Nine months ago the Grenfell Tower fire killed 71 and made 376 households homeless. Health professionals estimate that more than 10,000 people will experience physical or mental health problems as a consequence.
We still don’t know the precise culpability but one thing we do know. Over years, the perception grew that council staff were accountable not to residents but to a distant bureaucracy. Many residents believed that the council did not take their safety or quality of life seriously.
A very similar tragedy happened less than two weeks ago in Russia. I remember that Monday morning, 26th March, when my head was full of thoughts about upcoming deadlines and all the coursework I have to do. I haven‘t checked the news since Saturday. Suddenly, I‘ve got the notification on my phone from the BBC, which said: “Blaze killed 64 people at the Winter Cherry mall in Kemerovo”. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I started going through dozens of different articles and news reports, when suddenly I saw the article published by Meduza, Russian online newspaper. I’ve read it and burst into tears.
I couldn’t understand how was this even possible. My mind couldn’t absorb the information it just received.
More than 40 of the victims were children, many trapped inside a cinema watching the animated film “Sherlock Gnomes”. They were calling their parents begging for help. Others wrote messages of goodbye on social media. The doors at the cinema were blocked. Those, who were trying to escape from the cinema, got the news about the blaze too late. The fire alarm did not work neither did the emergency exits. The fire broke at the top 4th floor of the mall, where the children’s entertainment area was situated. Allegedly, firefighters arrived only 40 minutes after the blaze broke out.
It quickly became clear that absolutely nobody was prepared for such tragedy. But the most terrifying is that no one was prepared to deal with it promptly.
Alexander and Olga Lillevyali, lost their three daughters in the blaze. Two of them were eleven years old. The youngest was five. They were among other children trapped in the cinema. Alexander said to Meduza: “My daughter kept calling and calling me. I just shouted into the phone that she needed to try to get out of the cinema, but there was nothing I could do. In front of me, it was already flames.” As the man spoke, tears streamed down his face. He pressed his hands to his eyes, trying to stop himself.
A 12-year old girl, who was trapped in the cinema, called her aunt saying: "I cannot escape. Tell mum that I loved her. Tell everybody that I loved them."
At that time, I couldn’t think about anything else but this tragedy. My sadness was replaced with anger and the other way round. I was listening to news podcasts, where the tragedy was discussed, I’ve read countless number of articles and interviews with the relatives of the victims. I just couldn’t get over it. I couldn’t understand why these little angels became the victims of someone’s negligence, corruption and bureaucracy.
The only question I had in my head was ‘Why?’ Why the doors of the cinema were blocked? Why the emergency exits were closed? Why the fire alarm did not work and people just informed one another? Why it took so long for fire crews to arrive? The only question: Why? Why all this horror happened to so many young and innocent souls?
Since then, fire safety checks began in shopping centres across the country. In Moscow region alone, more than 1,300 safety breaches were found in 233 shopping malls.
Same happened in London last summer. After the Grenfell Tower fire, a review of building regulations was launched. A nationwide investigation found hundreds of tower blocks wrapped in flammable material. Nearly 3,000 people were evacuated from an estate in Camden, north London, after firefighters said they could not guarantee the safety of blocks there.
Obviously, prompt checks are very important after tragedies like these happen. However, the feeling of unfairness, internal pain and grief does not leave me. Of course, we do not live in the ideal world, where the tragedies don’t happen and people don’t die. But it’s crucial to understand that lessons have to be learnt.
It was not the first time people died in a blaze because of someone’s negligence in Russia. But why do we allow this to happen? Who is responsible? Why do innocent people die if the tragedies like these are preventable? Why do we start thinking and acting only when the people die and nothing will ever help to calm their relatives down?