Escape to freedom. Bringing a Syrian family to safety

The events in this article took place in the first two weeks of August 2015

This is the story of a Syrian family’s journey to freedom in Europe and the small part I played in helping them. Along the way I saw and learnt a lot about what refugees face as they escape from war-torn countries and political oppression.

Fadl and his family were introduced to me through Muhannad, a mutual friend. He asked me if I would be prepared to help Fadl and his family get from Greece to a particular European country. After some consideration, I decided to try and help them. The family is from the Aleppo region of Syria and before the war they had their own restaurant, they were a middle class family. His wife Majelina, who had to stay behind to look after ageing grandparents, was a university professor of English literature. Then, because of the war and ISIS (daesh) they had to leave it all behind. There was no future for them in Turkey, where finding work is extremely difficult, the only option left was to try and go to Europe. Along with Fadl was his mother in law, his niece and nephew. Forgive me for not giving their names but I think you can understand why.

The family had crossed from Izmir in Turkey to the Greek island of Kos by a small boat run by Turkish people smugglers. They were charged 3000 euro per person for the crossing and the boat was cram packed with refugees, dangerously so. After being processed in Kos they were free to go, they made their way to Athens, which is where I met them.

The night before leaving Athens I wanted to see if I could find where Syrians socialize, I was directed to the Albasha Syrian Café. The place was packed with Syrians, drinking tea and smoking shisha. I’m sat outside drinking tea, watching the world go by, I was the only non Syrian in the place but everybody was polite to this stranger. There was a constant stream of fresh Syrian arrivals from Kos making their way along the road, it seems this is the area of the city they head to and can find somewhere to sleep. In fact, the owner of the café would often direct groups of new arrivals to where they could find a place for the night. All of a sudden, 4 police motorbikes arrived, lights flashing and the atmosphere became extremely tense. Not having any idea what would happen next I just sat there and watched, half expecting the police to come and check everybody’s documents. Instead they waited on the other side of the road about 20 metres down from the café and soon all became clear. Two big buses arrived and needed to turn off the road and through some gates, the police were there to control the traffic. When the buses arrived almost everybody in the café got up and headed toward them. The buses were for the Syrians, to take them north to the border with Macedonia and the Greek police were helping them on their way. At this point, I understood the Greek authorities know the Syrians don’t want to stay in their country and only use it for transit and so helps them on the next stage of their journey. Another thing I noticed was the person who was obviously in charge of the buses, he was Greek, not Syrian. He was another person in the chain of those who are making a fortune from Syrians as they head north. The Greeks want the Syrians out but they are also making a fortune in the process of sending them on their way. It is a mafia.

In the morning, we set off and the drive to the Macedonian border was uneventful. When we arrived close to the border the family got out of the car and had to walk across country for about 2km to our rendezvous point on the other side. After leaving them, I drove across the border and waited, and waited, nothing. I had shown them very clearly on the map where we were to meet. After 2 hours I decided to drive into the small town of Gevgelija, Driving around, I saw the train station was teaming with refugees, I was sure the family must be there but so were the police. I didn’t dare stop, it would look too suspicious, a foreign car in a poor area of a small town full of refugees, the police would be certain to ask me questions. So I turned around and drove off for a while hoping the police would be gone by my next attempt. After an hour I tried again, back to the train station, this time no police, my sense of relief was palpable and there they were waving at me from the side of the road. After getting in the car we drove off, heading ever northwards. To be honest, I was annoyed, we had lost valuable time because they hadn’t followed instructions, instructions which were for their safety as well as for mine. Because other refugees were crossing the border using the same route  they had followed them and ignored everything I had said. There seems to be something in the Syrian mentality which I had not noticed before, they stick together and follow the group, but they don’t realize that the group offers them no real protection, not in a situation like this, not when I’m already there to help them. It didn’t help that Fadl’s phone battery had also died and been unable to contact me. At the next border I made sure he had my spare battery pack. I couldn’t risk losing them again for such a stupid reason.

