In Ukrainian village near MH17 crash site, residents fear more death is coming
War came this week to Lidiya Goryushko's eastern Ukrainian village, where wreckage fell earlier this month from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
Late last week, she and I spoke over the course of two long afternoons under the grape arbor in the well-kept garden that serves as the central hub for her bustling family. The attack on the plane was an unfolding nightmare but the explosions and gunfire that we could hear were of a still-distant battle.
“We just want to be left alone to have a quiet life,” she told me at the time. “We don’t want to be touched, and we don’t want our children to be killed.”
But after Ukrainian tanks rolled through their tiny village of Petropavlovka Monday and rebels started digging fortifications just down the road, the blasts have drawn far too close for comfort.
“We are in the very center of events,” Goryushko said by telephone on Tuesday. “We heard that there is going to be an attack, and we are trying to do something because the army is going to move forward. So we are trying to prepare stores in our basement, so that we can survive.”
Goryushko and her family, seven people in all, including her 10-year-old grandson and her seven-week-old granddaughter, all hurry to the basement every time they hear explosions.
Goryushko’s elderly guard dog, who last week was playing with a kitten in the family yard, is now hiding too, and the dog’s barks could be heard over the shaky telephone connection on Tuesday. Goryushko said that they had also packed away the cows whose milk serves as the family’s financial sustenance.
“I’m scared for my grandchildren most of all. I just want them to be alive, that’s all. And then I can think about myself,” she said.
The family hoped that living within the debris zone would protect them from the fighting that has been closing in from all sides in recent weeks. Goryushko said then that she had no thoughts about leaving.
By Monday, when she changed her mind, it was too late. Tanks flying Ukrainian colors rolled down her family’s narrow mulberry-tree-lined street Monday morning, Goryushko’s daughter Ludmila said. Later, rebels with guns drove down the road, warning residents not to go outside, Ludmila said.
“We cannot go anywhere because we don’t have fuel for the car,” she said. “We have to stay. There aren’t any taxis, no cars. We tried to call a taxi, but they don’t want to come here. No buses. No minibuses.”
Now, Ludmila said, the family worries that sitting in the debris zone, rather than protecting them, actually makes them targets.
“We have been hearing that the Ukrainian army wants to destroy all evidence that remains on the site” of the crash, Ludmila said. “And that’s why they’re advancing. That’s the rumor. That’s what people are saying.”
The Ukrainian military has denied through a spokesman in Kiev that it is fighting within a 25-mile zone surrounding the main crash site in Hrabove, Ukraine. Ukrainian officials all the way up to President Petro Poroshenko have vowed to protect evidence on the site, which until this week was firmly within rebel control, and to make it accessible to investigators. There is no evidence that the Ukrainian military is purposely attempting to destroy evidence from the downing of the Boeing 777-200, which killed all 298 passengers. Goryushko’s village of Petropavlovka is just five miles away from the main crash site in Hrabove.
When Flight 17 was shot down on July 17, a shrapnel-pocked exterior piece of the cockpit fell on Ludmila’s garden, killing her cat. The family set the fragment out on the road, thinking it would be of great interest to investigators. It has sat there ever since. Now, Ludmila said, the family wonders if they should hide it to protect themselves from anyone who might try to blast away evidence — and to blast away any neighbors who might be in the vicinity.
“If they really want to destroy the evidence, then it’s really close to us,” she said.
Goryushko said last week that she could not believe her beloved sunflower-filled countryside had been transformed into a place of war.
“In our century, it’s impossible to understand how things like this are happening,” she said. “Imagine going to bed at night and not knowing whether you’ll wake up in the morning. There is a black spider in your soul.”
“Pray for us,” she said Tuesday.
What it’s like to be a doctor treating Ebola during the worst outbreak in history
By the time Billy Fischer left the Ebola treatment center in Gueckedou, Guinea, early last month, he could complete the meticulous preparation routine in his sleep.
First, he donned the scrubs. Then, he pulled on a pair of thick rubber boots that came up to his knees. Then, he put on a body suit made of an impermeable material, two pairs of gloves, a face mask, an impermeable hood that covered his neck and -- finally -- goggles.
In the tropical Guinea heat and humidity, it was suffocating. But it also kept him alive.
"You lose about three to five liters of sweat, then you spend the next two hours hydrating before you go back in," Fischer, a doctor, said in an interview. "It limits the care you can provide, but it saves your life."
Guinea has suffered the most in the worst Ebola outbreak in history. The disease has claimed at least 314 lives in that country alone and an additional 346 in neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone. Gueckedou was where some of the first Ebola cases were identified.
Fischer, a critical care physician at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, arrived in Gueckedou -- a small rural town near the permeable border between the three countries -- just as the Ebola outbreak was getting worse, in late May.
Under the auspices of the World Health Organization, he went to work at the Doctors Without Borders facility there.
His first two patients were a brother and sister. Both had developed Ebola symptoms and promptly fled to the bush.
"They were found because they were too weak to run away," Fischer said. Even with treatment, they both died.
That was his introduction to the difficulty of stemming the outbreak, which involves both an aggressive effort to treat a deadly disease and overcoming the fear and distrust that helps it spread.
