The Butcher of Bucha

Russian missile said “For the children”

It’s now Friday April 8th, 2022. Kia ora.

This morning was a toss up between going to Art Group or having someone from Access come and do some cleaning. I wasn’t feeling great, so opted for the cleaning, rather than going out. Because she had also come last Friday, I didn’t have to do so much preparation beforehand.

The situation in Ukraine is just devastating. It seems that while the Ukrainians are having great success in blowing up and damaging Russian equipment, especially tanks, and blowing up Russian helicopters – the British NLAWs are particularly effective here – the extreme brutality of Russian troops, in not just bombing cities like Mariupol, but cold-blooded killing, rape and torture more than matches the bombing of civilian sites like hospitals.  Putin has declared that Ukraine has no right to exist – and so must be destroyed. The irony of his using Nazi methods to root out Nazi elements in Ukraine – which now includes everyone, not just armed forces, is rationalised, by him, in some weird way.  The Nazis used similar methods to justify the Holocaust, by claiming Jews had no right to exist; they were dehumanised; thus, too Ukrainians have no right to exist.  It’s definite that war crimes have been committed; Zelensky’s claims of genocide takes this a step further. How many dead bodies count as a genocide?  While the Russian troops have yet to take a major Ukrainian city, it seems that in several towns near Kyiv they’ve committed major atrocities before withdrawing. It’s thought they’re preparing for an assault on the East of Ukraine. Any discussion of peace negotiations seems to be off, as the world wonders what Putin will do next. The UN has rejected Russia from its membership of its Human rights Council.

I’ve listened to a lot of Tim Snyder lately. He has a lot of useful things to say about this war, including the ability to speak two languages.  Many, like Zelensky, are fluent in both Ukrainian and Russian. Meanwhile, the US are supplying more equipment; Zelensky, still speaking well, is clearly frustrated with the West’s slow response. And it’s complicated: while sanctions have been effective to a degree, the Russian economy seems to have bounced back from its earlier demise, and there are still customers for its gas.  In Hungary, Viktor Orbán, an ally of Putin, has been re-elected. 

There are big fears about food shortages now; not only will there be a shortage of grain from Ukraine, given that there’s nobody much to harvest the existing crop, the next one needs to be planted, too. The world’s main suppliers of fertiliser are Russia and Ukraine; the effects of sanctions on Russia go far further than damaging the Russian economy. The effect on world hunger is likely to be extreme, in ways we haven’t thought about yet. There are many reasons for this war to be over quickly, and for Putin to give himself and his supporters some reason to declare victory and move on (and let the rest of the world get on with their lives).

While the photos of Russian actions in Bucha are terrible (over 300 killed), it seems there are worse reminders in a town called Trostianets.  While terrible things happen in war, there’s a kind of code of half-way decent behaviour: of not targeting civilians; of allowing safe escape routes; of not using rape or torture; of course there will be killings and death, but it’s assumed that those who enlist to be in the armed forces recognise this as a risk. There’s talk of cyber attacks on Ukraine being prevented by western endeavours. While Russian troops have retreated from Kyiv, they are regrouping in the east, and people are warned to evacuate.

We’ve been watching the series Servant of the People starring Zelensky on Netflix. It’s a very good series, although I find the subtitles a bit annoying. It’s nice not to see displays of ostentatious wealth, and to see realistic people.

It’s now Saturday April 9th.

This morning I heard of the dreadful rocket attack on a railway station in Ukraine – at Kramatorsk.  There were about 4,000 people there, desperate to get away. At least fifty people were killed, including 5 children, and a hundred injured. The bomb carried a chilling message: For the Children. The Kremlin initially claimed a successful strike, and then denied knowledge of it, and claimed the Ukrainians had bombed their own citizens to make the Russians look bad.   How dreadful this conflict is, and how tragic. It seems Putin is using starvation as a weapon of war, just as Stalin did causing the Holodomor (the man-made famine in Ukraine in the 1930’s). It seems Putin will do anything to sap the morale of people who in his view have no right to exist.

I decide to be brave and go to the movies this afternoon. I want to see the art film Napoleon: in the Name of Art, narrated and presented by Jeremy Irons. JD takes me to Brooklyn, and to our amazement we’re in a queue on the Wellington motorway, to go through the tunnel, and I get there just in time. But no worries – it’s shown in a large theatre, and I think there are 4 other people there.

