Sunday, 6 May 2012

Kabaty crash site

Probably no other country in the EU can boast about such long weekend falling on such beautiful season of year, as Poland, which has bank holidays on 1 May and 3 May. This year arrangement of days was extremely favourable – with days off work falling on Tuesday and Thursday, half of the country were on holiday and the rest ticking over. Given the limited number of paid holiday, I decided to stay ‘on duty’ at work over the whole week. This strategy has several upsides – little is going on in the office, one can knock on later, knock off earlier and go out for a lunch for an hour, traffic on the roads is sparse. The only downside is that public service vehicles run according to weekend timetable and if someone saves on fuel, getting to work partly by public transport is longer than door-to-door trip by car.

This year not only the calendar was on Poles’ side, also the weather couldn’t be more conducive for leisure. An unusual for late April / early May heat wave arrived to Poland on Friday before the long weekend and lasted whole seven days. For most of the weekend day-times were hitting +30C and sunshine was not disrupted by a single raindrop. In early February, when temperatures were dropping below –20C, I promised myself not to grumble about the heat. Indeed, below minus twenty it was worse.

Looking around and judging by the picture painted by the media, it can be inferred that Poles are off for a care-free week-long barbecue, devouring warm sausages and sipping cold beer. Not a good form of pastime activity to be endorsed. Popular culture promotes unhealthy lifestyle rather when physical exercise!

OK, I also ate some sausages, drank a few beers, but haven’t succumbed to the notion that life’s easy. Even at the time when almost everyone’s laid-back, pushes aside mundane worries and laps up beauty of the spring, more serious issues must not disappear from the foreground. It’s not about seeking troubles intently, it’s about discerning complexity of the world and remembering about its sadder side.

On Thursday I finally celebrated cycling shake-down day in season 2012. Head down, it kicked off late, the first opportunity was missed on 17 March and then either weather or some timesucks were keeping my off my bike. For starters, I ventured where I had planned to go since my trip to Las Kabacki two months earlier. And the time for the trip could only be slightly better.

Next Wednesday Poles will be commemorating the 25th anniversary of the most tragic airplane disaster in the history of Polish aviation. Many of would argue the Smolensk crash was the most terrible, as many of the fatalities were eminent statesmen, however in terms of death toll the Kabaty plane crash was almost two times more tragic (183 vs. 96).

Shame on me, I have to admit this was my first visit to the place where Il-62 hit the ground. This time before setting off I checked on the map how to get there and didn’t roam in vain in search of the monument as I did in March.

Getting there is a piece of cake. Inhabitants of southern part of Zielony Ursynów and adjacent villages are in a privileged position. You just need to turn into ul. Jagielska from ul. Puławska and walk / cycle / drive (the last should be deleted, as inappropriate) some two kilometres east to find a green gate closing off a path to the forest (to the right – photo taken while riding, hence blurred). Cycle or walk two hundred metres into the wood and soon you reach the destination.

If you’re heading from proper Ursynów, you’re still in the luck – your trail will be longer, but you ma enjoy a pleasurable walk / ride through the forest (especially delightful on a sweltering day, when trees give shelter from the heat) and signage should lead you to the place.

The crash site is commemorated by a small, inconspicuous clearing (here for a moment unattended). The place is arranged to play host to few visitors and brings out a conductive atmosphere to contemplate the fragility of human life. I have to say all tourist stopping over there behaved appositely.

Two artefacts on the site are a stone plaque, with names of all fatalities inscribed on it and a cross. Photographs of both objects prove my photographing skills are inadequate – I didn’t manage to snap up-to-the-mark shots on a sunny day in a shaded place. With hindsight a good incentive to tweak with my compact Canon’s settings or a reason to upgrade. The first name on a plaque is captain Zygmunt Pawlaczyk who piloted the ill-fated plane. There is a street named after him in a nearby Ursynów. Many people owe him they are alive, as captain Pawlaczyk, having realised he wouldn’t have a chance to land the plane in Okęcie airport, decided to drop the plane into an uninhabited area, without risking lives of more innocent people.

The cross has been put up by members of a local parish in Pyry. A small Jesus crucified on it, a small wreath laid in front of. In a few days there will be lots of flowers and candles all over the place and then someone will tidy it up and only silence and rare visitors will haunt the place.

A notice attached to a tree informs two masses commemorating the victims will be administered on Wednesday. I’m looking forward to seeing archival TV coverages of the disaster. Few can be found on youtube although TV reporters have covered the story quite informatively. Censorship apparatus in late 1980s eased off and news of the crash appeared in the media immediately. Truth wasn’t said in the context of co-operation with Soviet engineers, probably accountable for the glitch which led to a engine breakage, who wriggle out of helping Poles investigate true causes of the engine breakage and denied their responsibility for the faulty part.

I’ll surely be visiting the place at least once a year, and on one of 10th days of April in the coming years I’ll take a trip to Smolensk. Regardless of political views, each Pole who can afford to travel there (provided Russian visa is obtainable) should to pay homage to the ones whose lives were shattered in the Smolensk muds…

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