Tag Archives: war

The #Odessa Massacre – Part 4: The Aftermath

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

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The #Odessa Massacre – Part 2: Interview with a survivor (1/2)

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)

The Odessa Massacre – Part 1: Traumas and emotions

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

Russian #Crimea – Where children of Donbass recover from WAR

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

Flight #MH17 – Countering the sickening blame games on this dark day

It has been a dark difficult day for me like for so many others today. Remembering the victims of Flight MH17, thinking about everything that was written and said about this horrible incident, including my own words. We wend to church today, my girlfriend and newly found family at my side. We mourned together, we prayed together. We were close, as family and that means more to me than I am able to express. Back at my aunt’s house, tears overwhelmed me and I cried, my family cried with me. Again I felt flashes of anger boiling inside me, feelings I don’t want to have but I can’t avoid. My aunt sensed it, held my hand and just sat there with me. I felt what it means to have a family on this dark sad day.

And then I got a message from my dear friend Anna, a shocking message which sums up all the damage done by all the blame games going on since the massacre of Flight MH17. She wrote me “Do you hate me today?”. I tried to call her immediately but she didn’t answer the calls. But she wrote another message. “Your press all say we did it. Please don’t hate me for this!”.

My dear sweet friend finally answered the phone after many tries.

I don’t hate you, how could I hate you? Why should I hate you, you are my friend!

But they all blames us for killing your people a year ago. They all hate us for it, you also.

I don’t care what they write or what they say and no matter what, I don’t hate you. You are my friend!

But what if it was us? What if we did this?

We both know it wasn’t you and we both don’t know who it was. We will have to wait what the investigations show and no matter what it will show, it wasn’t you.

Will you still talk to me when they say it was us?

When that happens, I will talk even more to you than I do now. You are my friend, we have been friends since we were kids.
Continue reading Flight #MH17 – Countering the sickening blame games on this dark day

Gorlovka or what is left of it

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”.

Continue reading Gorlovka or what is left of it