Fragments from a War Diary, Part #100
I never thought I would reach one hundred posts of this ludicrous diary. In celebration of this questionable honour, I thought I might tell you that once again I am surrounded by the perplexing, mysterious and bizarre. I thought I had escaped it, leaving the front line and escaping Kyiv. I thought I was in the reassuring comfort of Lviv, the city of peaceful Ukrainian culture. But I was lying to you. This place is mad. I knew it all along. I was deceiving myself, and I was deceiving you.
Lviv is full of insane people. As I passed through my usual watering hole this evening, a solemn man in the style of a Wild West preacher from a Spaghetti Western movie approached the table adjacent to mine. He had a US flag patch on his jacket and haunting, compelling eyes. He lectured a table of foreign volunteers on the end of the world, moodily informing them that he would be here for the rest of his life and it didn’t matter how long that would take but he would be here. He sported short cropped hair in the style of a military barber, and a long bushy beard in the style of an ISIL fanatic. He delivered his monologues of doom and misery to anyone who would listen. When I asked him his name, he said that I had never met him, and he was a figment of my imagination. And he was one of the sane ones. Another man told me about his 21 years working as a guard in the US prison system; his chaotic tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan; and his intention to proceed on a suicide mission to some insanely dangerous part of the front line outside Zaporizhzhia. I made some breezily approving comments. What else am I to say.
The alcohol flows in Lviv, as people from different walks of life, who are passing through Lviv for whatever unusual reason, come together and make friends, if only temporarily. People talk complete nonsense with one-another. Never have I heard such drivel pour with such intensity out of the mouths of all humankind. There are no social boundaries in Lviv, no taboos, as crazy foreigners and locals alike mix together in this maelstrom of the unusual which inevitably arises on the edges of any war zone. Cities like Lviv are centres for rest and recuperation amidst the anarchy of conflict, and hedonism is rife. Everyone is here to enjoy themselves and to engage with strangers in ways they would never do back at home.
Once you experience it, conflict is like a narcotic. It keeps drawing you back to the same high thrills, again and again and again and again. I have met so many foreigners, here for whatever strange reasons, who go home for a while and then they find it boring and mundane and life’s trivial details fade in significance in comparison to the glory and the pride and the joy and the honour of working to save lives, alleviate suffering, pursue the national pride of a plucky but overwhelmed country, fighting for a cause, giving their lives meaning, pursuing a sense of duty, doing what is right. These are just some amongst the adrenalin rush of emotions that infect and inflate the egos of the foreign workers and volunteers who pass through Lviv in the pursuit of patriotic fervour towards Ukraine and her people.
Tonight I am sober, and I am watching this extraordinary cacophony of amazing and unusual people tramp through town and enjoy themselves amidst their adrenalin rushes of working in Ukrainian military theatre and pushing themselves beyond their comfort zones and outside the limits of their ordinary lives. They are struck by a complicated set of emotions: discomfort and fear, as they do not know what they are facing; excitement, as they work in new and unusual circumstances; anxiety; as they do not know to what extent their old lives remain for them once they return home; and malaise, as they countenance the prospect of return to normality and their heady rush of excitement is over.
Is this what war is like? Is it a series of adrenalin rushes, chaos, complications and confusions, a maelstrom and rollercoaster of emotions and disorganisation? The answer is: yes, it is. War is an assault upon the senses, and it can leave you quite deranged unless you are the calmest or most eccentric of people: and preferably both at the same time. You have to keep it together when you are in a war zone. You need to realise and adapt to the fact that you are surrounded both by unusual experiences and by unusual people who are here for a reason: for some reason or other, engaging in a war zone creates an emotional connection for them that is not satisfied in their daily lives. For ordinary Ukrainians, this war is an unending horror. For the foreigners who come here to assist, they each and every one of them have both selfish and altruistic reasons to be here.
I do not want to diminish the good intentions of the corps of foreign volunteers who have come to Ukraine to do our very best for the people of Ukraine. I believe that in large part we are all people of integrity. But we are also overwhelmingly crazy. Either we were crazy before we came here; or we had our eyes opened to such unimaginable horrors and privations that we are crazy by the time we leave. I think I fall somewhere in between these two categories. But who am I to judge. I repeat a theme I have rehearsed in prior diary entries: war changes and scars a person; it rewrites their personality permanently. Even I, a veteran of various conflict zones across the globe, feel myself being mutated into a different person by this, particularly cruel and relentless, of European wars right upon my doorstep.
Tonight I met a girl called K++++. She’s from a foreign land. She smiled at me sweetly, with a twinkle in her eye. We fell in love over coffee. I gave her my number, and we promised to meet again. I’ll forget her tomorrow, until I see her in the same bar. I’ve been busy on the internet, researching trains and buses to the hyperbolically dangerous front line towns of Avdiivka and Kramatorsk. Avdiivka is a 15-hour drive or a 257-hour walk, according to some silly webpage. I wonder who codes these things, giving you a route to walk from Lviv to Avdiivka on foot. Maybe I will go to Avdiivka with K++++, I casually hypothesise as I walk home over the broken cobbles in the freezing drizzle. That would be romantic. Then we can marry and retire to West Virginia.
I need a quick burst to the head.
For those of you interested in the current military crisis in Avdiivka, you might wish to review an article written in 2017 about exactly the same crisis over Avdiivka, an important Donetsk Oblast railhead just outside the city of Donetsk the control of which has been essential for both sides in dominating transport infrastructure and logistics in the Donbas region ever since Russian proxies occupied parts of Ukrainian Donbas in 2014. The article is available here.