Letters from Ukraine: 12/04/22 – Dulce et Decorum est . . . the horror

Hellen Rose reflects on the violence that Ukrainians in and around Kyiv have faced, and continue to face, with determination. This dispatch makes mention of violence and its effects.

“The goal is tied to the pressure and the pressure is tied to the fight inside of me” – this part of a sermon from Father Pfleger of Saint Sabina Church, Englewood, South Side, Chicago rings in my ears now and keeps my tears and fears in check.

The priests from the church up on the hill came down to Maidan Square and stood between the protesters and the police during the bloody showdowns between them and the Berkut (special Yanukovych police force and the Titushky-paid street thugs). The male protestors surrounded the women to protect them – by the end of the shootout,  over a hundred civilians demanding freedom had been sniper-shot from the bridge and the top of the stairs in Maidan in 2014. Several have never been found, believed to be dragged off to Russia somewhere.

The streets I walk to get my groceries were where people lay down and lost their lives, sacrificed their lives for the right to be free. Literally on the corner is their blood still, seeped between the cracks of the cobblestones: grandfather, young brother, sister. Boris Johnson walked those streets yesterday, where the people gave their last breaths up to the embattled and smoke-filled air from burning tyres, falling slowly second by second to the foot of the barricades made of park benches, spontaneously, by groups of fathers who refused to let anyone harm their children anymore.

On a trip to Irpin I realised the Ukrainian people had already potentially saved my life, or at least saved me from coming face to face with the Russian army. At the time of 21 March, we were listening to the bombs drop only twenty–twenty-five minutes from the centre of Kyiv where we are staying. Weeks later, I was staring at the carnage front on, a place now known as the “Bridge of Death” where the Russians killed many families fleeing towards Kyiv. They were machine-gunning families as they cowered in their cars or tried to run – blasting them with tank fire and completely incinerating many cars, families screaming in flames – creating hell on earth. The belongings of the families were scattered around, the little children’s dropped woollen gloves stuck in mud, so many of them, small pink, yellow, blue – distracted children always drop their gloves. The contents of many women’s purses were also scattered: makeup, keys, prescription tablets blasted out of their hands or discarded in the run for their lives.

The “Bridge of Death” is not easy to describe, but I’m going to try. I keep our social media going as an outlet for so many people who have families here and for keeping the message of Ukraine’s fight for freedom alive before another public shooting in the US takes it off the news. Every now and then I get an ill-informed person, usually a middle-class Australian or American, who wants to tell me that this is all the fault of NATO and the US, and that somehow Putin is absolved of these murders because of that? This story is for you, especially for you.

At the beginning of the “Bridge of Death,” the sweet smell of burned human flesh is like a stench that you half start liking, like a BBQ, but then the rot stink of meat kicks in and you know somehow you’re smelling dead people, not any other animal but human flesh, exposed, decaying. Where the bridge is blown up and falls away to the river below are the severely burned cars, where around twenty families with children were burned alive in front of each other in agony, fathers and mothers holding their children as they were all burned to death in each other’s arms. One of the blackened corpses in the last car was still visible, a half-burned-away child’s face distorted in a hideous scream, the jaw distended beyond anything normal or flame induced, the other half of their little body burned to black ashes with pieces of nylon clothing melted into their skin, the hand of a young mother still clasping the child, still recognisable and with flesh colour still coming through her burned flesh. She had long pink acrylic fingernails; all the nails were melted and twisted but one remained intact, almost untouched, her pointer finger. It was still almost pretty as a young woman’s well-kept hand is – however, grotesquely significant, somehow seeming to be pointing to her killers. Spring is here and the multitude of newly hatched tiny flies and insects take advantage of the dead and literally swarm over the face of the child. There are little golden and iridescent green flies, like none I have seen before, all of different sizes, some teensy. A huge fluffy gold-and-black bumble bee drones through the back window of the car, lost from the fields behind the cars; all these insects are like tiny surgeons, taking little pieces of the child back to Mother Earth. Around sixty–one hundred car-loads of families were not burned, but were machine-gunned by the entire Russian battalion, in a chorus of machine-gun fire mowing people down, cutting fathers and grandfathers trying to protect their families in half and into pieces, either in their cars or running out to the fields or the road from their cars. Children and parents saw their loved ones having their heads blown off before they themselves fell. The field where the families ran to was strewn with chunks of flesh, bodies like a herd of animals run over by trucks, weird road kill like minced meat in mangled clothing. We met a survivor who was at the very back of the line, who had managed to run back into the soon-to-be occupied town, and who told us he will “never ever forget the sound of those screams, children screaming in horror and agony,” which he said “Has a sound that I have never heard before but that now I cannot stop from hearing in my head. This will not drive me mad or kill me, but just make me more determined to beat these fascist murderers with everything I have.’

