Catherine Murphy, my great grandmother, was a publican’s wife. They ran the Prince George in Warbreck Moor. My mother and her sister were born upstairs above the bar, in the front room – as was the way of the time for many. Her husband had worked up in the brewery trade, mainly on the Liverpool Docks. (As my mother said to a scoffing museum guide who questioned that she had the Albert Dock as a child ‘Me grandad took me and he was one of the most important men in Liverpool – he ran a pub on the Dock Road!)
Back in the Second World War, Aintree racecourse was requisitioned by the government, to make an internment camp for Italian Prisoners of War. My great grandmother used to bake cakes and on some Sundays, would go to the camp and give the cakes to the Italians. My mother recalls she asked why. ‘Because they have mothers and my boys are out there fighting.’ she replied. ‘I would like to think that if they were captured, a mother would do the same over there for them.’
Born of an unprovoked invasion, I look from afar at the carnage in Ukraine. I watched the tissue of lies to the world that there would be no invasion. I read of messages of disbelief in Russia and within their Army of this move. I see the images of destruction of people’s homes. It is easy to look on and hate, as indiscriminately as the consequences of this military invasion. I too have felt it over the days; how ordinary folk have had their lives damaged for being the wrong side of an aggressor’s ambition.
I have written novels about Estonia in the Second World War and to do that, I researched into the conflict and read of the ruthless methods used to subdue countries in the past. The atrocities born of men being frustrated or battle-weary and numbed to their humanity or just plain evil. Unforgivable acts of cruelty. History shows you that no major country can absolve themselves from the shameful acts of their forebears sometime in the past – yet the conflict in Ukraine is today. Here. Now.
It is easy to echo the last words of the thirteen strong garrison of Skeleton Island, when called upon to surrender. ‘Russia – Go fuck yourself.’. There is a lot of anger in what has been done.
I can understand fully the alarm of the former Eastern Bloc countries . Concerned that a past they had believed was behind them, could yet return . The here and now has a feel that we have revisited the 1930s. Albeit a different sinner in the early days, but same shit, different shovel.
It does feel that there are people in power who are playing with the copybook that was used in Prague in 1968 and Budapest in 1956. Except this time is different. The people have not been suppressed by years of war and institutionalised. The people who were not supposed to cause a problem are making molotov cocktails, sitting down in front of tanks, and giving sunflower seeds to Russian soldiers ‘so something good can grow from the place where you die.’
I think of Mrs Murphy, the publican’s wife from the Liverpool docks. Living through the worst conflict Europe had ever seen – and still showing humanity to those caged for fighting against her country. Still believing that on the other side of the conflict, there still existed humanity. Because I don’t believe every person in a country is evil, even if their nationality is tainted by the sins of their leaders. There are good people in all countries, there are bad also. There is no template. I have met a few Russians over the years and there definitely is no stereotype. The problem is in times of war, the good can be suppressed as the bad is allowed to flourish. In time this may change, but for now, I believe we have to remember that not everyone agrees with what is happening, but may not have the power to change it. Again, this can alter in time. The dynamics are not set in stone.
The Ukrainian people should not be suffering from the assault of a foreign power. This is not the 20th Century, Europe has moved forward. I am heartened by the massive response – from providing supplies to countries offering havens to those who flee. I will not forget the yellow and blue projected onto buildings. I felt humble by watching Manchester City running onto the pitch wearing Ukraine flags on t-shirts, to be followed by Everton players carrying the flags on their shoulders. There are some who scoff at these small acts, who sneer at people adopting the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag on their social media. This is so wrong, even small acts help in this dark time. The message is spread further and makes it difficult to suppress – that people care. The message sends hope to the afflicted. We are aware. We are watching and we will help when we can. You are not alone.
Mrs Murphy’s message is still clear to me. There are humane people everywhere and every little act of kindness does help to make them stronger. Tap a stone once and it will be a stone. Tap it a thousand times and it may shatter. Putin and your cronies, there is no place for your actions in civilised society – you can go fuck yourselves. We stand with Ukraine.