Fragments from a War Diary, Part #111
Today has been another harried series of events, rushing from one place to another. This afternoon I was busy with my daily chores of peeling hundreds of carrots and boiled potatoes and lugging crates of chopped pumpkins from a shed to a van and back again, in what on occasions can appear a Sisyphean task, when I was asked to get into a van and help with something else.
We drove off into the suburbs and stopped off in a lady’s house to dump several 50 kilogram bags of sugar. Private houses are being used as storage facilities for the ad hoc system of food and provisions distribution to the Ukrainian Armed Forces across the country. Anyone with a private vehicle can be pulled into this informal network of storage and logistics, as can anyone with a spare piece of space. The reason things are being done in so apparently disorganised a fashion is because the logistical supply network of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has broken down almost entirely. The Armed Forces do not have the network of vehicles, warehouses, factories, kitchens and storage facilities to keep the supply chains running. In the absence of an effective supply chain, your army’s fighting capacity grinds to a halt as troops go hungry, run out of bullets, cannot get the wounded to hospital, cannot get people on leave away from the front line, and so on and so forth.
What I realise increasingly to be an enormous mobilisation of virtually the entire nation has taken place, as everyone now plays their role in distributing supplies destined for the Ukrainian military across the country. All vehicles, spaces and factories are put to use and everyone is involved. They have built the daily rituals of having 200 kilograms of flour or sugar stacked up in their living room hallway into their routines. It is all normal for them now.
We drove off to an unnamed factory in the suburbs of Lviv that I cannot possibly describe but virtually every factory in Ukraine is now being deployed for some sort of military purpose. We left crate loads of fruits and vegetables there, where they would be processed and they would end up as food for the front line. Actually every spare piece of agricultural produce that does not end up on the shelves of the supermarkets is being processed like this, and being passed from one house or factory to another as it makes its way across Ukraine in a range of private vehicles. These are the contemporary logistics of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
The factory I visited was in the typical Soviet style: a vast concrete monolith with enormous windows and minimal interior decoration, it was apparently built to withstand missile strikes because it is quite enormous and its walls are far too thick for ordinary civilian purposes. It could, if not a factory, be a barracks or a military installation. It is resistant to missile and rocket attacks because it is so spread out that a single missile will destroy or render unusable only one part of the factory and the rest can remain functioning. Soviet-era electricity substations are built in this way as well, with the result that it takes four missile strikes to knock one out (each quarter of the substation being erected in a square a significant distance from the other quarters) and that is one of the reasons why Ukraine survived Russia’s attempt to freeze Ukraine to death last winter.
The Soviet Union’s architects and engineers were taught to be paranoid about foreign attacks, and that is why a lot of Ukraine’s buildings are extremely difficult to damage or render permanently disabled.
I return to the question I have considered earlier in these diaries: where is all the enormous quantities of funding provided by the West to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces going? The Ukrainian military buys its own uniforms, equipment and even its own weapons. That is why in every city of any size there are markets selling military equipment and shops or sections of department stores designated specifically for the military. Cooking for Ukraine’s enormous standing army of perhaps 700,000 troops or more plus perhaps another 900,000 reservists (although I have seen no reliable figures) is undertaken by a series of essentially private interests, NGO’s such as mine that churn out thousands of meals a day.
These meals are then distributed, along with ammunition, medical supplies, replacement vehicle parts and all the other things an army needs to operate on a day-to-day basis through an informal spider’s web of private people using private vehicles and private funds. It is an extraordinary operation and it makes all Ukrainians involved in this gargantuan task proud to feel that they are doing something useful. It builds a sense of national morale. Nevertheless I am left with the question of why it is necessary given the huge quantity of international funds ostensibly going to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
It is inevitable that at some point a monumental exercise in accounting will be due and already I fear it is long overdue. While the West is obliged to continue to be generous, it must take much greater care in overseeing the expenditure of its funds and from reports I have read western governments do not know with much certainty what the funds they are donating for military purposes are being spent on. The organisation with which I am working at the current time is entirely informal and I doubt it is even incorporated as a Ukrainian legal entity with any sort of formal management structure, bank account or anything else. It gets some money from somewhere, I suspect from a government source, but it is by all accounts extremely thrifty in the exercise of transforming the products of agricultural labour into food that the Ukrainian troops can eat on the front line and then distributing that food through Ukraine’s giant informal private logistics network.
All of this reinforces my intuitions that to prosecute the war in Ukraine ever more successfully the West, as Ukraine’s financial and military backers, need to pursue accounting standards and procurement oversight, and to take a more assertive and supervisory role in managing the expenditure of international funds, formal public logistics exercises, public procurement, and financial modelling. This requires a kind of international expertise not yet in the country and if we are to transform Ukraine from her current status as an informal command economy made up of a network of private volunteers into a European free market state, then we need this sort of expertise and in spades, as soon as is humanly possible.