"Nine out of 10 their loved ones go into a treatment facility and they come out in a body bag," Fischer said. "The distrust is not entirely unfounded."
Ebola brings with it only horrors and no cure.
It begins with fever and pain. With no treatment, nine out of 10 people who contract the virus do die, many from dehydration, hyperbulemia from excessive vomiting, and loss of nutrients due to diarrhea and internal and external bleeding and sometimes kidney and liver failure, Fischer said.
But Fischer came to Guinea because there were some lives he could save — or at least that was the belief that sustained him. The outbreak has claimed nearly 700 lives and has infected some of the people who have been scrambling to stem its spread. A top Liberian doctor died over the weekend and two Americans have been infected.
In this case, "aggressive medical care" is really simple by modern medical standards, Fischer said. Saving lives might require as little as clean IV needles, fluids and basic lab tests, Fischer said — things that are readily available in resource-rich parts of the world.
"The travesty of this whole thing is that we have all these resources here, and it's not fancy," he said.
There's another travesty, and it is that there isn't much that can be said to alleviate the fear of death. With treatment, an infected person's chances of surviving are probably only as high as 40 percent, Fischer said — better odds, but not that much better, than the survival rate with no treatment.
Doctors can't provide any guarantees. They often don’t know who will die and who will survive, but they must treat them all.
According to Doctors Without Borders, which runs the Gueckedou facility where Fischer practiced, recovery rates have been lower there than in other Guinean communities because fear has prevented people from coming forward with symptoms.
And those who do come in for treatment but can't be saved are deprived of the respectful burial their families seek. Washing the body before burial only further risks the lives of their loved ones.
Fischer said he isn't surprised that the disease is believed to be spreading further.
In Nigeria, a man infected with Ebola collapsed at a crowded airport in its most populous city, Lagos. He later died. And now authorities are closely monitoring up to 59 people he might have come in contact with, according to Reuters.
"I'm not surprised," Fischer said. "The majority of people think that Ebola is a dramatic disease that kills people in no time. The reality is that the incubation period is 21 days. The potential for spread outside of Africa is there."
Turkey’s Erdogan joins club of world leaders who win at sports
This weekend, Turkey's demagogic Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan found a new way to burnish his credentials and state his authority. He donned cleats and an eye-catching orange jersey and took the field alongside other politicians and celebrities at the opening ceremony of a soccer stadium in Istanbul. And he scored goals -- three of them, in fact -- in the space of 15 minutes.
It's not a totally surprising feat: the Turkish premier, 60, is a passionate soccer fan and played competitively in his youth. He finishes his strikes with admirable aplomb. But it is amusing to watch some of the circumstances of the hat-trick: note how the defenders slow down ahead of his first goal, how wildly offside he is before chipping in his second (a very nice left-footed shot, to be fair), and how the goalkeeper makes no effort whatsoever to thwart his third.
It may be wise to let the prime minister have his way here. Erdogan has been in power for over a decade and has radically transformed Turkish politics, despite the protests of a growing and vociferous opposition. Erdogan's term is set to end, but he does not plan on stepping down. At the game, he wore the number 12 on his jersey: presidential elections are to be held in August and he intends to be Turkey's 12th president. Earlier in the day, he had been campaigning in Turkey's southeast.
Erdogan is hardly the only domineering politico to show off at a sporting event. Some suggest Erdogan would like to emulate Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose tight grip over his country's politics looks ironclad. He certainly did not match Putin's recent performance at a charity ice hockey event, where the Russian leader, known for his athletic pursuits, scored six goals and assisted five others.
But neither Erdogan nor Putin can match the ceaseless sporting prowess of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, the self-styled "Protector" -- in truth, dictator -- of the isolated Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan. According to his own government Web site, Berdimuhamedov devotes "half of his day off to sports." He enters high-speed car races (and wins). He is a champion both at taekwondo and at cycling. And he loves horse-riding and equestrian competitions -- perhaps too much.
In 2013, footage emerged of Berdimuhamedov competing during an official race. He is in the lead until he takes a dramatic, scary fall. The enthusiastic announcer's commentary peters out and onlooking attendants rush in terror toward his hunched body.
Berdimuhamedov recovered from the mishap and state media went on to hail him the race's victor and winner of $11 million purse, which he donated to the country's "horse fund." But the panic it inspired -- as well as the reported news blackout in his home country -- showed how fraught such moments are when politics are so intertwined with cults of personality. For autocrats, sport is never only fun and games.
Eid in Gaza: ‘There were kids torn to pieces’
Note: This post contains excerpts from a report by Sudarsan Raghavan, William Booth and Ruth Eglash. You can read the full report here.
At Gaza's Shifa Hospital on Monday, chaotic scenes unfolded as the dead and the wounded arrived, some by ambulance, some carried in the arms of relatives. One woman was shaking uncontrollably and screaming, “My brother, my brother." One man was crying in front of the mangled corpse of his father.
On the first day of Eid, which marks the end of a holy month of fasting, celebrations were absent from most streets in Gaza. Instead, attacks reportedly killed 18 people and injured 70. The relative calm that had taken over Gaza early Monday was gone.
