Russia’s humanitarian convoy has made quite a trip and the world has been following the trail. Those half empty “humanitarian aid” trucks are idle while waiting for an agreement with the International Red Cross, but Ukraine has already begun delivering aid to embattled areas. The smaller convoy originated inside Ukraine, and with trucks fully loaded with supplies inside, have made it to points in the east where Red Cross workers are taking possession of the aid for distribution.
Russian military APCs and tanks reportedly crossed into Ukraine under the cover of darkness, but those 200-and-something hastily painted white military trucks from Moscow are still sitting on Russian soil. Some Western reporters following the convoy say it does not really matter. When Russian drivers allowed journalists to inspect the trucks on Friday, some of the trucks were carrying only the lightest of loads.
The Russian government countered journalists’ surprise at the light loads by saying that weight concerns had to be taken into consideration. Journalists on the scene, however, joked that the “heavy” items that apparently caused so much concern in Moscow included sleeping bags, oatmeal, and baby diapers.
The humanitarian convoy, if nothing else, has introduced the Western public to Russian and Ukrainian geography. Millions have watched in fascination as towns with seemingly unpronounceable names have popped out on the map from an unfamiliar part of the world.
The Russian convoy began just outside Moscow. Moscow is Russia’s capital, the second largest city in Europe (Istanbul is slightly larger), and home to some very incredible architecture, culture and history. It is an old city dating at least to the 1100s, if not before, but a modern and bustling metropolis that combines history with modernity. Moscow is a “federal city,” as is Saint Petersburg. This designation gives them status as city states, nearly self-governing entities with tremendous power locally.
Russians often think of their country as one with three capitals. After Moscow there is Saint Petersburg, which was the ruling capital for just over 200 years. It is commonly called the “northern capital” of Russia. In the east, Novosibirsk (the name means “new Siberia”) is often called the “Capital of Siberia.” Russia covers a sixth of the world’s land mass.
The Russian humanitarian convoy started in Alabino, a suburban part of the Moscow Oblast. An oblast is a region (or province), and Alabino is where Russian troops practice annually for the Victory Day Parades. Each May 9, Eastern European countries celebrate the end of World War II. The largest of those parade celebrations takes place on Moscow’s Red Square.
After being on the road for a day, the convoy stopped in Voronezh (see link on Voronezh below). Voronezh is a regional city of just over one million in population. The city is southeast of Moscow at a distance of about 322 miles (520 km).
The International Red Cross had agreed to meet the humanitarian convoy at a border checkpoint outside of Kharkiv, a Ukrainian city dating to the 1600s. Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second largest city and for a brief time was the capital of Ukraine during the civil war between the Communist Bolsheviks and those who favored the return of the Tsar and the Romanov Imperial monarchy. Russians and Ukrainians spell and pronounce the city name slightly differently: Харків is the name in Cyrillic Ukrainian, and Харьков is the name in Cyrillic Russian.
From there the convoy headed towards the Russian city of Ростов-на-Дону, which means “Rostov on the Don.” There is more than one prominent Russian city with Rostov in the name, so the city is identified by its location on the Don River. The Don is one of Europe’s largest rivers and gives Rostov port access to the Sea of Azov, just 20 miles (32 km) outside the city. This entire region on both sides of the border is known as the “Donbass.” It is the heart of the coal mining industry for both Russia and Ukraine.
The convoy stopped just outside the Rostov region at the smaller city of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky. This, at one time, was a typical coal mining town; but today, factories in Kamensk-Shakhtinsky make glass and fiber cables. The town is on the E40 trans-European highway.
Perhaps no one knows when this journey will come to an end. For now at least, the convoy is in southern Russia, just outside the Ukrainian border. Reporters have been told that Red Cross inspectors will arrive soon to take over the contents. The Russian humanitarian convoy has made quite a journey, with the world’s eyes, via media, following the trail.
By Jim Hanemaayer