The drive through Macedonia towards Serbia was simple but I was tired from driving and wanted to stop for the night. There was a hotel near the border with Serbia in Tabanovtse but we couldn’t stay, the hotel didn’t want Syrians staying unless they had a transit visa from the Macedonian police which gives them 72 hours to pass through the country, so we had to push on. I turned off the highway at the last point before border control, other Syrians were there, preparing to walk across country into Serbia. We arranged to meet in the Serb town of Preshevo, this time it was a longer walk, about 8km and it was starting to get dark. I crossed the border and drove to Preshevo, the place was absolutely packed with refugees, not only Syrian but also Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis. There must have been at least a thousand of them but despite all this the atmosphere in the town was relaxed. In many ways I think the local economy must be booming. Before travelling, many refugees make sure they have enough money for the journey and they spend it as they go, they need food and water. One shop keeper, who spoke a little English, said “no problem, they don’t steal, they pay for everything, the only problem is the mess”, finding a place to go to the toilet and wash is very difficult and litter just gets dumped. However, a thousand new refugees arriving every day brings in money, while the arrivals from the previous day move on. Watching the police was interesting, they weren’t making problems for any of the refugees and looked very relaxed. In Preshevo is a train and bus station, from here they can head north to the border with Hungary. This is where things got ugly. This is where I thought I had lost the family.

A relative of the family had crossed the border into Hungary from the Serb town of Horgos a couple of days previously and sent us a map showing his exact route but to be honest I had misgivings about the family making the crossing from here from the moment I saw the situation. The terrain was not in their favour but it is used by many refugees because this is where the buses bring them and there must be at least a dozen buses arriving every day. On the other side of the border in Hungary is the village of Roszke which has a train station, from there refugees try to get on trains to the north. We arrived in Horgos and were taking a drive around to look at the situation, the sun was close to setting, little did I know how long that night would be. Fadl stopped to talk to some of the many Syrians for information but I had the impression that they didn’t really know what they are doing, trying to succeed only through sheer weight of numbers. Suddenly, we saw Serbian police loading Syrians into vans, no friendly smiles here, we had driven into the middle of a police operation, which also seemed to be coordinated with the Hungarian police as later became apparent. Turning around, I drove back to a quieter area and told the family as strongly as possible that trying to cross the border tonight was a bad idea and that I really didn’t like the location. But Fadl’s mother in law, who is as stubborn as a mule was determined to make the crossing, now or never. When she got out of the car and started walking to join another group of Syrians who were about to attempt the crossing, the rest of the family had no choice but to follow her, I could see disaster looming. Again the herd instinct kicks in and because they see a large group they think they must be doing the right thing. What could I do? I was tired from 12 hours of driving, I wanted to take them to another area of the border which was quieter, a place where the buses didn’t drop off the refugees, where the police would not be expecting them. In Horos, hundreds of refugees arrive every day, of course the police are ready for them, what do they expect! But the herd instinct seems to overwhelm them and they are blinded by the all consuming desire to cross the border. To be honest, it reminded me of the migration of wildebeest when they have to cross the river and the crocodiles are waiting for them, they just go, taking their chance in weight of numbers. There didn’t seem to be any real logical process to what they were doing. And here we were, having arrived the night the police had decided to put on a massive operation to stop and capture as many refugees as possible. It was madness and I have to be honest I was very annoyed and part of me thought they deserved to be captured for being so stupid. The tiredness didn’t help my mood either.

As they were getting out of the car Fadl gave me his money to look after, some 900 euro, he thought the police might steal it if they caught him, but if they caught him I would never be able to give his money back and told him to keep it, plus he might need it for an emergency. That was a crucial moment, if he had left his money with me their story would not have ended well.

They started walking at about 20:30, the sun had set and they were walking into the unknown with another group of Syrians. We had agreed that I would wait on the Serbian side of the border until they had crossed, with the police operation they might have had to turn back. I got a message at midnight that they were “Go” and would send me GPS coordinates of where to find them when they had found a safe place to wait. Then we go dark, no more communication. It is my turn to cross the border into Hungary and I have to be honest I was nervous, not only for them but also for me, I had all their baggage in the car which could raise some difficult questions. What I had not expected was the huge wait to cross the border, almost 2 hours, the Hungarians were searching all cars. There was a huge operation that night to stop refugees and I was in the middle of it. As I was waiting to cross into Hungary, one of the border guards was spot checking cars. I noticed that he was interested in me and watched in the mirror as he took a very roundabout route to come up to the back of my car. He tapped on the back of the car, my passport ready in hand was already out of the window waiting for him, he asked “what you do” I replied “what do I do or what am I doing?” It was enough to put him off balance, after a 2 second look in the back of the car he let me pass not realizing all the baggage belonged to the family.

