Concert marking the 8th anniversary of Crimea's reunification with Russia | ALEXANDER VILF / POOL

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There they were in their tens of thousands in the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow, waving patriotic flags, sporting Z armbands and shouting “Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!” at the top of their voices.

Vladimir Putin stood before the crowds, a veritable Caesar, his arm outstretched in a familiar salute, a shiny zeal in his eye as the people of the city responded in rapture. They sang, hugged, kissed and clapped their national hero with a unified fervour rarely seen in the world today.

After all, who could trump this world leader, this visionary of our times and humanitarian crusader, jet-propelled onto our earthly plane to bring peace, kindness, Nazism and clarity to our befuddled and confused universe?

But wait. I must have got it wrong! Of course this cheery rally was all about Nazism but, silly old me, not about Russian Nazism. Oh no, no. This rally was staged to celebrate the crushing of Nazism in that oppressed land called Ukraine.

Nostalgically looking back to 2014 with many a biblical overture to hand, Putin reminded his people of the invasion of Russia at that time, which was naturally for the good of the oppressed.

Now, with the Ukrainians begging to be saved yet again from a relentless homespun Nazi-led regime, it seemed only right and proper to hold a rally in support of kind Mother Russia’s efforts to liberate the land.

These poor creatures would be saved from a hideous fate under the dictatorship of that treacherously doe-eyed Volodímir Zelenski. Desperate to be devoured by the liberators of Russia, these Ukrainian civilians were crying out to be set free from the merciless clutches of the democratic government, so much so that three million had already left the beleaguered country in search of pastures greener and hopefully free from bombs, guns, mayhem and murder.

Okay, enough parody. Well, what can we say? It’s breathtakingly shocking enough that Putin had the cojones to stage such an event but how did he secure the crowds? Were these Russians forced there at gunpoint, ejected from their homes by heavies in trucks or were they so mindlessly stupid that they went voluntarily? There was seemingly a whole section of the stadium that could easily have passed for the Hitler Youth Movement but there were also swathes of citizens who appeared distinctly uncomfortable, and keen to leave the venue as quickly as possible. Maybe most attended to avoid being detained or imprisoned for simply staying at home. Who knows? We are lucky enough not to live in such a terrifying totalitarian regime so can but speculate.

All the same, few could have taken this grotesque display of national fervour seriously, least the beleaguered and brave Ukrainians led by the global hero, Zelenski.
It’s a tragedy and travesty that their lives and that of their noble compatriots have been irrevocably shattered by the depraved, disturbing, unsavoury and unsatiated needs of an unstoppable narcissist.

Animal love

Despite the heart-breaking stories emanating from Ukraine that sear harrowing images into our screens every single day, one small beacon of light has been the evident strong and special relationship between the populace and their pets. Never before has a nation at war appeared so selflessly concerned for its animals’ welfare.

We see pictures of families and children with small rucksacks yet they somehow manage to carry big cages containing their beloved pets. They stuff animals into jackets or hold them close while guns stutter nearby. They are not prepared to leave their furry friends to a grim and certain fate back home. How I love these remarkable people for their humanity and big hearts. This tells me more about a nation than anything else. A nation that loves the natural world and values each and every creature in it, deserves our unquenchable love and utmost respect.

Joy in the wreckage

Despite the current gloom, a fantastic story of hope and joy emerged this week. Naturally, I speak of the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from an Iranian prison, a woman cruelly and falsely accused of being a spy when she returned to her native land on a family visit. For six long years, this beautiful and intelligent aid worker was kept in hideous conditions at Kerman Central prison in Iran, ripped apart from her tiny daughter Gabriella and her loving British husband. The trumped-up charges were used as traction for a debt apparently owed by the UK government.

Mistreated, tortured, constantly interrogated and kept in filthy conditions, it’s extraordinary that Nazanin didn’t go quietly mad or end her life in jail. Love for her husband and daughter kept her going and the support of those, such as Terry Waite, a veteran of kidnappings in hostile countries, who urged her to maintain hope. I think the whole world must have wept for joy when she was reunited with her family on British soil. Indeed a book, recording her foul and unjust ordeal, will follow and no doubt when strong enough, she will conduct the odd key interview. And why not? We need to know the ugly truth and she and her family will need funding.

There are others though, like Nazanin, still languishing in jails in Iran and elsewhere who desperately need help. Who will reach out to them? How many more lives will be ruined by abusive regimes and power-hungry brutes, dictators and lunatics? Sadly, in the end, history teaches us nothing. We humans are a truly vile kind.

Anna Nicholas’s second Mallorca based crime novel, Haunted Magpie, is available from Come In & Llibres Colom in Palma, and at Alameda gift shop in Soller, also at all good UK bookshops & via amazon.