Child victims of Assads assault on Syrian civilians.

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Assad claims another child victim in his assault on the Syrian people.

Maram is pretty little 4-year-old with big brown eyes and a smile that could melt hardest heart.

She should be out playing in the sunshine. Happy and carefree, as any four-year-old should be.

But here she lies, unable to move, in an old schoolhouse ­converted into a makeshift hospital in this war-torn land .

Maram is far too young to under­stand why she’s here. All she knows is she was playing with her dolls one minute and screaming in pain the next after a bomb from Bashar Assad’s jets flattened her house, injuring her spine.

She has no feeling in her legs. She will probably never run around in the sunshine again.

But Maram is an inspiration to her fellow wounded, the Free Syrian Army fighters who ­lovingly play with her and other little victims each day in the hospital run by a French charity.

And for men like Mustapha Al Khalid, she’s a reason to fight on.

Once he was an estate agent, now he’s an FSA commander here in Idlib, north west Syria, near the Turkish border. It is a city that, like Homs, has borne the brunt of the dictator’s wrath for 18 months.

Mustapha left his wife and three children behind to help cut supplies to Assad’s army. His left arm has been shattered by a mortar.

“It is a strange feeling missing people I love. But after witnessing the killing by Assad’s forces I had to fight for freedom.” he says.

A wounded fighter next to him picks Maran up to comfort her. I ask if he’s a relative. “In Syria, we are all family,” he replies.

We are joined by Malik, a bewildered 10-year-old boy in a wheelchair. His left leg has been amputated from the hip.

Mustapha explains there are hundreds of thousands of refugees crowding into towns like this close to the Turkish border.

They calculate Assad will not send his planes in for fear of provoking the Turks. “We have put families up in schools and public buildings,” says Mustapha. “But people who have just arrived have to sleep outside because we have nowhere left to put them. We can provide one meal a day After that the family has to fend for itself.”

They rely on scant supplies smuggled over the border from Turkey. Crops lie unharvested as Assad’s snipers keep farmers from their fields. Grain depots have been destroyed to stop them falling into rebel hands. Children weak with hunger are most at risk of disease. New arrival Abu Abdul says: “There are no medicines to treat ailments so minor complaints become serious.”

Meanwhile, only 22 miles away in Harem, rebels clash with Assad forces. I ask the fighters if they wish they had never embarked on their revolution. “No! No!” they cry. “We can’t go back. If we stop all of us will die.” The fighters all give a defiant Victory V sign. Maram stirs on her bed… and copies their salute. All eyes in the room look at her. And Mustapha’s fill with tears.

– Ex-Coronation Street actor Nigel Pivaro, now a freelance journalist, this week paid tribute at the ­funeral of his on-screen father Bill Tarmey in Ashton-under-Lyne, Manchester. Bill, 71, who played Jack Duckworth for 31 years, died this month in Tenerife.

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Ukraine nation state in the making or wishful thinking?

IMG_7285Ukraine a nation or wishful thinking?
What forges a successful nation state?
I am left puzzling over this question following my first few  days in Kiev capital of an increasingly fragile looking country and draw several conclusions.

I arrived just two weeks after the ousting of President Yanukovych and in that time much has happened internationally, while little seems to have changed on the ground in Maidan Square, the epi centre of the protests.
Die-hard protestors remain entrenched in their make shift camps of barricaded tents incongruously dotted all over Kiev’s main square.

Further afield Russia has wrested the former Ukrainian territory of Crimea following a snap referendum which pushed Crimean voters to cast their ballot on ethnic lines, without considering the long term ramifications of entering into a kleptocratic society even more pernicious than the shambles of the Ukraine they have left behind.
Notwithstanding ethnic and nationalist loyalties the transition may well yet come back to haunt ethnic Russians, who have in effect voted to step back into a totalitarian past.


Waiting game

Meanwhile 40 000 battle ready Russian troops are still massed on Ukraine’s Eastern border and Gazprom has today just hiked its price by 44 per cent. Simultaneously the Ukrainian government has been forced to withdraw the subsidy it gives to Ukrainian gas consumers. This follows pressure from the IMF in exchange for its $19 Billion loan the country desperately needs just to stay afloat.

Since November 2013 Kiev has witnessed much conflict resulting in many deaths of protesters and some policemen.
It is alleged that both protesters and police were victims of a sinister third force unleashed by the former president Yanukovych in an attempt to force increased division between the police and the protestors from which he could benefit.

There are suggestions several snipers were apprehended and had connections to Russian Special Forces.
Alarmingly the new interim government says it has several of the shooters in custody but will not release details, not a good start for the new government to block transparency from its inception, on such a crucial event.
In contrast to the bloodshed by its citizens in Kiev the loss of strategic territory along with military bases and hardware taken over by the Russians occurred with hardly a shot fired.

There is no way round it but the Ukraine’s military response to Russian invasion was lamentable.
The Government failed to show leadership and decisiveness and the military response on the ground notwithstanding a lack of clarity from above was lukewarm.

Walking around a vibrant bustling Kiev one is struck by the insouciance of most citizens, who go about their business with an air of apparent indifference to recent events.

In direct contrast to the mood and actions of those determined men in military fatigues in Maidan square.

Those young men it has to be said are mainly members of the Right Sector group of political parties.  Though their membership is low in numerical terms they are the most visible and determined group holding onto to ground in the Maidan Square in defiance of the interim government.

The government would rather they vacate the square and return it to normality.

Instead the whole area now resembles a medieval siege camp surrounding Ukrainian State buildings.
Everyday thousands of ordinary Ukrainians pass through the tyres and concrete barricades, brilliantly organised and well maintained in order to allow the passage of traffic and pedestrians alike, with the facility to be swiftly utilised back into action should there be further protest.

The citizens passing through are like spectators to events of their own destiny gawping awe inspired at the revolutionary action men who it has to be said are taking ownership of the revolution, by maintaining not only its spirit, but its aspirations.

Such a narrow set of political representation does not bode well for any future hope for an inclusive Ukraine.
Of course there were millions of people who protested in Maidan but they are now back at home watching satellite TV, shopping, working, attending school, dining in restaurants…. partaking in the humdrum of normal life .
Nothing wrong with that but the work of the revolution, if there really was one seems far from over.
The same fools and thieves are in government, the same oligarchs enjoy goon protected evenings in 5 star hotel lobbies and bars.

Hustlers and connected men still thrash out deals in cafes and restaurants across the city.
Surely the corrupt oligarchy and their assets should have been part of the revolutionary’s target.

Whereas it seems those oligarchs that are pro Ukrainian have been totally exonerated and only the ones tainted by pro Russian or old regime connections have been forced to retreat.

I ponder the situation  is not unlike the thousand Red Shirts of Garibaldi sweeping though Italy during the struggle for reunification though without the mobility, colour and romance.

A few committed and determined patriots carrying the hopes of millions who remain on the sidelines as spectators.
For all their verve and passion a mere thousand Redshirts proved far from enough to root out the myriad entrenched selfish interests that still infect the Italian state today, 120 years after the Italian reunification.

If the aspirations of millions of Ukrainians are to be truly realised then surely they themselves need to be involved in greater numbers in the process that is happening now.

That may mean even greater sacrifice in lives than the numbers of protesters killed in and around Maidan in February, with hundreds of thousands of citizens being prepared to surrender themselves to prolonged periods of military service around the borders of the country.

Otherwise the change will be set only to the agenda of those people who are at the sharp end and that may well end up a most imperfect conclusion for all the peoples living within the remaining borders of Ukraine, ethnic and non ethnic Ukrainians alike.

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