Finally, I received a message with GPS coordinates of their location, so far so good, I took the first exit off the highway after the border crossing, they were close to an antenna with a flashing red light on top but it was in the middle of a field, no way to drive there. What to do? I had already been passed by 3 police vans, it was now 2 in the morning but the level of police activity was very high, they were everywhere. I waited until there was no traffic, stopped on the road parallel to the antenna which was about 300 metres away and put on my hazard lights, this was the agreed signal. I felt like an absolute sitting duck, just as the family also felt. I had thought about what to do if the police asked why I was stopped on the road, with this in mind, I was playing with the navigator on my phone when the police pulled up behind me. Keep calm Russ I said to myself, I told the police I was looking for a hotel after just crossing the border, I was tired and needed to sleep, it was true I was exhausted not that I would have been able to sleep with everything that was happening. The police seemed to accept this and said the nearest hotel was about 30 km away. Knowing there was no way I could now stay on that road and wait for the family, I drove back toward the highway where there was a fuel station and big car park. It was about 2km from the antenna. I sent them a message telling them there was no other choice, they had to get to the fuel station, easier said than done, the area was teaming with police. I was at that fuel station for nearly 2 hours. I honestly thought the family had been caught, even more so when I saw a large group of refugees walk out of the dark into the fuel station, seconds later 2 police vans came racing after them, it was bedlam, they started running in all directions, the police chasing after them, their sticks held above their heads to hit anybody who resisted. I didn’t see anybody get hit but the threat was there, some simply stopped running, they knew the game was up.

Then I got a message to say the family was coming in a taxi, WTF………….. This is where my insisting that Fadl took his money instead of leaving it with me paid off. They were captured by the police after leaving the antenna and the local police chief decided who could pass and who could not and that depended on money, 200 euro per person and the family was 4 so 800 euro, then the local taxi working with the police charged them 100 euro to drive them the short distance to the fuel station. I saw the taxi coming and followed it as it drove slowly past. As the taxi stopped I pulled parallel to it so they could get in directly, I had never seen them move so fast as they jumped into the car. Then we were out of there. I can’t begin to tell you how relieved the family were. Taking care to drive normally, we headed for the highway. The sky was beginning to get light, it had been a very long night.

We drove north, wanting as much distance between us and that border as possible. I had not slept all night but the adrenaline had helped keep me awake. With the adrenaline wearing off I had to stop, I was starting to fall asleep at the wheel.  We found a resting place on the highway south of Budapest and slept for a couple of hours.  After that we left Hungary, there were no more border controls, found a hotel and basically crashed for a few hours before having a really big dinner. The next day was relaxed and I was able to get them safely to their destination.

For the family, their journey had a happy ending but it is not so for millions of others who feel they have no choice but to flee their countries because of war or oppression. I know that Europe is not big enough to take everybody, it isn’t possible, but they are human beings like you and I and have the same right to a dignified life. The family I helped have relatives in Europe, Fadl has dreams of being able to start a small restaurant. His brother was shot by a Syrian sniper and leaves behind 3 young children in northern Syria, Fadl is sworn to do all he can to support them financially. His wife Majelina had to stay behind in Turkey to look after ageing grandparents but she looks forward to the time she can join her husband. Their story is no different to so many of others. They are flesh and blood with the same hopes, fears and emotions as anybody.

Advertisements

Featured on foto8.com

Foto8.com a major photojournalism website have featured my work from Syria. It is always nice to have one’s work recognized.

http://www.foto8.com/live/syria-refugees-rebels-russell-chapman/

Syria Refugees and Rebels

 

 

Surprise

While doing some grocery shopping today a young guy comes up to me and says ” Hi, you are the Syria photographer” Took me by surprise.

