The horror, the horror

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing

I don’t really know where to begin with this one. Is it a part of being human that we get used to things that once horrified us? Are we hard-wired to become inured to appalling acts, to disasters, to tragedies? Is that how we manage to keep going with life, by eventually becoming used to awful things? Keep calm and carry on as the message on tea-towels in kitchens the length and breadth of the land exhort us.

I’m as guilty of that as anyone. In February last year, all I wanted to read about, to write about, was the war in Ukraine, I wanted to understand what was going on not 2000 miles from my own doorstep. I listened to the BBC’s excellent podcast Ukraine cast pretty much every episode, this blog was filled with my thoughts on the horrors that every day unveiled.

After a while though, as things went on, the focus changed. I’m still as horrified as ever by the invasion of Ukraine by the power-hungry Putin, but other things cropped up which require my attention and word craft. The shenanigans in Westminster, the Prime Ministerial switcheroo, the housing ministerial roundabout, the Post Office Scandal, the Covid inquiry, the Platty Joobs, the Queen and then the King, the sewage spillages. Even, occasionally, stuff about the industry and the day job.

Today though, the images coming out of Kherson remind us all that whatever else we have going on in our lives, there are hundreds of thousands of people forced from their homes, divided from their loved ones, who fled with the clothes on their backs and not a lot more. Soldiers – and those who volunteered to fight – killed defending Ukraine’s land from the Russian invading army. Thousands of civilians murdered and tortured by invading forces.

Now the Russians – we assume that it was them because it makes no sense for it to be anyone else – have blown up the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dinipro river. It is currently sending thousands of tonnes of water downriver into Kherson. Some 80,000 people are affected by this, and waters continue to rise. Houses are collapsing under the weight of the water, and, while it appears that the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is safe for now, 300 animals drowned in the zoo. It’s the zoo animals that really got me. Maybe it’s a British thing, maybe it’s being a middle-aged female softy, but that stopped me in my tracks. There’s also a very real fear from Kyiv that, with the Russian-occupied side of the Dnipro also flooded, that the 25,000 civilians there would be relocated into Russia itself. Already, too many children have been removed from their Ukrainian homes and reassigned to Russia.

Ukraine has been referred to as the ‘bread basket of Europe’: more wheat and, it turns out, sunflower oil, comes from there than any of us had any idea of, until the cost of our weekly loaf at Sainsburys went through the roof. Some 10,000 acres of fertile, arable land is now flooded, or about to be. The destruction of the dam is an ecological war-crime.

There has been too much senseless loss of life so far in this war, and it will continue, we know it will. Ukraine will begin an offensive, that’s been talked about in the media for some time. The question is when, what form will it take, and how much help is the rest of the West prepared to give it? What ever we have done so far, we need to up it. We cannot let the maniac in the Kremlin win.

It’s been too long since I wrote these words here: Slava Ukraini. Because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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