What's behind odd scene from Ukraine?


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In the midst of deadline Tuesday night, we grabbed an interesting Associated Press photo from among the dozens coming out of the Ukraine and used it as part of our coverage of Russia's controversial intrusion of its neighbor.

It showed a young boy, maybe 2 years old, pacifier in his mouth and bundled up in a winter jacket, the hood up, and wearing a wool hat. He was pulling a small toy front-end loader along the ground as he walked behind a man believed to be a Russian soldier standing guard outside the gate of an infantry base and in front of a line of Ukrainian soldiers standing just inside the gate.

It was an odd scene, somewhat frightening, yet almost comical in that this otherwise tense standoff was of no bother to the toddler. The yellow and purple colors of the boy's toy reinforced the metaphor of his carefree presence in this otherwise drab setting.

The caption said little more than what was apparent in the photo, but an AP story from that same location lent some perspective. It was headlined, "At Ukrainian base, standoff turns into circus."

Reporter Tim Sullivan told how transport trucks with Russian license plates, escorted by at least one armored car with a machine gun on top, had arrived at the base Sunday morning. Here's more of his story:

"Just inside the main gate to the military base, four young Ukrainian soldiers stood in the middle of the road, as if somehow they alone could stop what was on the other side.

"They were hardly an intimidating group. They were young and unarmed and didn't look like they had ever been anywhere near combat. One, the soldier whose eyes kept blinking nervously, didn't look old enough to shave.

"Outside the gate, though, things were different. There were a half-dozen soldiers in unmarked green uniforms, all wearing helmets and body armor, and all carrying automatic weapons.

"Every 50 feet or so was another pair of the soldiers, all from the military force that Russian President Vladimir Putin had used to take control of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in recent days. Those soldiers, taciturn and well-disciplined, ringed the base from every side. ...

"Their demand was simple: they wanted to take control of the base, as they are believed to be doing at bases across Crimea. These Ukrainians, though, weren't prepared to let that happen. ...

"Within a few hours, the standoff had become a circus. The international media had arrived, trailing tripods and generators and mobile satellite dishes. An archbishop from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church had come, to pray for peace."

Also arriving, according to Sullivan, were dozens of people from the nearby village, "really a collection of dirty gray apartment buildings," just around the corner.

"Young mothers pushed children to the gate in strollers, or held the hands of toddlers," he wrote.

Apparently, one mother felt comfortable enough to allow her toddler to roam. With likely just a few steps, he walked right into a global spotlight.

For images of children and "war," this is certainly no Pulitzer Prize winner. What it lacks in drama, however, it makes up for in peculiarity.

(Andy Heintzelman, editor of the news-Item, writes "The Week In News" for each Saturday edition.)

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