The Cure for Russophobia / Лечение От Русофобии

By Graham – спасибо за помощь мои друзья на Вконтакте

Open up almost any western media, turn on any channel, you’re confronted by a wall of anti-Russian sentiment. Russophobia in serious news on a par with the ‘Russian villain’ stereotyping of cold war spy movies. It’s the illness of the 1Russia50western world, but, there’s a cure for it. Go to Russia, I’ve been 3 times – 2009, 11, and 6 months ago.

Смотря практически любые западные СМИ, любой канал, вы столкнетесь с волной антироссийских настроений. Русофобия в серьезных новостях подается в стиле “русскии негодяй” времен холодной войны в шпионских фильмах.

Это болезнь западного мира, но есть лекарство от него. Посетите Россию! Я был в ней 3 раза: в 2009 году, 11 и 6 месяцев назад.

Starting with stereotypes, but, seeing Swan Lake in St Petersburg is better than you could ever imagine –

Для начала посмотрите балет Лебединое Озеро в Санкт-Петербурге. Это лучшее, что вы могли бы себе представить –

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Actually, just to be in St Petersburg is mind-blowing, to visit the Hermitage, one of the oldest museums in the world, the largest collections of paintings in the world –

На самом деле, просто быть в Санкт-Петербурге обалденно, посетить Эрмитаж-один из старейших музеев в мире,с самой большой коллекцией картин в мире –

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The nightlife, legendary, here I am at a hostel in 2011, just prior to going and getting involved – 

Ночная жизнь, легендарный, я здесь в хостеле в 2011 году, готов чтоб участвовать –

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What makes a night, of course, or a place, the people. Natives of St Petersburg, everywhere I’ve been in Russia – warm, friendly, fun, if you say you like their shirt, they’ll want to give you their shirt –

Самое главное конечно, ночь или месту – людям. Народ из Санкт-Петербурга, везде я был в России – теплый, дружелюбный, веселый, если вы говорите, что любите их рубашку, они хотят дать вам их рубашку –

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Going through night into morning, on one of the city’s many spectacular white nights –

Тусить всю ночь до утра, один из невероятных белых ночей –

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By day, just walking around the city itself, referred to affectionately by Russians as ‘Peter’, even ‘Leningrad’ – with much of the centre the sight of landmarks at every turn –

Днем просто гулять по городу, русские называют его ласково ‘Питер’, даже ‘Ленинград’, достопримечательности на каждом шагу –

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Getting down with the kids on the street –

Наслаждайтесь молодых танцоров на улице –

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Then there’s Moscow, the unbelievably majestic Red Square. Close your eyes there you can see everything from Lenin to Stalin, to Paul McCartney. Some of them are still around –

Тогда есть Москва с невероятно величественной Красной Площадью. Закрыв глаза там, можно представить всё: от Ленина и Сталина до Пола Маккартни. Некоторые из них еще бывали там –

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Another selfie?

Еще один селфие )

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The beauty of, the beautiful Russian girls – everywhere – doing all sorts –

Красивые девушки России – везде, делая все –

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The most incredibly romantic city you could imagine –

Удивительно романтический город –

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Similarly amazing, friendly nightlife, outside in summer against the most marvellous of backdrops –

Фантастический, доброжелательный ночной жизни – на улице в летнее время, сказочные окрестностях –

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That’s why I’m not a Russophobe, I went to Russia with an open mind. That’s the cure for Russophobia.

Вот почему я не русофоб. Я посетил в Россию с открытой душой. Это лечение от русофобии

Abandoned Dnepropetrosk – Always Parus

Originally published on www.grahamwphillips.com in September 2013 – text given minor amendments, footnote added new photos added – 

The depopulation which dogged Ukraine in the 90s still cuts a dark shadow, with Ukraine’s population having fallen every year since 1995. In the years to 2001, Ukraine’s population was falling by more than 1% each year, now standing at around 45.5 million, down near 7 million on the early 90s (photo, Dnepropetrovsk, 90s), representing a drop of over 13%. Recent years have seen the decline slightly level off, but it remains problematic, and any offset is propped up purely by population growth in the capital Kiev and certain parts of the west. Ukraine’s east is in deep trouble, with eastern cities Donetsk, Zaporizhzhya, Kharkiv and Dnepropetrovsk appearing on the State of the World’s Cities list of the globe’s fastest depopulating cities.