DSC_2560 DSC_2311 DSC_2253 DSC_2199 DSC_2140 DSC_2056 DSC_1963 DSC_1952 DSC_1918 DSC_1864 DSC_1458 DSC_1403 DSC_1396 DSC_1383-Edit _DSC2735These images are a small taste of my book, Syria: Refugeesa and Rebels. Click the image below for more details.

Syria: Refugees & Rebels

 

 

 

Projects Around the World

Gallery

This gallery contains 9 photos.

Originally posted on The WordPress.com Blog:
We’re inspired to see bloggers doing things they love and using this platform to make their voices heard. Here’s a look at some interesting projects around the globe. Russell Chapman: Telling the stories of…

My latest Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

INFORMATION CONTACT: Russell Chapman: info ( at) russellchapman.ch

Photographer seeks funding to document how Syrian refugees in Jordan are rebuilding their lives

Russell Chapman is a freelance photographer who spent a month in Syria last year covering the violence in that country. He also visited Syrian refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon and was impressed and surprised by the warmth of the people despite the hardships they were suffering. After his trip, Chapman published a book of photographs called “Refugees and Rebels” and talked about his experiences during international conferences at Franklin University in Switzerland, Oxford University in England and the Conference of Forced Migration in Washington, D.C. Now he wants to return to Syria to document a side of this situation which has received less attention, the way in which Syrian refugees in Jordan are rebuilding their lives. Russell Chapman has established an Indiegogo campaign requesting donations to fund this trip, https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/syrian-refugees-rebuilding-their-future/x/83874 06. The campaign will remain open for donations through September 24, 2014.

Huge numbers of Syrians are now refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. The United Nations has registered more than 600,000 refugees in Jordan. The majority of them live in urban areas in the north of Jordan and the rest are in refugee camps. The Jordan refugee camp Za’tari is the second largest refugee camp in the world. The Syrian civil war has had a dramatic impact upon Northern Jordan because it started right across the border. At the start of this conflict many Syrians went to live with relatives in Jordan; but, as the trouble escalated, thousands of Syrians without relatives in Jordan began to go there for help.

Russell Chapman wants to return to Jordan to gather photos and other material for a second book documenting “Syrian Refugees: The Human Story”, how they are finding ways to rebuild their lives. He plans to donate 20% of all profits from the book and sale of photographic works to buy medicine for the Syrian refugees. Many cannot afford the medicines they need, especially for the children, so this project will provide direct benefit to those who need it. Chapman has stayed in contact with many of the refugees he met on the first trip. He plans to follow up with them as well as meet with new Syrians to see how their lives have changed in the last year. Most photographers find an opportunity such as he had last year to be a “one and done” situation. Russell Chapman is in a position to document the next step, give a voice to those who have suffered so much. New crises seem to arise throughout the world every day. Nearly half the Syrian population has been displaced. “Syrian Refugees: the Human Story” seeks to bring a different narrative to the problem, one that shows the humanity of ordinary Syrians and demonstrates how, with the right help, they can rebuild their lives.

In addition to publication of the book, the photographer plans to schedule a series of exhibitions in the United States and Europe similar to the ones he arranged following his first trip. Some of those photos can be seen in the gallery on the campaign site.

For complete information about Russell Chapman’s project to complete the second half of his documentation of the lives and hopes of Syrian refugees in Jordan, go to https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/syrian-refugees-rebuilding-their-future/x/83874 06.

Links across the internet to this press release:

http://www.releasewire.com/press-releases/photographer-seeks-funding-to-document-how-syrian-refugees-in-jordan-are-rebuilding-their-lives-539236.htm

http://www.ssuchronicle.com/2014/08/19/photographer-seeks-funding-to-document-how-syrian-refugees-in-jordan-are-rebuilding-their-lives/

http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/2129342

http://www.menafn.com/1093918271/Photographer-Seeks-Funding-to-Document-How-Syrian-Refugees-in-Jordan-Are-Rebuilding-Their-Lives

http://www.fox42kptm.com/story/26318814/photographer-seeks-funding-to-document-how-syrian-refugees-in-jordan-are-rebuilding-their-lives

http://www.wltz.com/story/26318814/photographer-seeks-funding-to-document-how-syrian-refugees-in-jordan-are-rebuilding-their-lives

