The other day we went on an adventure to a traditional Russian bathhouse, the hilarious details of which will have to wait for a future post. But on the way, our friend surprised us with a detour through downtown Mariupol to buy some bread for the trip. This meant driving directly past the Administrative building in the center of town that is still held by pro-russian sepratists. There was no real danger. We were just another dark windowed car stuck in traffic waiting on a light to change. But, it was still a little unsettling.
The building is completely encircled by a high wall of tires. At random intervals along this wall are armed men. In the heat of the evening they had mostly all exchanged their black balaklavas for white medical masks. On the balcony out front was a collection of russian flags and piles of audio equipment and speakers. An incomprehensible message was being loudly broadcast on repeat from the balcony.
In the park on the city side of the wall, a mother stood with her back against the tires and pushed a young boy on a colorful swing set. She talked casually with other mothers whose children also played in the park spinning on merry-go-rounds and building sand castles. Crossing the park in either direction were grandmothers with grocery bags, and men in suits returning home late from work. No one even looked up. Life continued as if nothing had changed.
Our friend noticed us watching out the window and explained. “The Russians took over our courthouse.” He shrugged. The light changed, and turning the corner he continued, “Now it is just a really good place to go and find new tires for your car.”
A block or two away we stopped for bread, and then continued down the road and out of the city.