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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #128

Today I proudly moved into my new hotel. The regular reader of these diaries will recall that I had opted for the place with a bedbug manifestation. I thought this was probably for the best. I haven’t yet had any personal encounters with the bedbugs, although if they would be so kind as to get out of my bed and come and say hello to me, I might make them all a round of English tea. Except that would be difficult, because there is no kettle or other facilities in my new room. Also the room has no windows, and no central light. It is just a square concrete box with a window in the ceiling. It is furnished in a minimalist modern fashion, and it seems quiet enough. Nevertheless the principal reason I opted for the bedbug palace is because it has an elevator. And the elevator has broken down. And they gave me a room on the fifth floor. Nevertheless it has other amenities, such as a reception desk which is actually staffed by someone, and a cafe on the ground floor. The electricity keeps flickering on and off, which gives me cause for concern, but there does not seem to be a cleaning lady with extra-curricular interests which is some degree of relief. Anyway I am here now, bedbugs or not, and I have found a shop selling boric acid and other industrial disinfectants with which to spray down my room in case the bed bugs bite me in the middle of the night.

The morning started out with bright clear weather. I thought about going to Church, but I decided against it. Church is always there, in case I need to go tomorrow to pray in the crypt. But I doubt that will be necessary. Instead I strolled off through the thronging crowds in the cobbled streets to start my ablutions so that I could begin my Sunday’s good works. God, I figure, is looking down on me kindly for going to work to feed the soldiers suffering in such ghastly trench-like conditions on the front line. And these brave men and women are fighting for western values of liberty and freedom from tyranny and foreign aggression. They are real heroes.

Unfortunately the weather turned sour fairly quickly, and a gale whipped up together with fragments of cold rain. The tasks today were particularly mundane: I spent a good couple of hours washing earth sodden carrots with a bath brush. Nevertheless the conversation was pleasant if inane. I am looking for a new domestic partner, and I have been playing with one of the mobile telephone dating Apps very popular amongst the youth. It is a new experience for me, but I was assured that even old codgers like myself can find love using this extraordinary modern technology. A couple also volunteering in the kitchen proudly announced the other day that they had met using a dating App on a mobile telephone, and they seemed thoroughly in love. What harm can it do, I asked myself. Even the American man spending EUR500 a night in my favourite bar had recommended it.

However I had not been satisfied with the picks that the dating App had been producing for me. It created a list of ladies who would write me cryptic messages in Ukrainian. One of them asked me whether I speak Russian, which I found rather concerning. Another one wanted to meet me until I suggested that we go to the opera. That produced stony silence. I don’t think this dating App yields quite the right sort of people for me. So I found the settings section, and I selected an option to exclude all people who do not have a PhD. Suddenly the App started bombarding me with photos of women far younger than me, many of them half dressed or even in their underwear. I would be surprised if all these people have PhD’s, but Lviv is a highly educated city. I think I will have to abandon this method of finding my soulmate, although rather conveniently the “cancel subscription” option on the App is extremely hard to find. Maybe one of my tech-savvy Ukrainian friends can help me get rid of the latest piece of nonsense to have infected my mobile ‘phone.

I dealt briskly but I hope effectively with an issue in the afternoon using a few skills finessed in the art of diplomacy, and issue of the kind that often arises within the international community in Ukraine, and then I prepared to put in another half an hour’s work before retiring early to my new community of bedbugs. But it was not to be. Suddenly a series of vans drove into the kitchen where I work, and they needed unloading. And I am one of the larger men on the site. And these vans were full. I mean seriously full. There were dozens or even hundreds of net bags full of different types of root vegetable, straight from the soil. And they all needed to be balanced on the shoulders of the largest men on site and lugged to various points where they are piled high towards the sky. And that included me.

Now a man has to know his limitations, as Clint Eastwood famously said, and I know mine. The giant bags of onions and the large bags of potatoes are fine. But the 50 kilogram bags of sugar and the huge bags of potatoes, that also weight about 50 kilograms, are also just out of reach for me. Only my stockiest of colleagues, who have returned straight from the front line and have not yet permitted the licentious Lviv lifestyle add inches to their waistline through good food and drink, can manage those. So I tottered around with giant bags of spuds resting on my shoulders, tripping and cursing as I carried them across the courtyard in a zigzag pattern under the looming skies. It felt like the end of the world was nigh, as the wind whistled around us, the carrots were being scrubbed and peeled, the barn doors were banging and sundown approached, with me engaging in yet another Sisyphean task of carrying endless bags of root vegetables from one spot to another.

I strolled home amongst the alcoholics also tottering around on the cobbles of the Old Town. Sunday afternoon in Lviv is a good time to start the hard work of getting drunk. The bars were each and every one of them heaving, with people who want to start the serious business of indulging their alcoholism early, and Sunday is a good day for it because Monday is a quieter day in which a number of public institutions are closed. I noticed a kiosk selling Stepan Bandera memorabilia. I thought I'd pass that one by. A Stepan Bandera cheese plate is not high up on my list of must-have Ukrainian souvenirs. Nevertheless I enjoyed passing through the crowds of happy joyous people, braving the severe late October weather to live a normal life in this beautiful, civilised city.

I always told myself that I like project-based work, that has a defined beginning and ending, because it brings a sense of satisfaction to the act of completing the work. When did this project begin? 24 February 2022, if not a decade earlier. When does it end? In five to ten years, perhaps a couple of years after the death of Vladimir Putin whenever that might be. In the meantime I, or others like me, will be tottering round that courtyard on a daily basis with all those root vegetables balancing on our shoulders. Between the vegetables and the bedbugs, one way or another I’m done for.


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