the beautiful nature of Crimea. After last year’s slow season with record low bookings after the reunification with Russia, the idea was born to find ways to allow children from war torn Donbass to come here and spend some time in a peaceful surrounding and recover from the traumas they have to endure. The team of volunteers working on this idea was hoping to be able to find enough sponsors for 200 children and enough volunteers to support the staff in handling this. 24 hours after the first contacts, this goal was already achieved and a few months later the full capacity for 2015 was reserved for children of war.
Large contributions came in from businessmen and companies and a steady flow of donations from the local Crimean population matter just as much. Some volunteers travel to Crimea on their own expenses to help make this happen, youth organizations from all corners of Crimea help this and other summer camps organize events and take care of the children around the clock. There are so many contributions that the staff is already planning 2016. And that is actually a sad step because it shows that nobody on the staff is expecting the war to end, everybody is expecting that more and more children will need to recover from their traumatic experiences.
Children are our future but what future do these children of war have? What have they done to deserve this? Those children like all other children. Their smiles are beautiful when they are able to smile. But their eyes show their traumas, their pain. Their eyes, which are said to be the mirrors of the soul, show what they experienced. Some have scars on their skin, all have scars on their souls. This is expression of gratitude for everyone who is doing whatever they can to make this happen for these children.
Thank you Crimea, for giving these children of war a safe place to recover!
Continue reading Russian #Crimea – Where children of Donbass recover from WAR