Images from Ukraine that are universal and eternal
By David E. Kaplan
Away from the mass reportage in the written media and television, there are those brief ‘events’ – whether in word or deed – that encapsulates the enormity of the tragedy playing out in Ukraine but also reveals that spark in the human spirit to prevail.
Such was that bravery of the Russian woman who went on live state TV news with a sign protesting the invasion of Ukraine. Marina Ovsyannikova is a name to remember. For those few brief seconds, Marina defied the might of Putin and his aspiring re-run of a Russian empire and achieved more than a fighter plane or tank. An editor on the Russian TV channel Pervyi Kanal (Channel One), this mother of two, boldly ran behind the newsreader and held up a sign during the main evening show, Vremya, that said:
“Stop the war! Don’t believe propaganda! They’re lying to you here! Russians against war”
It was Homeric heroism at its best! Lesser defiance in Russia’s Soviet past would have been met with a bullet in the back of the head in a dark underground room in Lubyanka or be exiled to a gulag in Siberia. In present Putin’s Russia, there is talk that Marina could be facing 15 years in prison! All for less than 5 seconds of telling the truth, a commodity being denied to her people.
Marina knew the risks but she also knew the need and the urgency. To surprisingly address her duped nation separated from reality, she was prepared to expose herself and her family to the wrath of Putin.
“Maybe, just maybe,” she must have thought, it could awaken her people to “stop the carnage.”
Will she be sacrificed like Joan of Arc by her own people or will she inspire that people to challenge their oppressor – Putin?
THE PIANO PLAYER
The second image was in the midst of the carnage, another mother of two, Irina Maniukina playing her grand piano for one final time before leaving her bomb stricken home in Bila Tserkva near Kyiv. Before Irana sets about playing Chopin’s Étude Op. 25, No. 1, she dusts off the debris caused by Russian shelling scattered over her Steinway & Sons Essex piano. It may be the last time she will ever see, never mind play, this piano.
The beauty and grace of the music contrasts with the discord and disfigurement of her home captured in the video filmed by the pianist’s daughter, Karina. Melody juxtaposes over mess, as we see a living room no longer for the living!
To the sounds of Chopin, we gaze in horror at the debris, shattered glass and rubble. The bomb, that landed 30 feet from the home, blew all the windows out and left a huge crater in the ground.
It blew a larger crater in their lives!
It was poignant to discover that the Chopin piece Irina played is also known as “The Shepherd Boy” following a tale that the composer advised a pupil to picture a shepherd boy taking refuge in a grotto to avoid a storm playing the melody on his flute.
To escape this Russian ‘storm’, where will this Ukrainian mother and daughter now take refuge?
The image of music rising from a home reduced to a ‘wasteland’ was reminiscent to this writer of a plant sprouting in an arid desert – the human spirit survives and will thrive again.
VLADIMIR vs VOLODYMYR
The third image is of a president, who has not only risen to the proverbial occasion but quite literally, rises daily from under the rubble. Like Spartacus, the Thracian gladiatorial slave who defied the might of Rome and is revered today more than the generals who opposed him, so to this young Jewish leader, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, defying the brutality and imperial arrogance of wannabee Tzar Vladimir Putin. Drawing his line in the proverbial sand in his capital Kyiv, this former actor and comedian – now wartime leader – is an inspiration to his people and the world. Whatever befalls the body of the man, the image of this man is secure for all time.
Unlike the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani who only seven months ago fled his country as the Taliban approached his capital Kabul, Zelenskyy’s response to the offer of leaving Ukraine and to set up a government in exile, was markedly different. While Russian troops were storming towards Ukraine’s capital, this president urged his people to “stand firm”. To the surprise of many around the world, he declined help to evacuate, saying on a street to the cellphone camera in what has become one of the most cited lines of the Russian invasion of Ukraine:
“The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”
Spartacus could hardly have said it better to inspire his army of slaves over 2000 years ago!
With such Churchillian leadership, no world leader today could get away treating Ukraine the way British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain treated Czechoslovakia in 1938 referring to its existential plight with Nazi Germany as a “quarrel in a far away country, between people of whom we know nothing”.
On the contrary, Ukraine is country of whom the world today knows everything about – every horrific detail. As Zelenskyy reminded the American Congress in his video address that the people of Ukraine were experiencing a Pearl Harbour and a 9/11 “every day”.
Zoning in on the two most iconic attacks on American soil, Zelenskyy’s words and warnings could not fail to resonate on the American soul!
There is a message from the placard holder, the pianist and the President to the people of Russia about its leadership:
If you don’t remove the rubbish, it just piles up.
At some stage, they will be engulfed by the stench.
As I wrote in my last article and needs to be repeated:
Putin will not stop; he needs to be stopped.
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