In particular trouble is the world’s fastest shrinking city, Dnepropetrovsk, with its population down from around 1.3 million in 1990, to just more than a million in 2011, and a year on year fall of over 1%. As a visitor, it’s hard to see why, the city benefits from perhaps the most beautiful location of any in Ukraine (my own selfie, from March 2014), right on the banks at one of the widest points of the cobalt blue Dnepr river. I’d take it over Lviv, with all its self-satisfied ultra-Ukrainian restaurants, and casual fascism dressed up as nationalism, in a heartbeat.

As the city struggles to keep itself above the psychologically significant 1 million, I speak with Dnepropetrovsk-based journalist Vadim Rizhkov, who tells me:

Firstly, falling below 1 million is a significant and unwelcome milestone for Dnepropetrovsk, and city authorities are doing everything they can to keep their head above that number. No local government wants to be the one at the wheel when this former major conurbation fell below a million. The latest trick was to try to incorporate local villages into the urban population.

(Photo, Dnepropetrovsk, 90s)

The fact is that Dnepropetrovsk was a boom city back when people were making money here through the city’s industries, but now they have mostly gone – factories once employing tens of thousands now employ in the low thousands, or hundreds, if they haven’t closed. The legacy of earlier times is that property prices are still high, yet high-paying and in many cases mid-paying jobs have long since gone. The comparatively new redeveloped city centre is a telling point – modern and well-appointed. So those with money can come and spend it, but shop work is about the most a young person from Dnepropetrovsk can hope for these days, low paying and without real prospects. Meanwhile, falling tax revenues have seen services and facilities stripped to the bone. I love Dnepropetrovsk, however, I’m not surprised people are leaving.

And from all of this has come quite a fascinating situation. That being that, although local government is now hastily putting up all manner of statues and cutesy monuments about the place to touristify the place up, the best known attractions of Dnepropetrovsk are its abandoned buildings. There’s even a Vkontakte group, with over 1000 members, named ‘Abandoned Places in Dnepropetrovsk‘. The photos are mostly amateur and mostly spectacular, Dnepropetrovsk abandoned gives even the day-snapper so much to work with. You can check out the Vkontakte page here.

Of course, all abandoned buildings in Dnepropetrovsk lie under the awnings of Parus. This gigantic structure, 28 floors and around 30 years abandoned, towers over the city, delineating the biting contrast between what is and what might have been. Actually, what might have been is to the left below. The early 70s saw a confident Soviet Union with cities trying to outdo each other with ‘super architecture’ projects the legacy of ‘Stalin’s architect’ Lev Rudnev. Scope and scale were perhaps especially important in a Ukraine keen to prove itself no poor relation to Russia. Capital Kiev had tried, and largely failed, with the 1961-completed Hotel Moscow (Hotel Ukraina nowadays), but was increasingly building up, and big. Donetsk finished off its impressive Lenin Square in 1967, and come 1970 Kharkiv was making great noises about its to be ground-breaking, enormous National Theatre to come.

Dnepropetrovsk thought it could do better, and with good reason – the city was a burgeoning hub of Soviet production, with munition and automobile factories proliferating, and full employment for a surging population – up 23% in 1967, to 816,000. These were intelligent people too, with thousands of top physicists, engineers, designers, architects and scientists drawn from right across the USSR, including Moscow.

Photos here, Dnepropetrovsk in the 60s – as the city boomed – 

So Parus, meaning ‘sail’ was borne, as a brave, serious statement of intent, technology and status. Architects and planners were awarded prizes purely on the basis of plans for the building, which was to be 28-storeys high, with an area of around 190 thousand square metres, with near 600 hotel rooms. An achievement which would push the envelope of technologies of the time and serve to show the zenith of Soviet architecture, answering critics who said much of the post WW2 reconstruction had been utilitarian, functional, ugly even. The hotel was even to have its own substation, to generate power for the complex, which was to include a range of facilities almost unheard of at the time – from pool to shopping complex. Parus was to be a pioneering, world-leading, super modern symbol of a modern Ukrainian Soviet Union, combining Stalinist scale with architecture of true aesthetic merit.

