Sunday, July 20, 2014

Refugee Flight


By Stephen Wilson

Second City Teachers Russian correspondent Stephen Wilson interviews rufugees at a place holding Ukrainian refugees outside Moscow. (Photo by Oksana Chebotareva)

(Moscow, Russia) - A seventh year school student who goes out to return a book to the local library witnesses the building crash and crumble into dust just before arriving, a bus carrying civilians is
sprayed by machine-gun fire leads to the death of a pregnant woman and a five year boy, a father witnesses his 17 year old son who casually dropped out to fetch a pail of water being blown to pieces by a falling shell, (his scattered remains are collected, hastily put into a bag and buried before the family flees) and a 21 year old nurse on an emergency call is shot dead by Ukrainian soldiers. 

Can anyone forget those incidents today, tomorrow or after decades?

As many as 6 Journalists have been killed and at least 250 attacked in some way. Many suspect the targeting of journalists was not a coincidence or accident but part of a vicious campaign to silence people from telling the unofficial version of what is really going on in Ukraine.

The official version declares there is no real war in Ukraine nor are there real refugees, and that Russian intervention lies behind Ukraine’s troubles.

Concerning allegations that the Ukrainian government is embarking on ethnic cleansing of towns such as Lugansk, Slavyansk and other towns, European officials and their American allies maintain a stiff and awkward silence. The facts are that when the Ukrainian army took back those towns they quickly rounded up and arrested the local police and all men between the age of 25 and 35. They were
taken away. They vanished! Nobody knows what has become of them!

The new President Petro Poroshenko - a chocolate oligarch- continues to reassure residents of towns which have been indiscriminately bombed that he will no longer bomb but shoot them, then no longer shell them but bomb them and in other interviews threatens to come down on the local residents with an iron fist. His motto may as well be, ‘He who is not born to be shelled is born to be shot.' To those who survive he might as well benevolently suggest ‘let them eat chocolate!' Nobody can imagine the relentless on-going fear which plagues people under constant fire! 

What is clear is that the Ukrainian government appears to be pursuing not a policy of reconciliation or peace, but a cynical, callous and capricious ‘strategy of tension’ designed to intimidate, terrorize or to plunder the resources and property of Russians. Fear is being used to psychologically break, disorientate and drive out the Russians from their towns. 'Anti-terrorist operations’ must be the most ludicrous oxy-moron of political rhetoric. How on earth can ‘anti-terrorist’ operations be carried out to slaughter innocent men, women or children? The phrase represents an insult to human intelligence. People are not only living under the constant fear of being killed if they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but are deprived of basic amenities we take for granted, such as water, electricity and a good night’s sleep. The night is never young, but long, weary and sleepless. The locals begin to take on a harried, haunted and hungry look.

Lena, a strikingly attractive mother of three children, remembers how she lost her baby from a miscarriage. She told a Russian newspaper, ‘All night I was unable to sleep in the air-raid shelter. I can’t get used to your peace and quiet  here’! When she asked a doctor why she miscarried, the doctor answered in an astonished tone, ‘You don’t understand why? In the Donetsky hospitals, unborn babies are dying in their wombs!'

Emergency aid often can’t reach the besieged Russian towns because snipers are constantly taking pot shots at passing trucks, buses, cars or just about anything. Even if the bus is daubed by a red cross, it won’t  always deter snipers. Given the genuine fear which local Russians hold of a resurgent fascism, ethnic cleansing, and death, they are beginning to panic. More and more people are fleeing, and as this article is going to press, local people are pouring out en-mass from the city of Donetsk.


Nobody can offer precise figures for the number of refugees as every day people are fleeing as the Ukrainian army advances and attempts to encircle the city of Donetsk! However, one thing is strikingly self-evident to any reasonable intelligent person; this is an unprecedented humanitarian crisis!

Whereas a week ago many people thought Russian officials might be overstating and inflating the the number of refugees to 100,000, now the figure has drastically shot up, shocking the hardest Russian official! Therefore the Russian government has declared a state of emergency in many Russian regions. The Deputy head of the Federal Migration Service Anatoly Kuznetsov stated that more
than half a million refugees have fled from Ukraine since the outbreak of war in April. However, only 20,551 are recorded as having applied for temporary asylum.

Those are real and reluctant refugees, not ‘tourists’ as American officials claim. However, those statistics are abstract. They can never show the intense fear, anxiety and grief of people who
have lost not only their homes but their loved ones. And this is an unwarranted, unjustified and unconstitutional war made by a government upon their own people. In Scotland we sing a song
‘you can’t throw your grandmother off a bus’. This Ukrainian government is!