http://world.einnews.com/article__detail/219173192?lcode=80BoKNkjCIaN4yVXx2pgSw%3D%3D

http://finance.boston.com/boston/news/read/28008579/Photographer_Seeks_Funding_to_Document_How_Syrian_Refugees_in_Jordan_Are_Rebuilding_Their_Lives

http://markets.financialcontent.com/mng-lang.dailynews/news/read/28008579/Photographer_Seeks_Funding_to_Document_How_Syrian_Refugees_in_Jordan_Are_Rebuilding_Their_Lives

http://finance.dailyherald.com/dailyherald/news/read/28008579/Photographer_Seeks_Funding_to_Document_How_Syrian_Refugees_in_Jordan_Are_Rebuilding_Their_Lives

http://finance.dmwmedia.com/dmwmedia/news/read?GUID=28008579

I have a new project. Can you help?

I have been developing the idea for this project since I was in Syria last year to photo-document that terrible conflict as well as spending time in Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. What impressed me the most was the warmth of the people despite all the terrible hardship they are suffering.

I need your help

Syrian child in Zaatari refugee camp.                      “I need your help”

Millions of Syrians are now refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan and they have very little international support. Because of the circumstances they have to find ways of supporting themselves and their families. They are doing this by trying to find work but there also are quite a few who have started small businesses. Syrians are extremely resourceful, they have to be. This project is about telling the stories of these people as they find ways to rebuild their lives in a foreign country. I have kept many of my contacts with Syrians in Jordan. The plan is to follow up on them as well as meet new Syrians to see how their lives have changed in the last year. The objective is to show that although they are refugees they are no different to you and me, they desire security, a home, education and a job. Refugees are often portrayed in the media as pathetic creatures living in the dirt, I want to show their humanity as they work to rebuild their lives.

The project’s ultimate goal is to publish a book which tells the individual stories of those I will meet, interview and photograph as they go about rebuilding their lives. There will also be exhibitions in Europe and the USA as a continuation of the book and exhibitions I have already produced from my time in Syria last year.

I will also donate 20% of the profit from sales of the book and any photographic works to buy medicines for Syrian refugees. Many cannot afford the medicines they need, particularly for the children, this project will be of direct benefit to those who need help.

I now have a crowdfunding project at Indiegogo.com to help me complete what I feel to be an important project which will give a voice to many who can show the humanity of a people in a difficult situation. Please go to my project at Indeigogo and have a look and watch the video. With your help we can give a voice to those who have lost and suffered to much and really draw attention on an international scale to a people who simply want to live quietly with their families.

Even if you can’t help directly but you still believe in helping your fellow human beings then please share this appeal with as many people as possible. Anything you do is very much appreciated, thank you.

How to Work in a War Zone

Working in Syria

Working in Syria

Syria is the most deadly place in the world at the moment for journalists. The possibility of kidnapping and death is high. I have written many things about my time in Syria, the politics and the suffering of the people, but until now, never about how it was personally for me to go to such a place and the preparation that went into it. Below is some of my experience and advice.

The first and most important thing is preparation, preparation, preparation. One does not simply wander into a war zone and hope to get a story and expect to come out of it alive. The weeks leading up to my departure for Syria were intense, getting contacts on the ground, organizing who would be meeting us at the border and where we would be staying for at least the first couple of nights. Fortunately I was going with a Syrian friend who had already been back to Syria a couple of months earlier but we still had a lot of work to do.

Paramount to your safety is being able to trust your Fixer. The Fixer is the person who will sort out your transport, find you places to stay, get you into locations where you want to get a story and also act as translator if need be. I can’t stress this enough, you must be able to trust your Fixer with your life. If you are going to a country where you don’t know anybody, contact journalists who have been there and get them to tell you who are reliable Fixers. Do not under any circumstances, arrive at the border and look for a Fixer there. You know nothing about the person and for all you know they could be working with kidnappers. Just don’t do it. But find a good Fixer and they will help you in so many ways to get you the story you are after and they might also save your life.

Another thing, under no circumstance when you go into a war zone as a journalist should you ever carry a weapon even if you think it would be only for self defense, if you are caught with a weapon then you will be seen as an enemy and killed. Don’t do it. End of. Let your Fixer organize your security. In Syria I was always with at least one person armed with a Kalashnikov who knew how to use it. It deters would be kidnappers if they see they will have to fight to get you.

