In her first article for OQM Oksana Chelysheva pays her respects to the creatives and activists who died in a plane crash on December 25th, 2016. She discusses the humanitarian work and identity of Elizaveta Glinka and Valery Khalilov. Her perspective is that of a journalist and activist living in Europe
I do hope that the Black Sea would give back all the bodies of those who died in the TU154 crash, which occurred on December 25th 2016 near Russia’s Sochi. The rescue operation to retrieve all the bodies and debris of the plane is still underway while media sources, as well as social network users, are clashing in a verbal fight over whether we should grieve or rejoice over the deaths. On January 13th, Russian media sources reported that 70 victims were identified.
92 people died early on December 25th en route to Syria, including 68 musicians and dancers of the legendary Alexandrov Ensemble (the official choir of the Russian armed forces). Among other victims of the fatal flight was Elizaveta Glinka, doctor and humanitarian activist who ran the Fair Aid charitable NGO.
Valery Khalilov, the Uzbekistan-born composer of Dagestan descent and the choir conductor died with his choir. He left behind an amazing piece of music which was composed for a woodwind orchestra. His Adagio sounds like a requiem. The last farewell from the music Major General who in one of the few interviews stated, “I am the one whose name should not necessarily be known to people as our music is like anthems played at state events”. Indeed, he paid tribute to his ancestors by creating a new anthem for the North-Caucasian republic of Dagestan.
I do hope that the Black Sea would give back all the bodies of those who died in the TU154 crash, which occurred on December 25th 2016 near Russia’s Sochi.
Personal stories of the victims of this crash do reflect the complicated history of Post-USSR Russia. The collapse of the Soviet Union brought upon us the reality of living not just in different parts of European or Asian areas of what used to be one country, but nowadays being separated by armed conflicts and political disturbances. All of us born in one part of the 1/6th of the Earth, who have moved elsewhere, have friends and relatives scattered all over the world. My own father was born in Russia, then met my mother, born in Ukraine. I was born in Ukraine, but we moved to the Russian part of the Soviet Union at some point. My mother is suffering now as the Ukraine is, where her family continues to live, under attack. Thus, my own family has become partly Russian and partly Ukrainian – whatever this means. It doesn’t make us deny the smallest part of our identity. My friend in Azerbaijan was born into a mixed family of a Russian and an Azeri. He is not split in his identity, but he is torn between two countries, two mentalities each of which is equally his own.
It doesn’t make us deny the smallest part of our identity.
Valery Khalilov was born in Uzbekistan, his ancestors having roots in the mountains of the Caucasus. He became a Russian composer and the chief conductor of the Red Army choir. Elizaveta Glinka was born in Moscow, lived in the USA for many years, returned to her home country and started to organize help to people far beyond the new Russian borders.
The Alexandrov Ensemble can be considered legendary not only because of their superb performances, but also because of their intercultural projects. One example is the renowned joint performance with Leningrad Cowboys in Helsinki Senate Square. Elizaveta Glinka is not a name that immediately resonates with people outside Russia. That is an additional reason why I feel it is important to pay my respects to her.
Elizaveta Glinka, more known as Doctor Liza, managed to carry out her humanitarian work regardless of boundaries. She was the one who established the first hospice in Kiev in the 1990s. She brought help to people in Nagorny Karabakh when it was stricken by the disputes over the legitimacy of the claims made by Azerbaijan and Armenia. She brought help to the children who wanted to continue life despite the political conflicts of the adults. Among the ones who were saved were children both wounded and born with heart failures and in need of complicated surgeries. Glinka was the one who started medical volunteering for the homeless in Moscow. In 2006 she co-founded the first hospice in Moscow. It could not happen before, because Elizaveta Glinka together with other enthusiasts who were trying to alleviate the plight of the mortally sick, had to win over the indifferent bureaucratic machinery.
