Putin-22, Heartless Covid-19 Successor, Proves More Deadly

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 lady 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 lay him down on the bunk opposite mine. The older boy, about nine, sat down beside her and his sleeping brother. He was calm, clear-eyes—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 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 I wasn’t paying much attention to this family because I was talking with a young Polish woman who had returned from Sweden to visit her mother in Poland. She had moved to Sweden from Poland, she told me, when she was fourteen with seven friends. The story interested me, but I never asked her why she had moved before she got off the train. Everything was a little disjointed in my mind; travel can upend the normal thought process But when I started to get off at the wrong stop to switch trains for Kyiv, the woman with the two daughters stopped me, telling me there were two stops at Chelm and the second was the place to change for Kyiv. She had apparently been listening to my conversation with the young Polish woman and prevented my making a serious mistake. And suddenly she warmed up to conversation and asked her teenage daughter come over and explain.

“Follow us,” the teenager said. “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 lady 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 “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.

He 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. His attitude was kind and understanding, even amused—a very healthy attitude to have. Mom was the same; and she seemed to have grace in everything she did. I meant to ask her if she really were a dancer but didn’t get around to it. They got off at a station before Kyiv. She seemed happy to be going back and see her husband; it had been three months for her too. If there was damage, I think it was mostly to the little boy. When they started to get off at their stop, the older boy came back to shake hands and smiled. I was touched by his gesture of friendship. He was a “good kid” who really was one. And with a little help from translation software we had bridged the language gap.

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!

I now had the sleeping car with the four bunks again to myself. I lay down after a calming sip of whiskey from one of those small plastic containers you can take through airport security in a plastic bag and pulled a blue blanket over myself. One of the conductors came by and pulled the window blind down. I listened to the rumbling of the train along the tracks. Did he pull the blinds down so the train could not be spotted? I don’t know. Why were we making this trip in the middle of the night? I’m not sure. I relaxed a little. It had been tense back in the train station in Warsaw. The train came in and there was little time to find your car. If you didn’t find your car—I didn't—then you had to stand up or sit on one those little pull-down seats in the corridor of the car you were on. Many stood or sat in the corridor, which was tiring. It was nice to stretch out and relax now. I dreamed I was on the London-Paddington train to Swansea, Wales, a nice dream if you are about to die. Then I woke up realizing I was headed the other way. Then slowly I could see light through the crack in the window blinds. I waited awhile to pull the blind up. Then I saw the tall, thin pine trees which I would soon see everywhere in Ukraine. I would see forests of them in the parks in Kyiv and in Bucha.

Then 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 be safe—even of nuclear power facilities and threatening all with disaster. And child killer, mother murderer, and instiller of fear and panic in all. He is the Four Horsemen all in one evil person. “I just want to be able to go to work and walk outside,” said one young woman in a subway station while losing it at the beginning of the attack in Kyiv. Another much younger person, Amelia Anisovych, somehow kept her cool and sang the hit song from “Frozen” in a subway station. Miraculously she made it later to her grandmother’s house in Poland, a happy ending indeed!—unlike little Liza in Vinnytsia who was pushing her own stroller down the street after a speech therapy session and was struck by shrapnel from one of the Monster's missiles. About four, kids like to do that: ride, then walk pushing their own stroller, ride then walk. And the Monster thinks he’s Peter the Great! If the Monster wants to indulge in delusional comparisons, let him compare himself to Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, or the great Genghis Khan. Now they knew how to kill and maim!

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 Pantaguel, 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 said, looking exhausted. He also looks grim. 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, he says he guessed that. When I mention that, as an indication of my personal concern, not just the curiosity of a journalist, I have given humanitarian aid, he turns to me directly and says, “Thanks you,” as though I have personally given him the money. I did not expect to be thanked. This war is very personal and emotional. It is felt not just “out there” but on the inside as well. It is hard to say, “How awful!” then flip the page.

When I mention 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. He says 2 PM is a good time to come in and talk but I don’t make it back. He is friendly but very intense and serious. I think the war has done that. I regret that I did not come back to the Whiskey Corner for more conversation.

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. I had 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 sticking out of the ground. One would not bury an animal this way! Even earlier I had seen the giant paved killing trench at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany where prisoners were shot by SS officers from a booth and the prisoners' blood flowed into a giant drain pipe at one end of the trench. The SS officers were allowed to drink Schnapps on the job to numb them from the horrors of what they were doing. It is said that Heinrich Himmler “The Great” came out to see his handiwork in operation one day and nearly lost his lunch. Maybe I was lucky that I calmed down and my hand did not fall off on Volodymyvsk street. Mind, body, emotion—not always in synch in modern times. Mind, body, emotion—at war with each other with little help from the United Nations.

And the Putin-22 Monster? Well, he seems to be missing a vital element in a real human being. He has no emotion, only perhaps anger and lust. When he was a kid he annoyed other kids at school by throwing erasers at them. And fought with his teachers. Now he’s firing missiles at people who have done him no wrong! How do you get rid of such a monster who has his hands on nuclear weapons and obeys no rules? How do you disarm a maniac with the power of a god but eviscerated heart and soul?

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 form 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, 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.”

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.

If you are from California in the United States it is about like being told that your local Trader Joe’s is gone. That a maniac without heart and soul did it. Expect to hear loud sobbing. Trader Joe’s is a friend, a soul-mate. Same with Mariano's in Chicago.

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 gentleman, sensing that I could not see, helped me down the stairs with my suitcase to the train platform below. Maybe he had done it before in the dark! 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—“Were not squeaky clean,” ” no, you’re filthy dirty”—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."
By Louis Martin