I enjoy the film, although I can see why JD finds Jeremy Irons annoying.  It shows a lot of the beautiful cathedral in Milan, some of the Louvre, and not nearly enough of the Pinacoteca di Brera (which I’ve been to, by the way). It does show Mantegna’s The Dead Christ, which I remember seeing.  It shows film of Napoleon in Egypt, when the Rosetta stone was discovered; he was an avid reader, had good taste in art, and was probably ADHD.  He reminded me of Emperor Augustus, although this analogy is not drawn in the film. Generals he admired were Hannibal and Julius Caesar. There’s no doubt that while he did some good things, he caused many deaths, and there was a great deal of looting. One very large painting by Veronese, the Wedding at Cana, was cut into eight pieces so it could be transported to the Louvre. What sacrilege!  I listened to a podcast about Napoleon in Egypt; I must listen to it again (The Rest is History).  I did enjoy seeing the beautiful paintings and sculptures by Canova, who was one of Napoleon’s favourites (mine too), although Canova didn’t like his benefactor’s looting.  The score to a Te Deum had been found,  that was performed when Napoleon was crowned King of Italy in this magnificent Cathedral in Milan. He crowned himself, by the way – no modesty here! But he did wear a beautiful green velvet robe, and the crown was beautiful too. There was a wonderful soprano singing the Te Deum – what an instrument her voice is!

Afterwards I had a cup of coffee and a lamington.  It was not crazily busy there, just nicely busy. They apologised for being short staffed.  Afterwards I caught a bus to the Wellington Railway Station.  The next bus to the northern suburbs was cancelled, so I contacted JD and he picked me up. There’s a Super rugby match on at the Stadium, and lots of people are going. The Railway Station is quite busy. We went to New World in Thorndon.  Feeling slightly insecure about food, I bought lots of it, including salads for dinner, and Ukrainian biscuits (they’re the ones we used to call “fly cemeteries”; they taste good and come conveniently packed in packets of four within a larger package).

Today’s numbers are not too bad. There are 8,531 new community cases, and there’ve been 11 further deaths. 635 people are in hospital, and of these 15 are in the Hutt Valley and 16 in Wellington. It’s reported that four of the deceased were from the wider Auckland region, one from Waikato, one from the Lakes DHB area, one from Hawke’s Bay, one from Whanganui, two from the Wellington region and one from Canterbury.

On Friday (yesterday) there were 9,906 new cases reported and 10 deaths. The numbers are dropping, but there are still far too many deaths, and obviously some really sick people out there. Having heard from many people who’ve had it, most don’t dismiss it as a mild disease. There also seems to be a nasty kicker, in that many feel better after a day or two, but then feel far worse as the disease returns.  In the US Nancy Pelosi has it.  Many people who have evaded it up till now are now getting it. It’s too soon to let one’s guard down, I fear. In Australia there are still an alarming number of deaths. There’s frustration at airports, too, as people try to check in for Easter flights. Social distancing is ostensibly to blame – or people not being used to travelling? I suspect short-staffing, for whatever reason. People are probably still sick.

In the UK heaps of flights have been cancelled, due to sickness. There’s been some IT glitch causing huge queues at Dover for anyone wishing to cross the English Channel.

In Shanghai, in China 21,000 new cases were announced on Friday. Testing, and strict lockdown measures continued. There are stories of people being locked in their homes. There are also stories about old people dying in hospital because their carers have been diagnosed positive, and taken away.

On Sunday morning I listened to the podcast again entitled Napoleon in Egypt. So why did he go to Egypt? He wanted to invade Great Britain, and someone told him that was a really bad idea. Then he decided to take the ideals of the Revolution to Egypt. It’s most enlightening, making one’s way through art and history.  The podcast filled in many parts missing from the film’s record: the English (under Admiral Nelson) defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Alexandria, and as part of the reparations, demanded that they take the Rosetta Stone, discovered by Napoleon, to the British Museum. Ironically, it was deciphered by Champollion, a French man.  There was a lot of discussion in the podcast about colonisation as opposed to discovering culture, and the way Napoleon really opened up Egyptology and its marvels to a wider world. He was seriously into Arabic, too, taking an Arabic printing press to Egypt. Egypt was hot, and plague-ridden, and there’s talk that the Emperor’s touch could heal the sick, while the emperor himself did not get ill.

Last night we watched the movie The Duchess on Māori television, with Keira Knightley as the ravishingly beautiful duchess, and Joseph Fiennes as her very rich but seriously cruel and nasty husband, the Duke of Devonshire. He does not love her, despite her beauty and intelligence and interest in politics. Her mother is played by Charlotte Rampling, who keeps assuring her that she has very little in the way of choice: if she wishes to keep contact with her children, she must put up with whatever degradations he commands, whether it be caring for his illegitimate child, or putting up with his on-going affair with her best friend in her own house. She does bear him a son (and heir), as a result of his raping her; a reminder here, if one were needed, that women (i.e. daughters) could not inherit.

That’s it for now. Slava Ukraini! Ngā mihi.

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