There is a story developing in the aftermath of the Kemerovo shopping mall fire which is getting uglier by the day. It concerns this man:
Last week Igor Vostrikov was a successful businessman, married with three young children. Today he says that he has “nothing more to lose” and will fight for justice to be served.
Vostrikov recalls that his wife, Elena, had been “beyond panic” by the time she reached him at around 4pm on Sunday. Elena, who had been in the cinema with Vostrikov’s sister and three of their children ‒ a seven-year-old girl and boys ages five and two ‒ knew that her husband was away in a nearby town, so she initially called her mother-in-law when smoke first began pouring into the movie theater.
But miles away, Vostrikov knew differently. Elena told him on the phone that she was “suffocating,” and he instructed her to get down on the ground and breathe through a wet cloth.
“Why aren’t they coming to save us?” his daughter asked. Recalling the moment when he stopped hearing the voices of his children in the background, he now thinks that they may have already been dead, even as Elena stayed on the line.
“Igor, we are burning here, I love you,” she said. He continued talking into the phone for several minutes, but there was no reply.
By the time Vostrikov arrived in Kemerovo, the death toll was rising. His wife, sister, and three children are among the 64 who have been officially declared dead.
For a man to suddenly lose his wife, sister, and three young children in this way is a level of tragedy I can barely imagine. News reporters quickly picked up on his anger and grief, and his name began to spread around the internet. Most people felt desperately sorry for him.
However, at some point in the past few years, Vostrikov had posted remarks on social media which were supportive of Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria, and derogatory towards Ukraine. This enraged Ukrainians online who openly said they had no sympathy with someone who made such remarks, and losing his family in a fire was an act of karma. Now we’re getting stories like this:
Igor Vostrikov, the man who lost his whole family in the Kemerovo fire, does a 180º after organizing a massive protest against the local govt. Now he’s calling Putin his tsar, gushing over the governor, and blaming “Maidanites” for hijacking his grief. Yikes. https://t.co/Khg0K3rKhy
— Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) March 29, 2018
I expect this already deeply unpleasant situation will now get even worse.
Among the rather disgusting remarks aimed at Vostrikov was one that had some merit, and that’s the regime which Russians praise for “recapturing” Crimea and putting those uppity Ukrainians in their place is the same one which presides over corruption and dysfunction such that deadly fires in shopping malls occur. It is unlikely you can have one without the other, they are two sides of the same coin. It’s a point I’ve made often in the past, that the characteristics of Putin’s regime that Russians cheer are the same characteristics which make their life harder on a daily basis. Very few see it that way, though.
But the main point of this post is to highlight what an absolute, utter, appalling tragedy this pointless conflict between Russia and Ukraine is. As I said before:
It is well known that civil wars are fought with more bitterness and brutality than those between different peoples, and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine looks to me far more like the former.
Without even trying I can name six people I knew in Sakhalin whose surname ended with the Ukrainian -enko. If I rummaged through my memory banks I could come up with another six. Ukraine and Russia were so intertwined in the Soviet era and before that people would move from one to the other interchangeably. The cultures were so similar that one could move to the other and nobody would know you were an outsider. Nikita Khrushchev passed himself off as a Ukrainian for years, even though he was Russian. By contrast, Stalin and Beria remained stubbornly Georgian and Mikoyan Armenian. I would bet that if you were to ask a Russian whether they had a Ukrainian grandparent, relative, or a relative living in Ukraine most of them would say yes. Okay, maybe not most, but a lot. The cultural and physical border between the two was all but non-existent for years.
There is no easy dividing line between Ukrainians and Russians, and the origins of this conflict seem to concern how people want to be governed in future rather than by whom, and had little to do with ethnicity, language, culture, national security, or any other excuse that’s been wheeled out by the hardliners on each side since.
A few years ago no Ukrainian would have dreamed of saying a Russian deserved to lose his family in a fire, and no Russian would have gloated on the internet about Russian military victories over Ukraine. The whole thing is so pointless, and the wounds will take decades to heal, assuming they ever do. This artificial driving of a wedge between two peoples reminds me of the way many Scots now see England, despite there being little meaningful cultural differences between the two peoples that an outsider could coherently describe. I’d like to say the relations between Scotland and England are not as poisonous as those of Ukraine and Russia, but I’m afraid I can’t. Ten minutes on Twitter will tell you there are people north of the border quite capable of telling an Englishman his family deserved to die in a fire because of his place of birth or political beliefs.
It’s tragic. How the hell did it come to this?