Two people, two very different lives: Putin and kind Catriona...

In her weekly column Ailin Quinlan reflects on the week just past, as Russian continues to invade Ukraine
Two people, two very different lives: Putin and kind Catriona...

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture: (Sergei Guneyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

TWO people, two television stations, two sides of the world.

Let’s see: Riding a grizzly bear topless, galloping a stallion shirtless across the Siberian Plain, posing bare-chested with a smug Donald Trump, and allowing his manly shoulders to be photographed rising from the depths of a freezing Russian lake just didn’t cut the mustard anymore.

Even the triumph of producing the world’s first Coronavirus vaccine palled quickly. Covid had usurped the global stage, and life had somehow lost its shine for the rooster in the Kremlin.

So while the rest of the world was still sick or still struggling to manage the symptoms of Long Covid, or still critically ill in hospital, or burying and mourning its dead, or queuing for booster shots or fourth vaccine jabs, or cautiously emerging to pick up the pieces in a potentially post-Covid world, the bully with the small, bitter eyes and the insolent smirk was getting restless.

Vladimir was planning his next moves. They would be big. They would be mighty. They would be spectacular. They would stop people in their tracks.

Vladimir swivelled restlessly (in his grizzly-bear saddle, on his marble throne, up to his chest in freezing water, whatever) and glared in the direction where he figured Ukraine would be. He would invade that mud-puddle. He would show the world. It was time! He roared.

“Are you in need of diversion, sir? stuttered one of his remaining trusted minions.

“We can invite Mr Trump to pose with you for another bare-backed grizzly bear ride! We can make the photographers shoot stately pictures of you with your best rifle and, er.. taking fearless bare-chested dips in the lake? You could hold up the big fish again!”

“No! No! No!” the great man growled. He was tired of sending out pictures of himself to the sniggering media hordes. No respect, that lot. He had other ideas.

Ukraine wants to join NATO? Enough! Mother Russia will take on that cheeky bloody former comedian and grind him and his miserable little country into dust!

When the news broke, many denials and lies later, the world was horrified. But the biggest assault on a European state since World War II didn’t go as expected.

Mother Russia’s boot didn’t crush Ukraine in a matter of hours. Or days. Ukraine resisted. Hard. International politicians strategized ever tougher sanctions, cutting Russia off from the rest of the world, long lines of refugees struggled over borders and the rest of us held our breath.

Homeless people gathered empty glass bottles to give to the young people concocting Molotov cocktails and the population put their hurried training in arms uss to excellent use.

The former comedian emerged as a proud statesman and a global hero. As Putin bombed hospitals and residential areas, shelling Kharkiv, murdering innocent civilians, and reduced buildings to rubble, 44-year-old President Volodymyr Zelensky stayed firm. And he stayed.

Despite being the Kremlin’s top target, he has refused a reported evacuation offer from US President Joe Biden. Instead he has been seen out and about on the streets of Kyiv and appearing on-screen, displaying an unshakable resolve, using his phone on the street to make videos and inspiring and urging citizens to stay and fight.

Moscow has marched on, defying growing international pressure and a wave of sanctions that are strangling the Russian economy.

The enraged Putin is now on a mission to save face. He cannot lose. This is what he does. No matter the financial cost. No matter how many lives are lost. No matter the devastation, the death and the terrors he visits on Ukraine, he cannot back down and he has threatened dire consequences for anybody who dares stand in his way as he goes about his work.

As Putin’s forces bombed the TV tower in Kyiv last Tuesday, far, far away on the other side of the world, a very different sort of person was going about her day’s work. An unassuming Cork-woman walked into the RTÉ television studios in Cork city to talk about what she does.

Caitriona Twomey is the beating heart and the driving force behind Cork Penny Dinners, a warm, dry, friendly, generous-hearted place in the centre of Cork City which provides thousands of free and freshly made meals a week. The premises is open to everyone seven days a week all year round and, as Twomey explained to the RTÉ presenter Ray D’Arcy, no questions are asked and no judgements are made.

Dinner service starts at 9am because that’s when people are particularly hungry, she explained. Four-course meals. Fresh. Food packages are also distributed to people in need.

They don’t have paid staff at Cork Penny Dinners. They don’t get state aid. All the work and the food is financed by volunteers and benefactors.

The official mission of Penny Dinners is to provide a daily food service to those in need in the city. However, Caitriona Twomey actually works around the clock seven days a week sourcing accommodation for people, delivering food to housebound clients who can’t come to the centre building and overseeing night classes onsite.

She recalled in the interview how her father Tom quietly provided food to the elderly people of the city and told how her granny made a habit of slipping food through a high door in a wall to the women in the local Magdalen Laundry.

Caitriona Twomey received a Hall of Fame award at the Cork Person of the year awards yesterday. Well-earned. Long deserved.

Just two very different people on opposite sides of the world. You might say, there’s nowt stranger than folk.

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