Are such violent people mother nature’s way of keeping the species culled? Man is the worst predator on this beautiful earth, there are no other species capable any more of keeping our numbers down except for us. I shudder; we have these wonderful brains that we don’t seem to use, we go about our lives while some plot to destroy and control us . . . I could never understand why. The human monster can be lulled forth, groomed in our youth by grand master puppeteers of evil, who care madly, insanely, passionately about POWER – they become like a “God” on earth. What they don’t realise is that they actually become an evil devil, ruling over a pile of rubble and dirt with subjects who hate and loath them to the atoms of their bones.

The air raid sirens were going off again last night, even though everyone is saying the Russians are retreating from Kyiv and regrouping to attack the Donbas.

I went to a gig organised by some local Ukrainian musicians. Many young women were wearing military camouflage, and some were carrying machine guns. They were raising money for a medevac van. One girl, a nineteen-year-old with multicoloured hair, told me she has been prepared ever since Euromaidan, where she was present as her father, mother, uncles, and neighbours came out on to the streets to physically fight to be free of Russia. She started training with the volunteers at fifteen. Her pretty little still-childish face looked up at me, with stern little blue eyes, filled with resolve. She was only quite small and I saw her as a child in some kind of eternal instant. A beautiful young bohemian boy of nineteen spoke to us in perfect English, and told me he was willing to sacrifice his life for freedom. Daniel, he told me, was his name, and his profession a barman and writer. His dark eyes filled with the valour of the sweetest youth, his pale cheeks flushed like winter apples as his stern lips curled like every painting and sculpture ever made of young men’s beauty since the Renaissance. Here before me was every handsome young soldier ever born, ever fallen face down in mud, with his perfect brains blown out across the perfect nodding fields of golden daffodils in Spring.

Putin is the ultimate in toxic male behaviour – King Toxic! His flabby face, with empty expressionless eyes, is the face of a mask, yet at times I think I can see a flicker of almost-laughing hatred in some of the images we are subjected to daily by the media. That is not a criticism of the media, it is just another ugly factor in this new hell on earth that Putin is gleefully dragging us all down into. His loathing of homosexuality and transgender people, and women who are liberated, is famous; he is encouraging his soldiers to rape Ukrainian women of all ages as their punishment for daring to choose freedom.

One girl who would fit in in any big city in the world, Nadia, a bold and ultimate example of modern female liberation, is famous in UA for creating a song that is completely an insult session directed straight to the fascist pig poo-tin. I am growing to loathe the dictator as much as everyone here and cannot bring myself to write “its” name, and I can only now write the word russia with a small r.

Sasha is a young singer also. Dressing in militia-wear, she mocks her oppressors. At not much over five feet, she has a big mouth and clever and bold ideas. Her group of female vocalists, Folkulaka, sings traditional Ukrainian folk songs rewritten now by them as “murder ballads.” The room of the gig was filled with eager listeners, laughing and crying, hanging on their every note for the set, drinks in their hands with faraway eyes misting up even among to toughest looking men. Afterwards fans hugged them and were silent when we interviewed them, to hear their responses – wisdom and wit are highly respected here.

Air raid sirens again over Kyiv – this is supposed to be ended here, they dropped chemical weapons via drones on some soldiers in Mariupol . . .

Down in Maidan today someone was playing the Ukrainian anthem over the loudspeakers. An older woman was stopped in her tracks. I thought it sounded like Pavarotti and the concert for the children of Sarajevo, but it couldn’t be – George dreams to have one here now. I received a call from my brother on Signal, my niece and nephew with his little children were visiting, and I stopped and spoke to them all from the square, while standing in the footpath garden, and when I finished, I suddenly realised that passers-by and loiterers were watching and listening. I guess they heard me telling the young ones about the Euromaidan documentary Winter of Fire, and the brave freedom fighters of Kyiv.

A person was lying on the ground outside of the supermarket surrounded by pigeons, feeding them whilst lying among them. He rests there and sleeps with those who fell where he lies now. The weather is drizzly and icy cold; he lies in a sleeping bag beneath a freedom sculpture, allowing the pigeons close to him. I found some small notes in my pocket and gave them to him.

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