This brings me onto something else. Before you go you should have some idea of self defense. Personally, I am not bad at Krav Maga, it is a great system for when you need to fight back from a point of weakness and if the other person is pointing a gun at you. In Syria, one of the guys I was with thought it would be funny to put his pistol to the back of my head, he did it as a joke but I had him on the ground with his gun pointing at his head before he even had time to blink. He never tried that game again. You need to know how to defend yourself if the situation calls for it.

When in a war zone you need to be constantly alert. Death can come from any direction, the random stuff you can’t do much about. Bombs, mortars etc, sometimes shit happens and there is nothing you can do about it. When going to a location, be aware of your surroundings and have an escape plan if things get hairy, although sometimes it is better to sit tight if you have cover until things quiet down a bit, this is particularly true if you are caught in the middle of a fire fight as happened to me. Never forget to keep your head down when all hell breaks loose, it is also a good position as you can kiss your butt goodbye if the time comes.

Kidnapping threats are more insidious but there are usually warning signs before it happens. Are you being followed? Where you are staying, do strange people come in and look at you but without talking to you? Do you get the sense that people are talking about you behind your back? These are all things to be aware of that there could be a plan to snatch you. Whereever you are staying it is worth trying to have an escape route, if you are staying in a house or hotel never stay higher than the 2nd floor, there might come a time when you need to jump out of a window to escape. The same goes for basements, only stay in them if there is a bombing raid, otherwise you can easily be cornered. Saying that, one time in Syria I spent the night sleeping in a bank vault, there was a bombing raid in the area and it was about the securest place to be found, saying that, it smelt a bit in the morning, 50 guys all huddled up in a small strong room with no windows. We were funky.

Don’t over rely on technology, GPS is great but learn to read a map and study the topography. Batteries run out, kit gets lost but a good old fashioned paper map is a must and contains a huge amount of detail if you get the right ones. Always have an idea of your position in relation to the border and the safest escape routes in relation to your position. Mark these on the map. Do not lose the map!

It is really essential that you look after your general health when in a war zone. There can be problems with water quality and food supply. Don’t eat or drink anything you don’t trust. Get bottled water when you can, boil water if you have to. Don’t use tap water to clean your teeth. In Syria the infrastructure has pretty much collapsed in many areas, the risk of water born diseases is high, you really don’t want to come home after getting the story to discover you have some horrible illness that is due to drinking dodgy water. On the food side, take some dried food rations with you, 3 days worth should be sufficient. You never know if you will need them and they can help you keep going if you are having to escape across country.

When I went to Syria I traveled light. One large rucksack, in it there were some extra clothes, lots of t-shirts, underwear and socks. Survival kit, medical kit, map, compass, GPS, satelitte phone, currency. I would leave the extra clothes where I was staying before going out for the day and pack everything else into a smaller backpack, my bug-out bag. You never know when you are going to have to run. You don’t want to be caught lacking the essentials for survival.

When you are prepared it helps you to feel secure that you have done all you can to prepare yourself for any situation and that then permits you to get on with capturing the story that has landed you in a war torn country. While you need to be constantly alert, I faced moments of extreme danger, you should also be prepared to meet some of the most incredible people, the warmth, the surprising acts of kindness, even the humour. This was my experience in Syria.

Ukraine: War is coming, part 3

It seemed that the talks in Geneva between Russian, Ukrainian and US counterparts had opened up a possibility for all those involved to step back from the brink, calm the situation down and work things out. To be honest, for a brief moment, I thought there could be some mature, adult behavior and things might be resolved. I was foolish to think this, since when have political leaders shown any sort of grown up pragmatism in dealing with serious problems? They are more interested in their petty power plays. They are lesser sons, ignoble offspring, unfit for purpose and certainly unfit to govern. I aim that at all politicians and rulers, everywhere.

So now we have an escalating situation in Ukraine, the number of small skirmishes seem to be increasing on a daily basis. How long will it be before we see a major assault take place, it appears to only be a matter of time, sooner rather than later! The opportunities to step back from the brink are becoming fewer by the day as tension mounts. As I said in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series; they are stumbling towards war, blind to the consequences which will befall them.

