Fragments from a War Diary, Part #107
As I write these words I can’t sleep. That’s because a couple in the apartment next door to mine, separated only by thin and non-soundproofed walls, are screaming and shouting at one-another in what I presume to be a drunken frenzy. Then I realise they aren’t just shouting. Now they’re having sex, and loudly. All I want to do is go to sleep, after a long day. It’s time to reach for the ear plugs.
When I woke this morning to make coffee, I was disturbed by some screaming. It was the sounds of a lady having sex. The couple in the apartment next door to mine seem rather busy. Perhaps he is about to go back to the front, I imagine. Let them enjoy themselves. I put on some classical music on my laptop, turned up the volume, and got on with my daily ablutions.
I had a busy day at work, labouring hard with the same nice group of people. They told me more about that mysterious American man I have mentioned in earlier diary entries, with the rolls of banknotes giving away the Russian Armed Forces flag patches. He’d told me he’d been working with MI5 and MI6. I found this extremely interesting. It seems also that he has been spending up to EUR500 per night in the same bar, each night, for three days in a row. EUR500 is a typical month’s salary in Ukraine. He was buying whole litres of limoncello and handing them out to all the customers, spending eye-watering amounts of money by Ukrainian standards on total strangers. I can’t work out what he is doing here or why he is spending so much money. Apparently he is going to Kyiv tomorrow. Then I can have my relaxing bar, with its English pub style, back to myself.
As I came back home this afternoon, I heard more sounds of sexual activity. I think I have ascertained that the cleaning lady for this suite of apartments is using one of the spare rooms for, shall we say, commercial purposes. She always smiles at me sweetly but I am afraid I am not interested in her services. Whatever she is doing, and whatever is going on, is none of my business. This is the Ukrainian way: to ignore strange things going on around you. I am not going to interfere in the consensual affairs of others. There is a war on, and I just have to accept that my standards may not apply.
As I wonder back home this afternoon, I pause at a memorial for dead soldiers along one of the city’s main thoroughfares. Photographs of those who have died in battle line the street, along with their biographies. It all seems terribly sad, that a generation of young men are disappearing on the front line of this horrible war. I think of the long-term demographic consequences for Ukraine, as the country is stripped of both men (dying and being injured on the front) and women (leaving Ukraine permanently). I don’t know how the country will be repopulated once this war is over. Lviv aside, with its parks full of cheery people and its thronging bars and restaurants, the country will be empty and devoid of humanity. Whole communities have disappeared or there are only the elderly and infirm left. As the war grinds on for years more, the absence of people will be compounded as still more Ukrainians sense and find the opportunity to travel west. Maybe that is part of the Russian strategy: just keep Ukraine as a sufficiently inhospitable place to remain in the hope that its population will empty out more, imagining that this may afford the Russians some imagined strategic advantage in eventual settlement negotiations.
The conditions on the front line remain as difficult as ever, so I am told. Soldiers are now wearing whatever uniforms and carrying whatever equipment they can find or they are donated. There is no longer a standard military issue; Ukrainian soldiers wear a variety of NATO and Russian-manufactured uniforms and carry weapons both western and Russian, depending upon the supplies they have in store. I have heard ever more stories of poor distribution of equipment in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and it suggests to me that root-and-branch reform of the management structures in the Ukrainian military is necessary.
None of this goes to undermine the respect I have for the individual heroes fighting in World War I conditions along the southern and eastern front lines. But if the Ukrainian Armed Forces are to achieve their maximum potential, and maintain the current front line positions and even push back the Russians substantially in the next fighting season, then it is obvious that dramatic reform is necessary of the administrative structures in place by which the war is being fought. Ukrainians remain patriotic and defiant, as the slew of souvenir shops in Lviv selling Ukrainian flag t-shirts, and sweatpants with “Zaporizhzhia” and “Dnipro” adorned across them, demonstrate. They remain enthusiastic in Lviv about continuing this conflict, and particularly in this city there is a sense that they have been liberated from Russian domination and connected irreversibly into the West. I think that is right; but it is the rest of the country that I worry about: the vast barren tracts of land punctuated only by half-empty cities as the result of a Russian policy of population cleansing through fear. Although the anticipated assault on Kyiv in the early weeks of the war never materialised, it had the effect of frightening the population of Kyiv into leaving the city and the emptiness of Ukraine’s metropolises is now one of the principal obstacles to the country returning to normality. I am humbled by thinking of the immensity of the task ahead.
Tonight I am going to the ballet. It’s an obscure piece, but I would like to show my support for the continuation of Ukrainian culture even in the middle of the war by going to Lviv Opera House. I have somehow managed to bag a seat in the centre of the front stalls, and I am very proud of myself. Whether I will enjoy the show remains to be seen but at least I will show my solidarity with educated, cultured Ukrainians who want to demonstrate to the world that the show must go on even while there is war outside. The ticket cost me barely nine Euros, and it is a welcome respite from the limoncello and other idiotic nonsense that might serve as a Sunday evening’s rest period in chaotic but feisty Lviv.