Posts Tagged 'Odessa'

Don’t mention the war

I didn’t manage to fit all the material I have into this article, which ended up focused on Odessa.

In Donetsk, one woman who wants independence from the ‘fascist’ Ukrainian government said to me “What do we have here? We used to have jobs. Now all we have is the graves of our grandparents who fought for us.” An anti-Ukrainian government militant on a roadblock in Gorlivka, who had picked up a gun to protect his land from ‘fascists’, gestured to the cemetery a few metres away: “that’s where my grandparents are, who fought the fascists. How can I let them down?”

donetsk graves

I don’t even understand what these people mean by ‘fascist.’ I don’t understand why it isn’t possible to move on from something, however terrible, that happened before they or their parents were born. But then, my country was never invaded. In my country, people did not have decide whether to collaborate or whether to fight.  My grandfather never told me tales of wartime death and suffering, although he did fight in the war.

Witnessing what seems to me the incredibly destructive influence of the Second World War on the current conflict in Ukraine, the one hopeful sign I see is the young people who, the Odessa Catacombs guide says, are not interested in history and cannot say what happened seventy years ago when Soviet partisans fought Axis troops from here. I think it’s better not to know history at all, than to know a simplified version of history that is being used to incite hatred and violence in Ukraine.

I mean no disrespect to anyone who fought in the war. I never thought I would champion ignorance.

From the Odessa catacombs museum: pictures drawn on the walls by Slovak troops who defected from the Axis side near the end of the war, and came over to the Soviet side. It is alright to remember this piece of history in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. it is not alright to remember the many, many Red Army soldiers who defected to the Axis side.

odessa catacombs1

Maybe I don’t want to champion ignorance. I want to champion deeper, more nuanced knowledge.

Blood for blood, death for death, says the soviet partisan slogan scrawled on the walls of their underground hideout in the Odessa catacombs, from which only 30 percent emerged alive at the end of the war. I understand that they were heroes. I also understand they must have done terrible things, because that’s what war demands.

But those defecting Slovak troops did not draw death and hatred on these walls. They drew a picture of Easter traditions in their country, of boys and girls in springtime.

odessa catacombs


On both sides in war are just people; boys and girls who want to live in peace.





Is this what they wanted?

9th May, Victory Day. Usually the streets in Odessa are awash with lilacs and tulips, with flags and medals, with people out living and enjoying and laughing and celebrating. Odessans love a celebration.

But yesterday, in shock at the deaths and violence here last week, scared by constant rumours of a repeat provocation by far-right or far-left or paid thugs and dupes of whoever it is trying to ruin this country, Odessans stayed home.

There was no violence, no deaths. But in the deserted town centre, a young Odessan said “I look at the empty streets and I realise the provocation has already happened. They’ve achieved what they wanted. Everyone is terrified, everyone is looking at each other with suspicion. This is our biggest celebration, today is really important to people – and it’s been taken away from us. Look – today our town is dead.”



Not much laughter in Odessa now

Two articles on the terrible events of 2 May when 46 people died in violence in Odessa. A city famous for humour, coming to terms with tragedy.


Inside the burning building

My interviews with people rescued from the burning Trade Union building in Odessa on 2nd May

previous posts

A novel about the Crimean Tatars' return to their homeland

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