One of the areas of the Ukraine/Russia crisis that doesn’t get much attention at the moment is the role of the Orthodox church, its involvement in the political affairs of both countries. I first wrote about it in early March, you can find it here Further to this, at Easter you can see the involvement of the Orthodox church on both sides when you take notice of what was said when they addressed their followers. In Ukraine, Patriarch Filaret condemned Russian aggression, directly calling Russia an enemy. Meanwhile in Russia, Patriarch Kirill while he called for peace and cooperation between Ukraine and Russia he also called for, and I quote “end to the designs of those who want to destroy Holy Russia.”

To understand the full impact of this you need to know what he meant when he said “Holy Russia”, from a Russian nationalist point of view there is no difference between Russia and Ukraine, they are one and the same, the birth of Russia as we know it originates in Ukraine. Modern Russian nationalism sees Ukraine as a country to be fully united into Russia. The Russian Orthodox church is a key proponent of this, Patriarch Kirill is extremely nationalistic and also extremely close to Vladimir Putin. Kirill is a key Putin supporter, preaching from the pulpit that Putin is the man of the hour and there to save Russia and unite “Holy Russia” So we have the Orthodox church, Ukrainian and Russian, both supposedly Christian, using their enormous political power in their respective countries to foment war regarding an idea that goes against anything that is taught by the faith they proclaim to follow.

Besides strongly resurgent Russian nationalism, it also appears that there is another reason for Russia’s actions. Appealing to the Russian masses sense of nationalism is a very effective way of taking their minds away from other deeper, systemic problems. The Russian economy is very fragile, money is being drained out of its economy at a huge rate, the national bank is having to use its reserves to maintain liquidity, the banking sector is very fragile, it is facing a situation of sub-prime business loans similar to the sub-prime property loan crisis in the USA back in 2007/2008, the main difference is that the big Russian banks are owned by those who are personally close to Putin. The price of crude oil is falling, the Russian economy is based on oil/gas exports and depends on maintaining a certain price level. At the moment the price is about $110 per barrel. Russia or should I say Putin, needs the price to be about $115 per barrel in order to have enough money to keep paying the people the vast amounts he must for their continued support. Then we have to consider China, its shadow banking sector is in a huge speculative bubble which when it bursts will have implications for the wider Chinese economy, this will depress demand which will be reflected in the amount of energy it consumes and buys from Russian which will further depress oil/gas prices, reducing further the income Russia gets from its energy exports. Faced with these situations, a man such as Putin is going to be pressed into a corner, he will come out fighting, looking for ways to put the blame on others, a war with Ukraine would be a useful distraction, he is being left with little other choice. It is funny in an ironic way, the desire to hold on to power no matter what, will lead people into the most self destructive situations imaginable, and I aim this at the global political, business and religious system, not only Putin. When I look at the world today it reminds me of how the world was shortly before the outbreak of WW1. Watch this space.

 

 

Ukraine: War is coming, part 1

This is just a short post, full analysis will come later.

Both Ukrainians and Russians seem hell bent on getting their own way, as a result they are bringing the probability of war closer on a daily basis. One thing that can be guaranteed is that ordinary people will be made to suffer as a result of stubbornness and pride shown by both sides.

Do not assume that Russia would easily win a war with Ukraine. Russia withdrew from its war with the Taliban in Afghanistan after realizing that it couldn’t defeat them. The Taliban were very basically armed compared to the then Soviet forces. Against Ukraine is a different situation, yes their military is smaller but Ukraine is a major arms supplier and those who will fight will go to the bitter end, extracting a very high price from Russia.

We live in a crazy world where the desire for power and demonstrating ego controls the actions of people who have undeserved power. They blindly lead their countries into the abyss. Watch this space. You can read Part 2 and Part 3 by clicking on the links.

If you are interested in knowing me a little better

I did an author interview as a way of promoting my book, Syria: Refugees and Rebels

If you are interested you can read it here or below as copied:

Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written?
I’m from the UK but am now based in Lugano, Switzerland. I’m predominantly a photographer but I also write about current affairs. In particular regarding the Middle East. I have one book, ‘Syria: Refugees and Rebels’ a photo documentary of my time in Syria as well as the refugee camps of Lebanon and Jordan. I’m well traveled and curious about everything. I’m intellectually curious but also mentally lazy. I can be a terrible procrastinator, leaving things to the last minute.

