WARSAW — More than 60 Ukrainians of Polish descent in the breakaway region of Donbass have asked Poland if they could be evacuated there, a request Warsaw has refused. Instead, it offered a modest aid package.
"Many of us are elderly people. There are single mothers too. It's not possible to live here any more. There is no work. The streets are occupied by armed bands. We are all of Polish descent and it's enough for our neighbors to look at us with hostility," says Jerzy Prykolota, who lives with his wife, 18-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son, in Luhansk, which along with Donetsk, makes up the region of Donbass.
Prykolota, along with 60 other residents of Luhansk, signed a letter sent to the Polish foreign ministry, requesting evacuation. They said they wanted to escape the ""nightmare of living in the occupied territories where more or less intensive battles take place. We fear for our lives and health, and that of our families. Many of us are jobless."
Many of these people also have Polish nationality or a Karta Polaka ("Pole's Card") — an official document that confirms their connection to the country. The previous Polish government had organized evacuations from Donbass twice, the last time being in January 2015. That decision was criticized by the Law and Justice party, which is currently in power in Poland.
As a result of that evacuation, 178 people arrived in Poland, which gave them medical care, accommodation for six months, and language courses. The local government organized meetings for them with potential employers. The whole undertaking cost 4 million Polish zlotych (nearly $950,000). The ruling Law and Justice party does not intend to organize a third evacuation campaign.
"The Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Kharkiv is in constant contact with the mentioned people. The institution helps and supports them. These people can benefit from the rights they have as Pole's Card holders as well as from the additional, individual support from the Consulate, for example, in the form of aid," Poland's foreign ministry says.
"The government told us that we can only expect help in obtaining visas in a shorter time and eventually aid. But what do we need 100 or 200 euros for? We won't be able to rent a flat for our families with this money. And we need help at the beginning, to be able to get back on our feet. At a later stage, we will definitely manage on our own," says Prykolota.
Prykolota decided against joining the Polish evacuation campaign last year because his wife was being treated for cancer. "I did not want to jeopardize that — she managed to recover here. Some Poles did not want to go and leave behind their whole life. They thought they would mange somehow," he says.
Oleks Zyrafski, who works in construction and has been living in Luhansk for 20 years, wants to escape to Poland with his son and wife. "Life here became unbearable. The situation is not very stable. We have all lost hope that anything will change. The shops and factories are closed. We have electricity and water for only a couple of hours every day," he says.
In the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic, the situation is worse than in neighboring Donetsk People Republic, which is also controlled by pro-Russia rebels. Going to the West from Luhansk is only possible through one checkpoint in Stanytsia Luhanska. Bringing supplies from Ukraine is practically impossible so Russia brings in goods. Rebels looking for a source of income, impose import duty on them, so some products have doubled in price since the war in Ukraine began.
Even before the war, Luhansk was considered the poorest part of eastern Ukraine. The situation there has not changed since the fall of the Soviet Union. People were forced to work as illegal miners that brought profits to local oligarchs with political connections. The monthly salary of a miner in Luhansk is about 7,000 rubles (about $114).
The Luhansk ""republic"" has been controlled by Igor Plotnicki, a previously little-known businessman and clerk, since August 2014. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, Plotnicki graduated from a military academy. He was in the army, which he left in 1991 with the rank of major.
Witnesses in Luhansk say that they can see the nervousness of separatists every day, who from time to time intensify their street patrols and monitoring of local people. There is gunfire exchanged daily on the front lines between the rebels and the Ukrainian army. Households face water shortages because Ukrainian government cuts electricity supply to water-pumping stations. Rebels don't pay for the electricity they use.
Jaroslawa Syczynska, one of the people who signed the evacuation petition, did not wait for Poland's response. She left Luhansk with her husband and 4-year-old son for the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.
"We are staying with our family but we would like to work in Poland. We are young and strong. We are looking for a language course now to improve our Polish. Later, we hope to find work and an apartment in Lesser Poland or Mazovia. We cannot stay too long in Lviv," she says.
Prykolota says that people from eastern Ukraine are not welcome in central and western Ukraine. "They view us as supporters of the rebels and treat us with hostility. It's difficult to find a job or an apartment when we say that we are from Donbass. On the other hand, they don't like us here because we have Polish roots. We want to live in Poland, be loyal residents and pay taxes there," he says.
After Poland's foreign ministry rejected their plea, the petitioners requested the intervention of Poland's president, and both houses of parliament.
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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