In the excitement, planning and approval passed through swiftly, and 1973 saw land reclaimed (more than 6 hectares) and construction crack on at a brisk pace. By 1975, the edifice had visibly taken shape, with well over a thousand workers employed on the site on working days. Countless more were involved in Parus-connected spheres, as the building captured the imagination of the city, with crowds gathering to watch the frame being erected at pace. Confident engineers claimed the hotel would be in service by 1979. (1979 did actually see Dnepropetrovsk’s population pass a million for the first time, it officially peaked in 1991 at just over 1.2 million, though higher figures have been widely reported.)

 

In reality, by 1979 work had ground to a near standstill. Minor work went on until 1984, with the building by then branded with the Russian ‘dolga stroyu(long construction), something which was, and is, fairly common with Soviet, now post-Soviet architecture (Kharkov’s National Theatre went on to take 21 years to complete). However, the building designed like a sail, will never sail. The hotel designed to host thousands, expos, conferences, world leaders, will only ever welcome tramps, urban explorers, thieves and security. (My photo, 2012) Ask a dozen Dnepropetrovsk denizens as to why, and a similar number of theories will come back. A particularly popular one is that the foundations of the building turned out to be unsound, and construction had to be halted hence the structure sink into the ground.

Near 40 years on from when construction started, and 30 years from when stopped, no signs of subsidence are visible to the naked eye. The reality is more prosaic. The project was under-funded. Moscow, with premier Leonid Brezhnev (pictured) taking a personal interest, recommended, and backed the scheme, but only up to 10 million roubles, around 9 million USD.

That was never going to be adequate, but Moscow’s thinking was that once the project gained momentum, the remaining 15-20 million roubles would come from local companies keen to be on board something which would have elevated Dnepropetrovsk’s standing in the Soviet Union significantly, as well as providing a poster for space-race era Soviet success. The 10 million started to run out in the late 70s, and as responsibility for the project increasingly fell on local shoulders, problems arose. Ukraine’s Dnepropetrovsk could just not pull off a project of Moscow scale. Small tranches of funding would keep work limping on until 1984, when the last meaningful work was done. Further slivers of financing periodically had clutches of workers back on site, but the heart was failing, and the Soviet financial crisis of the mid-80s finally finished Parus. 1987 was when the last work took place in anger. The project then slipped silently into a coma.

Ukrainian independence of 1991 saw some champion the chance to assert a modern Ukraine by reviving Parus and completing it better than the Soviet Union ever could. They were dreaming. So financially strapped was late-80s Dnepropetrovsk they could barely afford security on the husk of Parus, as successive hoards of looters stripped everything of value from the site, including the removal of metals, building materials, even installed windows and doors walked. In their wake came vagrants and gangs of youths, interested in at best seeking refuge there, at worst wrecking the place. By 1991, the building had already degraded to such an extent that simply picking up where things left off was no longer an option. Then, Ukraine’s chaotic, near apocalyptic 90s saw the country struggle to just survive, let alone resurrect a symbol of Soviet ambitions which Ukraine had been unable to fulfil.  (Photo above, my photo, 2012)

Even if it had been completed, by the mid-90s Dnepropetrovsk was haemorrhaging its own citizens, a far, far cry from attracting the 100,000 plus per year who would have been needed to keep just Parus in business. The situation is laced with unfortunate ironies, the desire for a huge symbol which became a huge symbol for something so unwelcome. Failure. (My photo above, 2012)

Despite the decline, 2013 Dnepropetrovsk boasts a modern centre, high-rises, expensive apartments (one of many prominent persons from the city, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is reported as having owned several upmarket properties in the city (for the most part, confiscated after her 2011 imprisonment), with her daughter Evgenia having lived here for spells with husband Sean Carr). DP, as it’s known, may have missed out on Euro 2012, but the conurbation boasts a 21st-century football stadium, with the national team having played there, and as of 2012 the ‘world’s largest Jewish Centre‘, (stadium and centre funded by DP oligarch Igor Kolomoysky)As Parus began to deteriorate further into eyesore in the 90s, plans were made to repaint the building blue, to represent water. (Above my photo, 2012)

In stepped in Privat Bank, who as the new millennium began, instead daubed the whole complex in the colours of their brand, making it one of the world’s largest advertising hoardings. Even the Privat Bank colours are now faded and dirty.

