Putin-22, Heartless Covid-19 Successor, Proves More Deadly
  Click here for full version
Click here for Excerpts
Click here for Addendum

Back in February 2022 we all saw these images of women and children crowding onto trains, their husbands or mates standing nearby, all at the emotional breaking point. Anxiety was palpable. What was going to happen? Would I ever see him or her again? Kids wore worried, confused expressions. She is holding back tears because, “I don’t want my kids to see me crying.” And those without kids were losing it, regaining control, then losing it again. You cannot watch this scene without losing control yourself. From happy to sad, from smiling good health to tragedy.

One self-aggrandizing Monster, however, could care less. He could probably watch a person choke to death and it would not move him to offer assistance. He is the Tin Man who does not want a heart.

But now, five months later, some of these women and their children were returning. I got on the train to Kyiv at Warsaw, Poland, and at Chelm we crossed the border into Ukraine. My four-person sleeping car was empty when we pulled out of Chelm, but I soon had company: a lovely young woman with the posture of a dancer in pink chiffon dress with two boys. The little boy was asleep in his mother’s arms when they entered, and she laid him down on the bunk opposite mine. The older boy, about nine, sat down beside her and his sleeping brother. He was calm, clear-eyed—something I do not observe often in young boys. So was “mom.” But let’s back up for a moment.

On the train ride from Warsaw to Chelm the woman next to me, golden-blond hair in a slightly frayed bun, had seemed nervous, agitated. She had two daughters, one about five, the other a teenager. The little girl was smiling, having fun, like most little kids on the train. Her hair was long, blond, and braided. The teenager looked calm, thoughtful. But mom didn't engage in conversation with me until I started to get off at the wrong stop to switch trains for Kyiv. Then I became part of her "fold." She stopped me, telling me there were two stops at Chelm and the second was the right one to change trains for Kyiv. Suddenly she warmed up to conversation and asked her teenage daughter to come over and explain.

At the next stop the teenager said, “Follow us. We’re changing trains here too.”

Out on the platform she looked at my ticket and pointed to the right “wagon,” as cars were called.

She was a nice young woman and a little calmer than “mom.” I don’t know the story but I think that “mom” had suffered more stress while fleeing the “Monster.” Maybe she had more to lose and more to protect. Stress doesn’t always go away when the cause is gone; it can be “sticky.”

Now on the right “wagon” to Kyiv with my new companions, a few questions were asked until the little boy woke up and began fussing.

The calm mom with perfect posture, even while sitting, the pink chiffon “dancer,” explained that her little one was just two and had not seen his father for three months. She thought that might explain his fussiness, but I had not asked.

His older brother explained that his younger brother mostly slept during the day and lay awake at night. “He is a bit contrary?” I asked. “Very,” he said and smiled. We began to analyze little brother, a complex, quirky troublemaker, it seemed.

Little brother had the well defined features of a much older person and, according to mom, loved Parmesan cheese. She handed him a large cube of Parmigiano, which he soon dropped, then resumed fussing.

His mother tried to pacify him but it was no go.

“Nothing seems to make him happy,” I said to the older boy when mom was out in the corridor walking him up and down in her arms. He wasn’t the only kid out in the corridor but most seemed to be running, laughing, and having a good time without the assistance of their mothers. Girl kids are amazing this way; boy kids less so.

The older boy smiled. We got out our phones and, with the help of translation software, had a lively conversation about little brother. Older brother was smiling and amused. It appeared that little brother could be a real pain at times but talking about it seemed cathartic to the older boy.

The Monster—let’s call him Putin-22, successor to Covid-19—had caused great inconvenience and considerable trauma, but some of it would pass in time. But for others the damage would be more lasting, even permanent. Stress doesn’t always pack up and go home when it is done being stressful. War or Disease, what’s your preference? What’s your form of apocalypse? Covid-19 any day for me; Putin-22 is a mental disease with ill intent; it enjoys your suffering. The more you suffer, the more its ego is boosted. If you die, all the better!

Finally about noon the train eased into the grand old train station in Kyiv. We had not been struck by a missile, one of the Monster’s favorite greetings.

Putin-22, bomber of train stations, hospitals, schools, factories, theatres—anywhere a person might go to take shelter—even of dams and nuclear power plants, threatening all with disaster. He was a devil, an ifrit, a madman. He had no shame.

I got a cab at the station and went to my hotel, the Bontiak, near the centre of town close to Sophia Cathedral. I had my first look at Kyiv. It was gorgeous! Fine old buildings, beautiful architecture, lovely parks, and located above the Dnieper River. Loathing and lust dictators know. No wonder the Monster wanted to drink her blood!

Paulina told me she left at the beginning of the war but then came back. “You can’t think about attacks all the time,” she said. I was just getting used to the air-raid sirens, their low drone and sound of impending doom. Like others who had gone away, she came back to where she was from. They had told me at the hotel that the sirens were just “tests” but Polina said there were real but indicated an attack somewhere in Ukraine, but not necessarily in Kyiv. Most of the missiles came from submarines in the Black Sea. There was a bomb shelter at the hotel—the receptionist said she would tell me if I needed to go down there, but I thought I might be able to figure that out on my own—and it took a pass to enter the street where the Bontiak was located.