I came into contact with Elizaveta Glinka during the crisis in the town of Slavyansk, located in the eastern part of Ukraine. It was the first spot in Donbass where the war began. Let me explain what happened: In May 2014 in the Ukrainian town of Slavyansk, Andrey Mironov (Soviet Union times dissident and a Russian human rights defender of undoubted integrity) was killed in a mine shelling. Andrey Mironov went to the eastern part of Ukraine for the same reasons why he had been going to Chechnya: to establish the truth and help people. He died together with his friend, an Italian photographer Andrea Rocchelli. Their last joint article, which was published in Russia’s Novaya Gazeta, was called ‘We Are Not Animals‘ and it was full of voices of innocent families with adopted children hiding in basements of their houses.
Soon after the death of Andrey I received a letter from Slavyansk. It was a request to help in the evacuation of a sick baby from a town that was absolutely sealed. It was the first time my path crossed with Doctor Liza, as it was she who immediately responded to the request to become part of the mediation process. My task was to get consent from the side of the Ukrainian military groups. Doctor Liza was to bring the reanimation ambulance to the military checkpoint specified with the Ukrainian side at the set time and take out the baby boy from a sieged town together with his family (both parents and elder sister). The rescue operation nearly failed because of Russia’s NTV (the New TV) crew. They didn’t manifest themselves at all while the mediation was on the way. But when an agreement was reached they grasped their chance to misuse the sick child for their reportage on “Russia’s saving a dying child”. It didn’t matter that they risked the baby-boy’s life who was just given oxygen. It didn’t matter to them either that they endangered Doctor Liza’s life, who rushed to the train immediately after a big gathering in the Kremlin.
The crash of the military TU154 plane into the Black Sea has highlighted one more problem: mockery as a social disease and simplistic oppositional thinking. Soon after the plane crash, Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly, created a caption for their front page above an image of a plane going down: “What bad news. There was no Putin onboard”. The idea is simple: “Whatever happens, search for Putin behind it.” Not only social networks, but a number of official media outlets argued for the real cause of the events that unfolded with the Russian plane crash. They made claims such as: The NTV are ill-behaved. Therefore, their journalists’ deaths are justified. The Alexandrov choir was on their way to perform at the Russian military base. Therefore, no sorrow for them. Doctor Elizaveta Glinka was taking 8 tons of medicine to the University hospital in Larnaka… It doesn’t matter as she is also seen by crowds of anti-Putinists as Putin’s personification. This is the grotesque feature of the current confrontation: once you raise up something critical regarding what the overall perception takes for anti-Putinists, you automatically join the ranks of alleged Putinists. It doesn’t solve big issues, but does make life easier while erasing any possibility for critical thinking.
once you raise up something critical regarding what the overall perception takes for anti-Putinists, you automatically join the ranks of alleged Putinists. It doesn’t solve big issues, but does make life easier while erasing any possibility for critical thinking.
Igor Kalyapin, the chair of the Committee to Prevent Torture (one of the most distinguished Russian human rights groups) stated in response to all such critics of Putin: “We shouldn’t hasten death and we can’t postpone it. Each and everyone lives their own life. This is the formula, which Elizaveta Glinka made the motto of the Fair Aid fund. These are the words which she often used to start her presentations. I feel that she condensed her own life philosophy filtered through reanimatology and palliative oncology in those words. It was the philosophy of a person who worked on the edge of life and death.
Elizaveta Glinka forced Putin to arrange for the medicines to be transferred with that very plane. This agreement was reached during the meeting of the Human Rights and Democracy Council on December 8. She needed that plane to deliver several tons of life-saving medicines to civilians in Syria”.
It was Elizaveta Glinka who as a member of the Council on Human rights and Democracy, had the possibility to raise such issues as delivering medicines to Syrian civilian hospitals with the Russian President. Igor Kalyapin is also a member of this Council. He witnessed how Elizaveta Glinka demanded the delivery of the 8-ton load of medicines to civilians in Syria.
Elizaveta Glinka demanded the delivery of the 8-ton load of medicines to civilians in Syria.
Elizaveta Glinka’s body was identified by her DNA. She was buried in Moscow on January 16th. Among those who attended her funeral were the homeless people of Moscow.