Beata works as a qualified primary school teacher, a councillor for drug and alcohol addiction and a farm caretaker for organic olive grow.
‘Do you remember how we trembled under the table,
My cousin living in Russia messaged me suddenly.
‘Grandma was packing the food in a bag for us to flee,
it was too late.’
There was no reply. I knew it was not safe for her.
I dialled the number, but change my mind.
She was always paranoid that Putin’s men
were listening and would punish her Russian husband.
“Never come back,” Natalka whispered to me when
was flying out toward the west.
I looked at the message thinking of us both growing up
fatherless in one small village in then Czechoslovakia,
two daughters of hated dissidents, the enemy of states
who fought the Russian occupation and failed.
All we dreamt about was to leave but she fell in love with
Sergei and stayed.
‘I just left Moscow, it felt oddly similar there to 1991
with people protesting than quickly hiding but no tanks
on the streets this time.’ I sighed with the relief.
‘Natalka so good to hear from you, Putin’s tanks are
occupied in Ukraine right now but his secret police
is enough to keep you in line, is it safe to chat?’
Got a quick message back; ‘We packed what we could
and left in the middle of the night, right now on a train
to Istanbul and we are not the only ones.’
‘What about Sergei, what if Turkey closes the border how
will he ever come back to his Russia?’
‘My husband is leaving Russia for the first time but he says he has no plans to return.’
She sent me photo of her two teenagers sons grinning into camera signing ‘peace signal’.
The were dressed in the western t-shirts with a logo: ‘I like rap.’
I understood what Natalka wanted to say. When we studied
in Volgograd in 1987, the boys of her sons age
were round up by the army and sent to Moscow for a quick
training before sent to fight a war in Afghanistan they
knew nothing about only to return broken in body or mind
if lucky never to recover again.
‘What is happening in Ukraine is tragedy, what is happening
in Russia is a catastrophe.’ I typed back and scrolled down
my news podcasts seeing heroic Ukrainians standing to Russian
tanks full of young boys in Russian uniforms confused and scared
shouting for the crowd to disperse only to be blown appart
by the hand made bombs.
Responses back under the online news were of international
support for heroic Ukrainian civilians while those young body
parts lied scattered around looking up with glassy eyes still
confused towards the sky thinking they are just on some
army exercise. They were never told they are going to wage
war on their neighbour many of them have a family ties with.
’Just read Alexi Navalny’s instagram post, of Russians not
become a nation of frightened silent people but you know
Sergei was in our Moscow bank yesterday and bankers discuss
financial plans like nothing happened.’
‘Natalka what mothers of those boys in Volgograd did except
crying their eyes out when they received their dead bodies from
the war they never even knew was happening?’
‘Sergei said if our Ludmila from St Petersburg, a last survivor of the world war two 827-day siege
‘Natalka, Putin’s two years old brother died in that siege...
and he is
still starving people of Mariupol out of the city
as Nazi once did to him and as you know nearly 100 years old Ludmila,
a war hero from second world war is in jail for life if she survives for another year.
‘Sergei said, he is more scared for Kyiv to end up like Grozny left
in ruin with 20,000 civilians dead after the Russian invasion of Chechnya.’
I sighed and wished Natalka and her Russian family a safe journey
towards the freedom.
I knew wherever they go being a Russian today is not something they
would be proud of sharing.
Natalka was reading my thoughts when I got her last response: ‘Sergei
said, imagine all of us Russians would leave Russia and left that largest
land mass on earth all empty to our insane Tsar to wage his aggressive war
all by himself on himself until he would go end like Ivan Grozny, absolutely
alone and mad.’
Following the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia when I was three years old,
If nothing else this verse reminds us...
very little has changed in Russia’s attitude towards its neighbour:
‘The ogre does what ogre can,
deeds quite impossible for man.
But one prize is beyond his reach.
The ogre cannot master speech.
Across a subjugated plain,
among its desperate and slain,
the ogre strolls with hands on hips,
while drivel gushes from his lips.