Last week I was drafting some light-hearted scribbles about clocks for this week’s missive but I can’t ignore the other stories than clamour for oxygen, so this is a somewhat different, more serious postcard than I had envisaged. Not sure about you but I think I have a reasonable understanding of contemporary history and the events that have created the world and its political systems as we know them in 2022. But it seems that individuals can reread, rewrite or reinterpret history in ways which suit their own narrative. You may remember PC 226 ‘The Truth, The Whole Truth ….’ which explored the rather modern take on what’s true; this idea there is ‘your truth’ and ‘my truth’. On a simplistic level “one person’s version of past events can be rather different” – summed up nicely by the statement from The Queen – “recollections may vary”.”
Map showing how the old ‘Soviet Block’ shrunk post-1990
Had twenty minutes on Tuesday before my dental hygienist appointment and I had promised to catch up with Sami this week but entering the Hope Café I was waylaid by the main barista Josh. Now have two stories that shock and dismay me in equal measure, one international and one domestic. I signalled to Sami I would be with him in a minute and gave my attention to Josh. I learn that his grandparents had indeed escaped the Nazi threat in 1938 and made it to England on a Kinder Transport. (See PC 269)
As the conversation develops, he discloses that relatives of his grandparents had been living in Ukraine at the start of the Second World War. I shouldn’t have been surprised as the Jewish diaspora stretches around the world like veins around the body. But I hadn’t known what had occurred in those days in the Babyn Yar area of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, whose name became today’s news as it was shelled by Russians last week in the current war.
Nazi Germany’s Eastern reach
Nazi Germany’s eastward expansion reached Ukraine in September 1941. Jews were rounded up in every town and village; in the capital Kyiv some 34,000 were simply shot and thrown into a ravine. As 85 year old Igor Aheyev, who lost three siblings and his grandparents, recounted: “Old and young, men, women and children, were just annihilated ….. for nothing ….. just because they were Jewish.” Josh imagines his distant relatives were among them.
I tell him of twenty-something Ukrainian Olga who owns an apartment here in Amber House. She’s in the process of converting her Masters in Human Rights from the University of Sussex into a Law Degree – another two years of study! Her parents had lived in Kyiv up until last weekend and she had been unable to make contact. Last Sunday she heard they had made it across the border into Moldova – “the first time I breathed in the past two weeks”. This is personal news in what would otherwise be a somewhat impersonal conflict, no matter how we identify with the obvious suffering.
And if you are trying to fathom Putin’s aims as far as Ukraine’s concerned, remember the actions of one of his predecessors, Stalin. That dictator wanted to not only replace the country’s small farms with state-run collectives but also punish the independently-minded Ukrainians who posed a threat to his totalitarian authority; echoes of Putin’s aim? Russians simply confiscated the wheat harvest with no compensation. Between 1932 and 1933 some 3.9 million people, about 13% of the population, died of starvation, possibly one of the most horrible ways to die. (Note 1) It’s known as The Holodomor, a combination of Ukrainian words for ‘starvation’ and ‘to inflict death’.
‘Skin and bone’
Josh had to get on and serve a customer; I make my way over to Sami who’s in his usual seat. I tell him I have been watching the actress Ambika Mod’s portrayal of a junior NHS doctor in the BBC’s ‘This is Going to Hurt’. He looks confused. I explain that his own parents’ experience of being uprooted from India to settle in the UK is similar to Mod’s. She wrote: “Does that make me a first or second generation immigrant? I am confused!”
Sami rummages around in his satchel and pulls out a cutting from The Sunday Times. The large photographic spread is headlined: “Will Justice Finally be Delivered?”
….. and goes on to list ten individuals who either ran the Post Office, were Post Office legal counsel, Members of Parliament who had responsibility for inter alia the Post Office or who ran Fujitsu UK, the company responsible for the error-ridden computer system; some or all of them bear responsibility for one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in the UK’s legal system. The idealist in me hopes punishment will be meted out appropriately; the cynical me thinks I live in cloud cuckoo land! The inquiry is expected to last the whole of the year; only 72 out of 700 have had their names cleared to date.
Sami is due to give evidence next week but has yet to receive a penny in compensation, a situation I find absolutely disgraceful. See my ‘Generosity in Government’ PC 235 June 2021. Having been accused of ‘losing’ £10,000, he borrowed money to pay this and the Post-Office-imposed fine back. He defaulted on his mortgage and had to declare himself bankrupt. As it’s now six years on, the details of his bankruptcy will be removed from his credit file. He’s hoping he will be properly compensated although compensation scales will not be set until 2023.
“You know, part of me thinks there was some subconscious racism at work in the Post Office Management.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Well, a large proportion of sub-post offices are run by families with immigrant backgrounds; I’m the classic example. Was there a belief that we immigrant families would never dare question the mighty management (of the mother country!)?”
I looked at him, my mind racing. There are two sub post offices within walking distance of my apartment, both run by families of obvious Indian Sub-Continent descent. This was also true of ones I used when living in South London and, although the Post Office does not collect data on the background of their sub post office managers, maybe this is true country-wide.
“Interesting! Sami, how was it that hundreds of sub-postmasters and mistresses, who heretofore had always balanced their books, suddenly were having unexplained losses, at exactly the point when a new IT system was introduced? Did no one think? Did no one add two and two and get four and not three?”
My mobile alarm suddenly started beeping; I needed to leave pronto!
“F**k! Sorry! Got to dash but good luck next week. Text me?”
Finally, social media has wonderfully creative examples of how we in the west view Putin. This is just one:
Richard 11th March 2022
Note 1 Compare with the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol today, without water, without power, without food for days now, starving but still with hope?