But, in 2005, suddenly Parus seemed like it may come to life. Ukraine was riding high on the crest of an Orange Revolution wave, with foreign money flooding into the country. Parus was sold for $4.7 million to a private enterprise company, Rhombus Private, who pledged to finish it within 5 years. Not only Parus, they were going to transform the whole riverfront, supplementing a finished Parus with a 45-storey skyscraper next door, and all manner of other development. Things got no further than the artist’s impression, with the company then pushing the completion date back to 2015, before seemingly losing interest entirely when the credit crisis hit Ukraine. Rhombus Private, a London registered company about whom there is little information online, still apparently exist, but are in negative equity, making faint likelihood of any of the artist’s impression being realised. Further came the indignity of the name Parus actually being taken, and given to one of Kiev’s showpiece skyscrapers. Yet Parus the Dnepropetrovsk husk is still called.

Continuing Parus construction is, as Rhombus were reported as realising too late, a non-starter due to the degradation of structure and materials. It’s not even clear who owns it any more, with rumours of Rhombus having handed back the millstone to Dnepropetrovsk. But demolition and clearing would cost millions in a city in penury. So, the ‘sad monument‘ is going nowhere, despite the unhappiness of many Dnepropetrovsk residents at the ‘horror of our town‘ With no real security and easily surmountable gates, you can walk right in. Ground floors are a rubble and rubbish strewn mess.

Yet, in it all, there are fragments of beauty. The location of the building is so perfect, so ideal for river and sun, shards of light permeate and illuminate in a kind of cadaverous, corroding incandescence.

The further up the building you climb, the darker and more dangerous it becomes. Light gives way to intense darkness with floors strewn with bricks, shrapnel and full of gaping holes.

Until a few years ago, it was possible to just walk right to the top of the building, but concerns about injuries being sustained in the site saw staircases smashed. It may still be possible to get to the top without professional equipment, I couldn’t manage, getting to only about the 10th floor. As you ascend, you can hardly not be taken by design touches which still, crumbling, wasting away, can impress with form and material modernity.

Views are either those over the decaying edifice, or the best views in the whole city over the river and DP’s spectacular bridges, indeed combinations of both. Looking over, one wonders what the walls, or what there is of them, would say if they could. There’s report of attacks, of people killed here, town talk of Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs hanging out here, new maniacs operating from, living here…

It all makes for an at times rather daunting, intense experience, encased in pitch black with debris and danger around you. Back on the ground, looking up, it’s hard not to be overcome with emotion and comparison. Detroit. Pompeii. Titanic. Hitler’s Berlin vision.The Road. Tomb Raider. Could Grand Designs do the ultimate one on it?

While writing this, I got an email from a website offering hotel rooms. Parus will never be on that. Yet, yet yet… if it had been finished, would it still be disused now anyway given current Dnepropetrovsk? Or would it have been the catalyst to power Dnepropetrovsk into the premier league of Soviet cities and ensure future prosperity?

It’s all unknowable, even undecidable. Is it a representation of Soviet misuse of Ukraine, or testament to the special treatment given? Is it a huge, empty shame or one of the world’s most glorious abandoned buildings? A cautionary tale of placing a ceiling on ambition, or a statement that magnificence really is possible, even in ruination?

* Since writing this, in 2014 Parus was daubed in Ukrainian colours, with their symbol there, in a show of nationalism.


Talks go on about how best to demolish the structure. 

