The video they posted is sad and alarming. Under a dim light, a group of children looked straight into the camera, and spoke of how they wanted to see the sunshine again. Their eyes wide open – their expression signaling quiet resignation – they pled for help without saying the word.
Some have been trapped under the steel plant of the port city for six weeks while Russian bombs keep falling on the structure. Their living space is likely to crumble any moment, burying them all.
Russian forces in control of the city have demanded their surrender but the trapped Ukrainians fear for their lives if they fall into their hands. Instead, they have asked the world to help create a human corridor to allow them to exit to a third party country.
A mother spoke of how they were running out of food, the despair evident in her voice, and one could feel the weight of her regret. Why had she sought shelter there, instead of elsewhere? Why had she led her family into what is becoming their tomb.
The UN’s general secretary has advocated for the human corridor but there they remain.
I suppose Putin may be waiting to extract some concession for sparing their lives.
And if he doesn’t, then those men, women and children, defiant till the end, will be buried alive, a testament to a man’s cruelty.
How was it that Russians gave so much power to a man?
Gradually. Day after day. Slowly.
You can read this but not that, came the instruction. You can see this but not that, said the next. And fear slipped in making it easier to praise than to criticize.
Soon enough, a government official comes knocking on the door. ‘We need your son and your daughter.’
‘Why?’ said their mother.
‘We have a special military operation to Ukraine. Fighting for the good of Russia.’
And the woman’s heart cringes. ‘For the good of Russia?’
‘What will they be doing?’
‘Building a greater Russia.’
‘Will they come back?’ asks the mother, the plaintive tone already in her voice.
‘Hard to say at this time. But the decadent West is supporting a Nazi government in Ukraine and we have to make sacrifices.’
‘Who says so?’
‘Could he be wrong?’
‘No. Putin is never wrong.’
‘I used to have friends in Ukraine…’ laments the woman.
‘Where?’ asks the government official.
‘In Mariupol, by the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. Lovely place.’
‘It is no more, madam… the city has been destroyed.’
‘It was filled with fascists, financed by the West, plotting to harm us.’
‘They had a big steel plant, right by the water…’
‘It is no more.’
‘Sorry to hear that,’ says the woman as she looks off.
‘Where are your son and daughter?’
‘They went out on an errand. They will be back later this afternoon.’
The official takes a card out of his pocket and hands it to the woman.
‘Tell them to call me as soon as they get back.’
The official gives the woman a hard look. ‘I need to hear from them today.’
‘It’s a direct order from Putin.’
‘You will be punished if they don’t call me.’
‘I will make sure they call you. I’ll dial the phone myself.’
The official narrows his eyes, now suspicious of the woman.
‘Do not fail. This is your patriotic duty.’
The official steps back, turns to go out the door as he glances back over his shoulder.
Hours later, both son and daughter return. Their mother relates the details of the official’s visit.
The son and daughter, both eligible for serving in the armed forces, look at each other.
‘Mother,’ starts the daughter, ‘We have seen videos of what’s happening in Ukraine.’
Her mother looks back at her, suspecting the worst.
‘It’s horrible. We cannot go there. We should leave.’
‘Leave the country?’
‘Where will you go?’
‘You remember Olga?’
‘Yes. She’s now living in St Petersburg. I called her. She told us she can take us near the border with Finland… and from there we can take our chances.’
‘It will be dangerous.’
‘We know, mother.’
‘You’re all I have.’
‘We’ll be fine.’
‘When will you be leaving?’
Mother lowers her head as her eyes grow misty. Then she looks up at them again.
‘I wonder… if I had spoken up earlier…’
They sit next to her, one on each side, and put their arms around her.
‘We shall return,’ says her son, reassuringly.
And both son and daughter smile at her.
Oscar Valdes oscarvaldes.net, medium.com, anchor.fm, buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts