In a shabby, tree-shaded playground on the outskirts of Simferopol, Crimea, two three-year-old boys are playing on a seesaw.
“Ukraine!” shouts Sayid, as his side of the see-saw goes up.
“Russia!” shouts Sergey, as Sayid comes down and Sergey’s side goes up.
It’s a cute scene, and the mums in the playground are laughing. The two boys live in the same block of flats, and have known each other since they were born. For them, these names of countries are just another game, like the different-coloured flags they’ve both waved sitting on their dads’ shoulders at opposing demonstrations; like the plastic guns they point at each other.
But when Sayid shouts “Ukraine!” and “Down with Putin!” on the bus into town, his mum hushes him up hurriedly, because who knows how people will react, in this town that used to be part of Ukraine two months ago until armed men appeared everywhere and it apparently became part of Russia. She doesn’t want to expose her son to hostile attention. And whatever she thinks about current events, she doesn’t want to teach her child to hate.
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