Результат Украинского Обстрела города Стаханов Вчера. / Result of Ukrainian Shelling of Stakhanov Yesterday

Photos by Max Clarke / Фото Макса Кларк

Несколько Домов, Пострадавших от Украинского Обстрела / Several Homes Hit by Ukrainian Shelling

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The Day We Went to the Metro


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Along with journalists Patrick Lancaster, Max Clarke (read Max’s article on Vice about the day here), Valentin Trushnin, Pavel, we headed along on January 18th to Donetsk airport territory. A rumour was going around of Ukrainian troops somewhere on the large territory, which also includes megastore Metro, and a large car showroom just several hundred metres from the new terminal itself.

IMG_5800The story of Donetsk airport terminals old and new is one now oft-told, but every building, every part of the territory has its own story. After Ukrainian forces launched an air attack on the DPR controlled Donetsk airport, on May 26th, then stormed the site, DPR forces were pushed back and withdrew.

Скриншот 08.02.2015 181146.bmpThe next few days saw the airport site fall into chaos, as it was unclear where the territorial lines would be drawn. The raiding of Metro and the adjoining upmarket car showroom were something the Ukrainian press revelled in, with numerous articles on ‘DPR’ looters etc. So lawless were things at that time, 5 bodies were reported found in the Metro. Yet the facts are it was inevitable Metro would have been emptied, either by DPR or by Ukrainian forces, who had expanded their reach on the airport territory to include Metro, the car showroom and up to Putilovsky bridge, crossing into the city limits of Donetsk, by early June.

We were the first journalists to go to Metro and the car showroom for months, here’s how they were.

Car Showroom – 

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Metro – 

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Max

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Adam Osmayev, British-Raised, but not British Terrorist

By Graham
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Adam Osmayev, a 33-year-old man fighting for the Ukrainian military, a commander, even, spent long enough in Britain to have British citizenship. Actually, born in Grozny, Chechnya, he gave up his Russian citizenship in 2012, it’s unclear if he currently holds any citizenship, reportedly having travelled to Ukraine on a false passport in 2012. His years in Britain were from 1994 to 2001, sent by his father, a high-ranking Communist official in charge of the then pro-Russian Chechen republic’s oil reserves, to study at Wycliffe College.

There, he was apprehended for his part in a plot to assassinate Russian president Vladimir Putin, and Osmayev spent the next 2 1/2 years in jail in Odessa. As a post-Euromaidan Ukraine spiralled into a war which saw a sharp spike in anti-Russian sentiment, Osmayev was freed last October.

As leader of Chechen unit Dzhokar Dudayev Battalion, fighting for Ukraine’s ‘ATO’, Osmayev is now a regular in the media, recently the subject of an adoring article in the Daily Telegraph – Adam Osmayev: Cotswolds public schoolboy turned Ukraine militia commander.

Yet it wasn’t like that before, back in 2013, in the Telegraph, it was  – Chechen man educated in Cotswolds to go on trial over Putin plot

1Adam1And a more factual description of the charges against him –

“To carry out a terrorist act with the aim of the elimination of the head of the government of the Russian Federation, V. V. Putin.” Locked behind the black metal bars of the courtroom’s cage, surrounded by armed police, the defendant Adam Osmayev smiles wryly.

Mr Osmayev has an unusual biography for an alleged Chechen terrorist. Son of one of the troubled republic’s most successful businessmen, he spent his youth in Britain where he was educated at a boarding school in the Cotswolds before studying economics at the University of Buckingham. 

Just how the 31-year-old Osmayev went from bucolic Gloucestershire to a Ukrainian prison cell, where he stands accused of planning one of the most audacious terrorist acts in history, is a strange tale featuring allegations of torture, vendettas in the Russian secret services and rivalries in the murky world of Chechnya’s pro-Kremlin leadership.”

1adamForward to 2015, and a palpable change in tone from the Telegraph, complete with loving childhood photos –

The battle for Debaltseve in eastern Ukraine has seen Osmayev, a native Chechen, and the men of his Dzhokar Dudayev Battalion engaged in fierce firefights and tank bombardments across the city’s neighbourhoods, railway marshalling yards and road network.

While this cannot have been precisely what he had in mind when he contemplated his future career amid the sheltered surroundings of Wycliffe, there was even then something prescient about his ambitions.