She said she didn’t like being away from Kyiv, so she came back. I have heard that before; it’s called “going home.” We talk a long time about the situation and the difficulty of making future plans, such as going back to school, and finally her boss calls her. She works at Osteria Pantagruel, an Italian restaurant. Golden Gate Park across the street is lovely. Kyiv is very green with the tall, thin pine trees. Polina is calm and relaxed and says she talks to her father about the situation. Talking about the “situation” seems to help everyone, including me. I think it was talking about the situation of Little Brother that helped Big Brother and made him smile. At the centre of every “situation,” however, there is one situation that eventually needs be dealt with: the “Putin” situation.

At the Whiskey Corner bar and restaurant on Sofiivska the bartender there, "Ras" (Rastislava), describes to me the overall situation in Kyiv: “We are exhausted,” he says. It was a very intense battle for Kyiv. While Ukraine won that battle, there is more to come. Business at Whiskey Corner is slow now, he says, but they do some take-out orders. An 11-o’clock curfew may not help. When I tell him I’m a journalist, not just a nosy person, he smiles and says he guessed that.

When I ask about Bucha, he says that it is probably too early for a memorial there but it might be worth going. It’s next on my list.

A couple days later I was off to Bucha.

I stood on the corner on Volodymyvsk next to “Perfetto” restaurant waiting for my taxi to Bucha. Holding my phone in one hand and tracking the arrival of my taxi, I see my hand shaking. Had I miscalculated something in my character? Was I afraid? Not exactly; I think I was overwhelmed by what I was doing. I took a deep breath and regained some composure. But I had not calculated the personal effect of what I was doing. Bucha was where the Russians tied people's hands behind their backs and shot them in the back of the head, raped women and tortured others by pulling out teeth and cutting off ears. They had half-buried some in make-shift graves. Earlier, when I saw the photos, it matched exactly what I had seen at the Massacre Museum in Nanjing, China, some years earlier. The Chinese artist got it exactly right in Nanjing. Arms, hands, legs poking out of the ground.

And the Putin-22 Monster? Well, he seems to be missing a vital element in a real human being. He has no emotions, only perhaps anger and lust.

In Bucha, Viktor at the Viktoria Park Hotel—it had been looted during the occupation—told me he thought the market in downtown Bucha was “closed." He said that if I needed something there was a small market just down the road from the hotel. But when I went there I found it “limited.” The next day I walked to downtown Bucha. Novus, the market there, had been bombed; it was completely gutted inside. Moreover the signs out front had been riddled with holes from large-calibre machine guns, probably from tanks. I took photos. Back at the hotel I showed Viktor the photos of the market. “It’s definitely closed,” I said.

Viktor hesitated, stepped back, then said, “It hurts me to see that. I used to shop there.”

I realized my blunder. It was traumatic to see photos of something you once loved now destroyed.

“It hurts me too,” I said. “I shopped at Novus in Kyiv every day last week. It's a wonderful market.”

We now shared the grief and I was no longer a heartless bastard.

I didn’t show him the bullet holes in the signs. I spared him that insult.

He grew up in Bucha but now lives in the neighbouring oblast of Irpin.

We are emotional animals—well, some of us..

Viktor told me a little about leaving Bucha during the Russian attack.

“I speak Russian,” he said. “That helped.” But he said they shot some people in their cars. Again, you come back to anxiety. You don’t know what’s going to happen next. If you have “little ones,” it’s even worse. You need to appear strong when you are close to losing it. And in some cases, maybe your anxiety doesn’t go away when the real danger does. It sticks with you like an unwanted companion.

When I left Kyiv a few weeks later late at night, light in the grand old railway station was turned low. An older man with gray beard, sensing that I could not see, helped me down the stairs with my suitcase to the train platform below. Had he done it before in the dark? He seemed absolutely fearless! It’s a long ride back down to Warsaw, 21-hours. This time I had a half-pint with me to ease the way.

Damn that bloody Monster. We thought two years of Covid-19 was bad. We were ready to celebrate! Now how many years of Putin-22? Please, someone, anyone, let’s find a way to get rid of this guy. And propagandists Sergey Lavrov—“Russia is not squeaky clean ... we are not ashamed ...” ” no, you’re filthy dirty but should be”—and Dmitry Peskov muttering about a non-existent "existential threat" to Russia, along with generals Alexander Dvornikov, the “butcher of Syria,” and Sergei Shoigu, the leader of the failed invasion of Kyiv! They should all be on trial in The Hague for war crimes. With Putin and his men running amuck, there is no way the pressing problems of this world will be solved. They become "the situation" and the blockage to progress on all other fronts. The solution may require more than just supplying weapons to the abused; it may require a no-fly zone and dreaded "boots on the ground." We must get a grip and confront the Monster!
By Louis Martin