The tragedy in Kemerovo brings forth a much greater one

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:

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?


19 thoughts on “The tragedy in Kemerovo brings forth a much greater one

  1. Has there been a more inaptly named phenomenon than ‘social’ media? People will type words they would never say in ‘meatspace’ and the internet encourages a further differing of viewpoints by allowing people to cocoon. Lefties read Huffington Post, while Righties read Drudge. I have no idea what can be done about any of this – especially in light of the First Amendment. I do foresee a huge fight between the US and the EU over the issue of freedom of speech though.

  2. I have no idea what can be done about any of this

    A handful of wise men must rise above the rabble and cut through the nonsense with their thoughtful blogging.


  3. Before social media generations of acceptable behaviour meant we pretty much could disagree and argue within pretty firm boundries, you overstepped and there were consequences. Today a little gobshite can hurl threats and obscenities with no real fear of any blow back.I do love the interconnectivity of today but peoples behaviour is definitely in beta mode.You are kinda right about some bloggers as you do by and large encourage pretty civil debate.

  4. Before social media generations of acceptable behaviour meant we pretty much could disagree and argue within pretty firm boundries, you overstepped and there were consequences.

    Indeed, and I wrote about that here. It’s changed how people behave while dating, too.

    You are kinda right about some bloggers as you do by and large encourage pretty civil debate.

    I try!

  5. I am not especially aligned with Tim’s outlook on life or politics (nor with Tim Worstall, through whose site I found Tim N’s) but they are both pretty welcoming of, hm, “non-compliant opinion.” Which is greatly appreciated. You just have to be prepared for people to say robust things if they disagree with you but that is absolutely fair enough by me.

  6. Myburning ears, sadly too many can not distinguish between robust and offensive. I’m sure not many here are shrinking violets and can take some strong criticism on occasions but calling me a tory cunt or whatever from the safety of a mobile phone is something else….even if I am!

  7. I’ve noticed the Scottish analogy before. Lots of Russians living abroad will happily claim Ukrainian descent, even if they’re mostly Russian; just as white Americans bang on about their Irish ancestry.

  8. “It’s tragic. How the hell did it come to this?” – How the hell could it not have? Budapest ’56, Prague ’68. Warsaw ’81 did not happen only because Jaruzelski did it on his own.

    They will be thinking about “spheres of influence” as long as they have something to eat. Hell, the “reformer” Gaidar diverted IMF money to a KGB front operation when the populace had almost nothing to eat.

    The only solution to this problem is to Make Muscovy Small Again. Otherwise they will continue burning themselves and anyone they can reach.

  9. “It’s tragic. How the hell did it come to this?”

    The rise and fall of civilizations.

    From Sir John Glubb’s ‘The Fate of Empires’:

    “Another remarkable and unexpected symptom of national decline is the intensification of internal political hatreds. One would have expected that, when the survival of the nation became precarious, political factions would drop their rivalry and stand shoulder-to-shoulder to save their country.”


    “True to the normal course followed by nations in decline, internal differences are not reconciled in an attempt to save the nation. On the contrary, internal rivalries become more acute, as the nation becomes weaker.”

    With the advent of social media, we can now take the internal political rivalries international. 🙂


  10. In the UK the SNP caused hatred between England and Scotland by falsely claiming that Thatcher tested the Poll Tax on them, in reality it went to Scotland first because the rates revaluation there had been very unpopular.
    Btw I agree with you social media should only be used to wish friends happy birthday etc, it is not a good way to debate politics.

  11. I think the Ukrainians need to accept that this is what happens to them due to centuries of switching sides, turn coating and skullduggery.

  12. Wow….what a interesting blog. Only discovered yesterday.

    Ukraine will be ripped apart. There are lot of players in this game. Russia of course, then Poland. Before WWII , 100 000 km2 from today,s Ukraine belonged to Poland and they remember it very well. Then there are lot of other nations, mostly Hungarians and Romanians and those countries involving heavily in Ukraine politics. Then there is Belarus and very clever dictator Lukashenka with he,s interests.

    And finally people of Ukraine, who lost faith in their country after 20 years of mismanagement and 4 years of war. Actually Ukraine had large army but it did not fought . They said that when they win, they get the same poverty and misery back what they had 20 years. Basically happened the very same what in USSR in 1991. Powerful army refused to defend USSR because nobody believed in USSR anymore.

    And USSR split by the ethnic lines. Same will happen in Ukraine, when USA hawks write it off. And they will, because there are huge problems within USA so sooner or later they don,t have time and money to run Global Empire.

  13. Wow….what a interesting blog. Only discovered yesterday.


    I agree about Ukraine. 25 years of independence and they have nothing to show for it but deep-rooted corruption and failed, dysfunctional governments. I think this is why half of them wanted to move towards the EU, in attempt to move away from Russian-style gangsterism. It’s hard to see any long-term solution that doesn’t involve partition.

  14. I’ve always said that the Donbas(s) conflict is a civil war in the post-Soviet space. (It’s a simplification, of course. It’s more than that.) However, it might have died out early on if Russia had not interfered.

  15. Congrats Tim, you’ve got yourself the first professional Russian troll, with not much in terms of English, but a firm grasp on geostrategic situation. We should be expecting Polish and Romanian little green men any time now.

    As for Ukraine not having much to show for the 26 years, that’s behause you have no idea of the depth of the abyss it was in. The Soviet annihilation of the basic ability to think, through both mass murder and brainwashing was truly monumental.

    The reason Russia has to resort to outright aggression now is precisely because Ukraine has slowly but surely evolved from a splinter of the Russian empire to a still deeply sick yet distinctly separate nation. Able to stall the Muscovite invasion with essentially volunteer effort and a few blankets from Canada.

    I’m not saying Ukraine cannot lose this war, given the huge Russian military advantage and the corruption within. But the jury is very much out on this.

  16. As for Ukraine not having much to show for the 26 years, that’s behause you have no idea of the depth of the abyss it was in. The Soviet annihilation of the basic ability to think, through both mass murder and brainwashing was truly monumental.

    Oh, I know it only too well. But regardless of the reasons, Ukraine is a mess and shows no sign of becoming less of one any time soon – especially not with the Russians involving themselves to such a degree.

  17. Like I said, it’s a huge mess compared to e. g. Estonia. Compared to itself of 1991 it’s vastly better. Not good enough, but vastly better.

    Yes, Russian involvement is a huge problem because it denies Ukrainians the most effective tool for political change they have mastered so far, i. e. the popular revolt. And I am not seeing much progress in mastering other tools either. But those are complex unpredictable processes. In Poland of 1981, 1989 was not exactly plannable, but that did not stop those who envisioned it. On the other hand, I hear the CIA was making long-term plans to fight the USSR right before it collapsed. So there is that.

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