How Russia will cope with the endlessly fleeing refugees is anyone’s guess. According to Alexander Brechalav of the Social department of the Russian Federation, an estimated 187,000 refugees are in
the Rostovsky region. Lena Boika, whose mother comes from Rostov on Don, told me that when she visited the city a few weeks ago, ‘It was saturated with refugees, all of them suffering from poverty’.

Where are they going in Russia? Some have fled to the Crimea, others to the regions of Rostov, Volgograd, Astrakhan and Stavropol, as well as the Kalmykia republic. Some are even in Moscow and her outskirts. About as many as an estimated 16,650 refugees are staying with relatives and acquaintances. Despite idle chatter by those who claim they are seeking a better life, almost
all refugees dream of returning home. Very few people readily relinquish their cherished homes, communities and jobs to venture into the unknown.

The Ukrainian government doesn’t seem to care where they go or what becomes of them. As in the Russian folk-tale, the brother cuts off his sister’s hands and answers her question, ‘Where will I go?' with, ‘Go where your eyes take you‘. And the refugees might as well be going through ‘the thrice ninth kingdom’(a make-believe land of the dead full of many ordeals which the hero of Russian folk tales must overcome by performing brave deeds).

Second City Teacher managed to interview some refugees on the outskirts of Moscow. They were fortunate enough to find refuge in the village of Saltikovka, in the Balashikha district.

It took Oksana, my assistant, and I some time to find their secluded dwellings. When we knocked on the door we were greeted by a tough no-nonsense but frankly sincere Gypsy from Moldova. We asked whether it was possible to interview the refugees and she kindly granted our request. She told us, ‘I feel very sorry for the suffering those families have to put up with, so I’m letting them stay without charge. It is terrible what harm the government is doing to children. Those children should be playing and learning, not having to flee a conflict.‘ I asked her, ‘What do you think of the recent statement by American official Maria Heif that the refugees are just tourists?’ She could not contain her anger, saying, ‘If I met this
American I would tell her she is a stupid sheep!’

The Moldovan gypsy, through fear, refused to be either named or photographed in case of Ukrainian state reprisals. She told us, ‘If they see our photos, they will kill us.’ A stocky well-built middle-aged refugee approached us, and we asked why they fled the Ukraine. ‘We were being bombed for three days ... The Ukrainian soldiers were shooting, bombing and shelling almost anyone. Those people are not normal human-beings. I think they are either ex-prisoners or have gone crazy on drugs. I mean what normal person would rape a pregnant woman or kill a five year old child? They don’t care what they do to people … We decided to take a risk and head for the border. While people were fleeing to the Russian
border, they were being shot at or bombed by artillery. Planes were even dropping some deadly metallic objects which could kill a man as soon as it lands on his head! Some people were forced to drop their heavy bags containing all their documents so they could run quicker to the border. They still managed to cross the border because custom officials waved their arms and said, ‘Quickly, hurry up and go past us! We won’t stop you!’ So people could even cross the border without documents’.

Her daughter, whom we will call ‘Vera’, told me how terrifying the National Guard were. She told us, ‘When we were passing them on the road they pointed their guns directly at us and looked very angry
and aggressive. They never smiled at all. We felt that if any of us smiled, spoke a word or challenged them in any way, they would shoot us dead on the spot. So when the refugees went past them, they were silent. In contrast, our Russian border guards never pointed guns at us or threatened us, but instead kept their guns at their side and even treated us to some tea, food and let us stay with
them. I later was shocked to come across a man (at another time) who had been sentenced to 7 years in prison for some crime. I asked him, ‘How come you are not in prison?’ He told me the (Ukrainian) authorities had allowed him out early on condition he served in the National Guard’.

This might explain why so many senseless atrocities such as rape, murder and pillage is being committed against civilians by the National Guard and the Ukrainian army.

The Moldovan Gypsy told me she is worried about what the family will do in winter when it becomes cold. So they appealed for blankets, sheets and beds! In fact, any kind of help seemed welcome.

A young refugee woman with a 4-year-old son told me she had been here for almost three weeks and how her husband earns a meager monthly wage of 14,000 rubles ($437) a month. So life for the refugees remains a daunting and difficult challenge. They need all the help people can render them.

The refugees are confronted with many problems. The ones who lost their documents, must renew them.  Others might apply for refugee status in order to obtain state benefits as well as work permits.

Refugee status as well as citizenship can be casually granted by the President by the light stroke of a pen! Providing the refugees with a decent accommodation and work is another question.

It seems that the refugees ‘predicament could drag on for years’.

Three months ago nobody would have believed that things could have turned out this horrible! Only a few months ago locals at Donetsk were relatively optimistic about the future. They were even posing for photos with armed separatists as if on holiday. A full-blown war was not on their minds then.

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