Pause For Poetry:
Wanda Potrykus /2

First He Went…

A poem by Wanda Potrykus

First he went to Chechnya
But they are Muslim and terrorists
I told myself
Bloody massacres he did commit
But I did not protest for I was ignorant
And didn’t know any Chechens.

Then he meddled in
Moldova and Azerbaijan;
Now Transnistria and Artsakh
are frozen conflict zones
with lives in limbo.

Then he went to Georgia,
Got his nose bloodied
He rearmed, refurbished and modernized
Went back, siphoning off more pieces;
Now South Ossetia and Abkhazia have become
More frozen conflict zones resigned, designed
to stir up tensions
and inflame the populace.

I did not protest, though did wonder
Why the world permitted him to get away with it,
Did no one care?
Perhaps because they’d never been there
After all, they weren’t on anyone’s bucket list.

Then he went to Crimea
A region of Ukraine
The world sighed, shook its hands but did little,
Imposing a few ineffectual sanctions to save face.
It was a relatively bloodless coup,
only one dead and few wounded
For he’d seeded Russian collaborators
So I did not protest. After all, he,
we and others murmured
“the Olympics were in Sochi that year”
And most Crimeans ‘seemed’ okay with it,
Or so the world was told
Or was that just fake news?

Europe too was fearful,
“Don’t poke the Russian bear”
Quavered Italians, Germans, others to the EU Parliament,
Appeasement was their governing party line,
They needed Russian gas and oil and coal
“Don’t spoil our source of energy and heat.”

Then he went to Donetsk and Luhansk
Both part of Ukraine’s sovereign territory,
Shooting down another sovereign nation’s plane,
Simply for overflying their airspace
En route to Asia “Whoops, wrong trajectory, wrong target”
Then, like most cowards and bullies,
Tried to blame the misguided action, murders on Ukraine
For shame!

The he went to Syria to ‘support’ Assad
using chemical weapons, vacuum and cluster bombs
against besieged, unarmed civilians, children,
Further harming a country torn up, desperate
Destroyed by a monstrous civil war.

Then he went and meddled in the Armenia-Azerbaijan war
over disputed territory of Nagorny Karabakh;
Imposing Russian peacekeepers and working with Turkey
to further destabilize the region and sow discord.

Today he’s de facto annexed Belarus
in all but name
with its collaborator president backing him
and accepting nuclear armaments.

Next he went to, nay invaded, call it what it is,
sovereign Ukraine
after baldly saying countless times he wouldn’t.
Committing war crimes, lying constantly
Fabricating silly tales, distorted history to justify
His rabid mad dog actions
imbued with hate and envy… fear

But people are starting not to listen
Thus this time I will protest
Alongside of all of them

Or soon I’ve recognized,
He could come for me and mine
Across the Arctic Sea.

© WSP 2022 Wanda Potrykus

Inspired by First they came… a poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller

1) “First they came…” is the poetic form of a 1946 post-war confessional prose by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984). It is about the cowardice of German intellectuals and certain clergy – including, by his own admission, Niemöller himself – following the Nazis’ rise to power and subsequent incremental purging of their chosen targets, group after group. Many variations and adaptations in the spirit of the original have been published in the English language. It deals with themes of persecution, guilt, repentance, and personal responsibility.”

2) My poem “First he went…” refers to direct Russian involvement in conflicts after the breakup of the Soviet Union (1988-1991) and during the time of Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, so does not mention post-WWII Russian involvement in Yugoslavia, Czecho-Slovakia, Hungary, Afghanistan, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, etc.

Feature image: We Stand with Ukraine 2022 Helsinki, Finland protest, rajatonvimma, VJ Group Random Doctors, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia CommonsBouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre –

Other articles by Wanda Potrykus


Wanda Potrykus is a writer, editor, translator and poet. A graduate of McGill, she has spent most of her career in marketing communications, PR, event and media relations specializing in international aviation, telecommunications, education and the marketing of the arts.

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