Naji al-Deen was seated on a chair, staring blankly, his clothes covered in blood.
Like hundreds who had arrived at the hospital, he was from nearby al-Shati camp, also called Beach Camp, a seaside neighborhood filled with refugees from the 1948 war that created the Israeli state. On Monday, it was a death zone. Children had been playing on a portable swing set, as well as in the tree-lined street, witnesses said. Around 4:30 p.m., the blast occurred.
“It was Eid and the children wanted to play,” said Deen, his voice cracking. “Then we heard the explosion. I saw my son running covered in blood. There were kids torn to pieces.”
Deen said he carried his son in his arms to Shifa Hospital, where he was being treated for his injuries. At least seven children were killed, witnesses said.
Reporters said that a shell or rocket also hit a facility in the hospital compound but that there was no serious damage and that it was unclear whether there were any deaths or injuries.
Hamas officials blamed Israeli airstrikes for the blasts at the hospital and at Beach Camp. A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces denied firing at the hospital and the refugee camp and attributed the explosions to failed rocket launches by Gaza militants.
Instead of celebrations of Eid, some Gaza streets were flooded with mourners participating in funerals.
"The gates of heaven are made of steel and they only open for martyrs," the funeral chant sounded. #Gazapic.twitter.com/6awZzno8UI
— Tamer El-Ghobashy (@TamerELG) July 28, 2014
Still, Palestinians tried to observe their holy day. Some held their early morning prayer during the first day of Eid inside a destroyed mosque.
The one thing everyone in Israel seems to agree on: John Kerry blew it
Anyone who has made even a passing glance at the Israeli media in the past few days will have noticed the incredible chorus of criticism being directed at John Kerry right now. The secretary of state has been lambasted by all sides for his apparent failure in attempts to negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
Here's a small selection of the nasty things being said.
On Monday, Israel HaYom, a Sheldon Adelson-owned free daily, published the following from Prof. Ron Breiman on its English-language Web site.
Like a blind person groping for the ladder to climb down from the roof but instead falling down the chimney, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the government he represents have not missed an opportunity to step in all the Middle Eastern potholes along their way. Kerry is imbued with good will, but this is not enough. Kerry and U.S. President Barack Obama suffer from a misunderstanding of reality in our region, as well as in other parts of the world.
At Israel's leading liberal newspaper, Haaretz, Ari Shavit argued that Kerry had been reckless, suggested and that any future Israeli ground operation should be named "Operation John Kerry":
The Obama administration proved once again that it is the best friend of its enemies, and the biggest enemy of its friends. The man of peace from Massachusetts intercepted with his own hands the reasonable cease-fire that was within reach, and pushed both the Palestinians and Israelis toward an escalation that most of them did not want.
That post came not long after Shavit's colleague Barak Ravid published his take on Kerry's cease-fire plan, titled simply "What was he thinking?" Ravid tried to be kind to Kerry, but couldn't hide his anger at the article's end:
If Kerry did anything on Friday it was to thwart the possibility of reaching a cease-fire in Gaza. Instead of promoting a cease-fire, Kerry pushed it away. If this failed diplomatic attempt leads Israel to escalate its operation in Gaza, the American secretary of state will be one of those responsible for every additional drop of blood that is spilled.
On Sunday, Ynetnews the English-language Israeli Web site of Israel's most-read newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, published an article titled "Obama's wars on Israel." The author, Guy Bechor, also singled Kerry out:
This isn't the first time Kerry is caught smiling at Israel while inciting against it behind the scenes. But not just towards Israel. This is also a betrayal of the moderate axis of the Middle East — Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia — as well as encouraging and rewarding jihadist terror, and a betrayal of all the real American values.
At the Times of Israel, a Web site that boasts of its independent politics, analyst Avi Issacharoff wondered if Kerry was "merely naive," or if the United States was now aligning itself with the Muslim Brotherhood. He pulled a dummy in the article's lede before launching into a criticism of Kerry:
Despite the tendency to criticize US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts, credit should be given where credit is due. Over the weekend, Kerry did manage to facilitate something in the Middle East: unparalleled unanimity.
The Jerusalem Post's Herb Keinon noted that Kerry's ability to unite Israelis was really what was quite remarkable:
It takes a certain artistry to irritate and annoy not only the Israeli left and the Israeli right at the same time, but also both Jerusalem and Ramallah.
As Keinon noted, there were even reports that the Palestinian Authority had become exasperated with Kerry. An unnamed official was quoted in the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper as saying that the PA leadership was angry with Kerry's attempt to “tamper with Palestinian blood and make it hostage to regional rivalries.”
It all became so much that on Monday, the Obama administration was forced to push back against what it said was a "misinformation campaign” against Kerry. “It’s simply not the way partners and allies treat each other,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. Israel's ambassador to the United States spoke out too. “The criticism of Secretary Kerry for his good faith efforts to advance a sustainable cease-fire is unwarranted," Ron Dermer said Monday. But given that so many of the articles in the Israeli media mentioned officials speaking off the record, his attempt to distance the government may fall flat.