For me life is an adventure, not in the sense that every moment has to be full of excitement but rather it is about discovery. I really do believe in living in the moment, not in some hedonistic way but in the sense of appreciating each moment, to be happy in the moment. So many people say they will be happy when they reach a certain goal but they are so focused on that goal that they forget to be happy in the present. Life can be taken from us so easily. I have been in conflict zones, seen how one minute we are here and the next we can be gone. This is why I appreciate very much the now.

I started my passion with photography when I was 10, I think it was the fascination with being able to capture a moment in time. I got books from the library and taught myself the science behind the art and experimented with what I learnt. It was agony waiting for my pictures to come back from the lab. One of the things photography taught me was how to see light, the realization that when we look at something, we don’t see it directly but rather the light it reflects and is captured by our eyes.

As a writer, I really enjoy looking at things from a different perspective. I am well versed in the Middle East and write about events there but often from a different angle. So often the general media skims over situations or sometimes gets it plain wrong, so I like to try and give more in depth detail. The challenge is that as time goes by people seem to skim read more and more, attention spans are diminishing and most people are more interested in celebrity gossip than actual news. So I try to write in such a way that will get the information across before they lose focus. I think it is a challenge for most writers of serious subjects

What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
My latest book is ‘Syria Refugees and Rebels’ I was inspired to go to Syria last year because I have Syrian friends and they were all telling me that the situation on the ground is not how it is being reported in the news.

I wanted to photo document what I would see and experience. I was in Syria for a month. I then spent another month split between Lebanon and Jordan, visiting refugee camps and following the work of individuals who are trying to help the refugees. I don’t like calling them simply refugees, they are people like you and I but have been overtaken by circumstances beyond their control. They have the same hopes and desires as anybody, to have a home, a job, a family, to be able to live in security and with dignity. When we hear the word refugee nowadays we think of pathetic creatures, dirty, living in mud. So much so that they almost seem less than human. My book is about giving a voice to people who have lost so much but who are no different to you and I.

Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I can’t think of any, I have to be in the mood in order to write and I work much better in the morning. After a couple of hours writing I have had enough and go and do something else.

What authors, or books have influenced you?
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and 1984 by George Orwell. I first read these books when I was a kid. I learnt to read when I was 4 and I was less than 10 when I first picked these books up. As time goes by it is interesting to see how those authors were well ahead of their time. The dystopias they created are becoming ever more a reality.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on publicizing my book ‘Syria: Refugees and Rebels’ sales of the book will fund my return to the refugee camps so I can continue telling their stories.

What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
Network, network, network. I also have a pretty strong platform with over 2000 followers of my blog: https://russellchapman.wordpress.com/ and more than 1200 followers of my Facebook page. I also speak at different events. The most recent was at Oxford University, there was an international conference called Refugee Voices and I was invited to show my work and talk about my experience at the closing session.

Do you have any advice for new authors?
Don’t give up if you really believe you have something to say

What is the best advice you have ever heard?
I know it is a bit of a cliche but always expect the unexpected. It has been proven true so many times

What are you reading now?
At the moment I’m reading about Charles Bronson a prisoner in England who has spent 28 years of the last 30 in solitary confinement. The way he tells his story is very powerful.

What’s next for you as a writer?
I am continuing my work writing about events in the Middle East as well as Russia. There is a lot happening in the world, there is always something to write about. At the moment I’m taking a bit of a break as I am focusing on selling my newly published book but normal writing will continue in the not too distant future

If you were going to be stranded on a desert island and allowed to take 3 or 4 books with you what books would you bring?
I would take the bible. Also a very good survival book, sometimes we need to refresh our memory on different survival situations. A book on the flora and fauna of the place I would be stranded, I would want to know more about my surrounding and what is good to eat. Finally, I would take the book Perfume, it is the most imaginatively intense book I have ever read.

Syria: Refugees and Rebels Book Cover

Syria: Refugees and Rebels Book Cover