Fragments from a War Diary, Part #110
This morning I attended the funeral of three Police Officers in the Lviv force. I did not know them personally. They had enlisted into the army and they had died in combat with the Russians. Their funeral was a solemn affair, in one of Lviv’s central cathedrals, and on a cold late October morning the population of Lviv turned out to pay their respects. I decided to join them, along with many dozens of their colleagues in the Police; many military men; and hundreds of civilians who lined the street towards the cathedral in somber silence. Many people carried blue and yellow flowers. We stood in long lines, several people thick. The cold weather numbed us all, as we paid tribute to these national heroes who died in the cause of liberating their country from Russian aggression.
The road was blocked off to traffic by a slew of Police cars and buses as we adopted our positions of mourning and respect for these valiant officers. The priest came first, on foot, waving incense and chanting a requiem. Then followed the hearses. Jet black, heavy vehicles, bigger than civilian hearses, they slowly and silently drove up the street, carrying the coffins bearing the glorious dead. As the hearses moved slowly in procession, we all simultaneously bowed down on one knee as a show of respect to those who had fallen in the service and defence of their country. Police cars followed, again in slow procession. The crowd shook the hands of the Police officers who had attended the service. Soldiers solemnly carried the coffins out and into the church, as a choir continued the requiem. Slowly people filed into the enormous cathedral; but it could not take the numbers. The strength of feeling and support for Ukraine’s courageous public servants is such that many hundreds, or even more, people have turned out in a spontaneous show of patriotism and support.
I realised that a space in the Cathedral might be better occupied by someone other than me, so I paid my respects and then I continued on my way to work through the bitingly cold morning frost. I am impressed by the honour and dignity with which the Ukrainian people admire and praise their public servants and the respect afforded to those who have fallen in the line of duty. Ukraine is acquiring a true sense of public service, in the very best of western traditions, and public servants who take daily risks with their lives, including soldiers and police officers, are now routinely admired and respected whereas this was not so before. Gone is the image of the Ukrainian Police Officer as an instrument of corruption and a cheap bribe; now Police Officers are national heroes who keep their uniforms in pristine condition and are admired and respected by the public. They have embraced the idea that they are impartial enforcers of the law and of the public weal, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the Ukrainian people have exponentially higher levels of confidence in their police forces than they ever did before the war. Ukraine’s culture of public administration, and those who serve their country for the greater good, is changing, as are public attitudes towards government. That is why these heroes were being admired and respected in death by the public in Lviv.
I wonder whether I am becoming too emotionally attached to the Ukrainian cause and its culture. The longer I spend here amidst wartime conditions, the more I come to sympathise with the Ukrainian people as I watch her people struggle for basic political values of freedom of expression, democracy, freedom from aggression and tolerance and liberalism. It is a real fight for these values, and Ukrainians are paying the price in blood. We in the West rest perhaps too much on our laurels and imagine that these values that past generations fought so hard for and also sacrificed their lives for are secure and certain. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine shows that they are not. An unexpected monster has emerged upon our doorsteps in the form of a totalitarian dictatorship under Russian President Vladimir Putin, and those elementary principles of democracy and freedom for which World War II was fought against the Nazis are again under threat in Europe. That is why there are so many foreign volunteers here in Ukraine, and not just young ones but many people past retirement age too. Those are the people with historical memories of fighting for political values, and that is what we are doing in supporting the Ukrainians in their hour of need. We are keeping Europe safe and secure, and a cradle of democracy, liberty, ethnic harmony and international law for future generations.
I truly believe in the Ukrainian cause not just because I have come to admire the Ukrainian people as I see the perseverance with which they struggle against an overwhelming force during their darkest hour but also because I believe that this is a struggle of right against wrong, of all the values for which wars were fought in the twentieth century, against fascism, communist tyranny, dictatorship and Nazism. We were fighting for then, and we are fighting for now, a commonly accepted kernel of international political values and liberal democratic pluralism that we can no longer take for granted in the heart of Europe. That is why we must fight with all of our hearts, our minds, and our souls.
I spent the morning cutting, chopping and peeling giant pumpkins. Halloween is almost upon us, but that is not the reason why a huge team of us is busy working long hours. Their is an enormous army, of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, to be fed on a daily basis. Those men and women who are risking their lives and dying in the pursuit of these beautiful European values which we all cherish and we must not - I repeat, must not let be vanquished - need to be fed. I may have to put a few extra hours in today. I will do it with pleasure and honour and with the deepest satisfaction to the bottom of my heart.