Smitten on the right cheek


Near Darke

By Hank Nuwer

My wife Gosia and I have heard more news from our friend Olga in Lviv, Ukraine. The historic city, less than a half-hour drive from Poland’s western border, has been shelled, although not so terribly as the reduced-to-ashes port city of Mariupol.

Olga was terribly worried about her granddaughters. One is a university student and one works online for an international firm. Olga bought them plane tickets to Australia to stay with a distant relative. Knowing what the Russians did to women after the fall of Berlin in 1945, she took the sane but heartbreaking choice to send them to safety.

The student will need to find work. Her sister gets to keep her job and support them both.

Olga continues to make dumplings each day and takes them to a truck for delivery to soldiers at the front.

Ingredients like potatoes and cabbage for sauerkraut to stuff the pierogis are getting hard to find. Russian soldiers shelled the main market.

Lviv mainly has been in the news because it is a jumping-off point for refugees from Kiev and Eastern Ukraine.

On the phone this week, Olga told us a sad and shocking tale.

A friend of hers who has a country home and a nearby apartment offered the flat to a family of refugees from Donbas. They spoke Russian and Ukrainian.

Olga’s friend raided her own shelves and freezer to stock the flat with food for the refugees.

After some days passed, the couple announced that they found transportation into Poland. They would be leaving the next day.

Some internal warning caused the homeowner to stop by the flat later that evening.

Olga’s friend knocked on the flat door and got no answer. The refugee family already was gone.

The friend tried to ignore the sound of shells falling outside the city.

She let herself in with a key. No luggage was anywhere in sight. The flat was not the spotless place it had been days earlier.

She gasped. A smell like rotten eggs pervaded the flat.

She hurried to the stove. Someone in the family had turned on all burners. The knobs on the stove were turned on, but there were no flames.

All it would have taken was a shuffling step on the carpet to trigger a fatal spark. Even a passerby smoking outside the flat might have caused an explosion.

Clearly, that’s what the family hoped would happen.

The good Samaritan threw open the doors and windows to clear the air.

That’s when she saw the refugees left behind a message.

On a full-length mirror on the wall, she saw writing in lipstick. She inspected the mirror.

A curse was written in neat Russian letters.

“Die, fascist Ukrainian,” the message read.

My father who was drafted in 1941 and fought in World War II at D-Day and at the Battle of the Bulge once told me a story. Some French people his Hell on Wheels unit liberated then treated the dogfaces with scorn and disrespect.

The French citizens were upset that the city of Le Havre had been destroyed by American planes to drive out the Nazi invaders.

My father had a saying that about covered it.

“No good deed goes unpunished,” he would say.

He also talked about his post-war experiences while assigned to German-speaking Austria as part of the Army’s peace-keeping force in 1945.

He and two or other soldiers were assigned quarters with an Austrian family.

My father’s family hails from German-speaking Alsace. On Sundays, we stood to bless the meal in German.

The mother of that household began writing Grandmother. “Those boys are more like brothers,” she wrote.

There was a food shortage in Europe. Grandma began shipping cans of ham to the family, and did so for years even after Dad returned to our farm.

I know also, my mother’s Polish side of the family sent post-war money to relatives of theirs in Poland. My Polish grandmother kept those letters.

In my heart, I know most refugees are like Olga’s daughters. They come from a good family, victims of a war they never wanted.

The same, I know, is true of millions of French citizens during the war. They were grateful for the freedom my dad and other GIs fought to give them back.

That family from Donbas clearly has swallowed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s poisonous, lying rhetoric. I believe that family does not represent three million Ukrainian refugees.

Nor does Vladimir Putin represent the vast number of good families in Russia under the thumb of a ruling tyrant.

My prayer is that one day Putin finds his bad deeds punished tenfold.

I pray for peace and good will to all mankind.

Vater unser im hiimel.

Hank Nuwer is an author, columnist and playwright. He and wife Gosia live on the Indiana side of the Union City state line. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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