“I want to be president,” he once told the couple looking after him. They assumed he meant president of a large corporation, but Osmayev quickly put them straight: “No. President of Chechnya.”

The Telegraph now seems to believe that his heading a Ukrainian battalion in a war which has seen the Ukrainian military deploy mass shelling of civilian areas, is a step on the road to future presidency.

He may not yet have reached those heights yet, but last Sunday the 33-year-old found himself promoted to commander of his militia of international volunteers…. 

1Adam2Osmayev’s promotion is certainly a long way from those halcyon days on the playing fields and in the classrooms of Wycliffe College, founded in 1882 by GW Sibley, where boarding fees are now £10,000 per term.

Meanwhile various glowing references are given to his character –

Mrs Workman said: “The girls flocked round him. By the time he was in the upper sixth he was illegally hiring cars and taking them to B&Bs for the night.”
The boys revelled in the material benefits of Western Europe and Adam would return from shopping trips to London with two or three new Armani suits over his arm.

The Chechen students also loved to barbecue or bring out bottles of vodka and spend long evenings drinking around the kitchen table.
“There were never any problems or violence,” said Mrs Workman. “They just liked to enjoy themselves.”

1Adam3Culminating in –

“To be honest I thought he was dead,” said Mr Workman. “It’s sad, because if there hadn’t been a war in his country I’m sure he would have become very successful.”

For more than 130 years Wycliffe College’s motto has been “bold and loyal”.
Adam Osmayev now has the unenviable opportunity to fulfil those aspirations – albeit in the deadliest circumstances imaginable.

Back in 2012, the Telegraph was ready to ask some questions of Osmayev:

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Adam Osmayev has some questions to answer. While the details of a plot targeting Mr Putin seem fanciful, was he handling explosive devices, and if not, why was there an explosion? How did he know the other two men involved, one of whom died in the explosion and the other, Ilya Pyanzin, who has been extradited to Russia? Most importantly, why did he hide from police for several weeks after the explosion, until he was found by the security forces in the raid that was later shown on Russian television? 

In 2015, the Telegraph stops at extolling his supposed virtues.

Adam eventually sat his A-levels and did well enough to go on and study economics at the University of Buckingham. One of his last school reports from Wycliffe stated: “Throughout his time in the Sixth Form, Adam has set himself high standards; usually he has managed to meet them. He is a charming and generally 1Adam5self-assured young man.” It concluded: “I feel he has great potential and the determination to make the most of that potential.”

No questions as to why he has chosen to fight for a Ukraine military occupying territory which voted itself out of Ukraine in a May 11th 2014 referendum, following the country’s post Euromaidan break-up. No questions as to his involvement in shelling of civilian areas of Donbass, with at least 60% of the victims there women.

The Telegraph’s 2012 article read like an article. The 2015 offering more like a supporting document for British citizenship. Osmayev himself has often spoken of his close connection with Britain –  “Mr Osmayev says that although he is a devout Muslim, he has never been interested in radical Islam or terrorism. “I was educated in Britain, I feel like a very European person.” 

But surely Osmayev is as far from true British values as possible. Fighting for a Ukrainian military comprised of heavily far-right, fascist elements. Fighting as a mercenary in a foreign country. He should be placed on a list of wanted terrorists in the UK. No matter how much time spent in the country, or connections, any notion of his holding any form of British citizenship

1BritainIn the Telegraph’s seemingly wilful conflation of him with a British citizen, from a ‘Chechen terrorist’ is the warped position of western media in its coverage of the Ukraine war. A terrorist finding redemption as a mercenary? A ‘Chechen terrorist’ man adopted as ‘one of our own’.

The western media will forgive Ukraine for anything it does in this war. They will clearly extend this to absolving the former sins of anyone taking part on Ukraine’s side. Being British isn’t about where you were born, Osmayev could have been ‘British’, but his participation in the Ukraine was as an active combatant on the wrong side means he never can be.

As a British citizen myself, I’d be more than happy to see our media returning to being British, rather than the mouthpiece of US and EU foreign policy.