Writer attacked by mob who mistook her van for mythical 'black ambulance'

Doina Popescu Braila and her 'ambulance for literature'
Doina Popescu Braila and her 'ambulance for literature' Copyright Doina Popescu Braila
By Cristian Gherasim
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A popular legend holds that black ambulances cruise the streets looking for children to murder in order to sell their organs to wealthy buyers in western Europe.


A Romanian writer on a book tour was attacked by a mob who mistook her customised van for a legendary "black ambulance" which popular mythology claims is used by child snatchers.

Hoping to cut down on the expenses of a traditional book tour, Doina Popescu Braila turned an old ambulance into a travelling office and library to encourage reading. The blue and white painted ambulance is where she lives, sleeps and signs autographs for her readers. The van has the name of the project -“Ambulance for literature” - written on its side, making its purpose conspicuously known.

While stopping for the night near Bucharest’s main train station, Popescu’s van was surrounded by a swelling gang of people convinced it to be an infamous “black ambulance” hunting for vulnerable children. 

“They gathered so fast it seemed as if the entire thing was organized. Videos from the scene posted on Facebook got even more people to come”, the writer told Euronews in a telephone interview

A myth dating from the communist era, “the black ambulance” has in recent years been resuscitated by Romanian tabloid media. According to this story, children abducted off the street are murdered and their organs and blood sold to wealthy people from Western Europe. The myth spread throughout the old communist bloc in the 70s’ and 80s’ and is believed to have first originated in Poland as means to instil communist hatred towards the West and also to detract validity from stories of real kidnappings by Polish Secret Police.

Waiting for the police to arrive, writer Popescu became trapped in her van by the people gathered around the vehicle. “They started filming me, they got into the ambulance and someone put out a cigarette on my cheek”, the writer told Euronews. “They started going through my things, they saw the caravan toilet chemicals and believed it might be blood or a medical substance of sorts. I showed them my books and they got so scared as if I was showing them voodoo dolls. When the police got to the scene, there were close to 500-600 people from the surrounding neighbourhood encircling the van. A woman even stole the ambulance number plates to help fuel the general hysteria.”

Three people were detained by the police for acts of violence, threats and disorderly conduct. They were later released. The writer received medical care at the police HQ but refused to be taken to hospital. “I refused to go to hospital fearing for my safety. I keep receiving threats and will be suing anyone who keeps harassing me. I will be carefully considering my safety at future book fairs”, Doina Popescu Braila said.

“I am a writer, not an organ trafficker. I am shocked to see no other writer or intellectual taking a stance against this incident. I am even more surprised by how the entire thing was depicted on TV, with some news shows, in their quest for ratings, talking about the “black ambulance” as if it were a real thing not a bogus story”, Mrs Popescu Braila decried the event.

Shortly after the incident, the Romanian Ministry for Internal Affairs and the Romania Police posted on their Facebook pages messages urging people to keep calm, stay rational and refrain from spreading fake stories on social media about the black ambulance. “The black ambulance does not exist!” reads the facebook post.

Asked by Euronews whether she will keep going with the project, Doina Popescu Braila said she has no intention to give up her “Ambulance for literature”, a project she started in 2016.

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