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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #15

The decision to depart Zaporizhzhia has been made, and the team will leave immediately. In large part this is due to the deteriorating security situation in both the city and the Oblast. Last night there were interminable air raid sirens, that kept everyone awake at night. There are increased military movements on the roads. The basic hotel where I am staying is now full of the walking wounded. The authorities are decreasingly cooperative with our efforts to deliver aid and assistance to the local people. They are having increasing trouble suggesting locations for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and it is noticeable that there is no longer a police presence at the sites where we are delivering aid. The military checkpoints in and around Zaporizhzhia are getting more strict. There is a general sense that the conflict in the Zaporizhzhia region is increasing in intensity, and that is probably a good signal for the international civilian aid workers to leave.

My hotel accommodation is adjacent to a an enormous Ukrainian Armed Forces military base, that in all likelihood contains a Signals and electronic communications interference facility. I infer that because as soon as I step out of the hotel grounds, GPS is more or less constantly disabled. My GPS and/or Google Maps frequently locates me either on the Russian front line to the east of Zaporizhzhia, or a thousand kilometres south of the coast of Ghana in the middle of the ocean. Different mobile telephone networks seem to fade in and out of operation in different locations and at different times of the day. The patterns are impossible to make sense of. Many people carry more than one Ukrainian SIM card, in case their preferred network is knocked out.

Today our humanitarian convoy spent hours driving down isolated rural roads to the wrong village with the same name as the intended village, in all likelihood because GPS was not working and hence we had identified the wrong village. The journey, which involved hours bumping and coughing along dusty roads, was exhausting for all of us. The final villagers we were able to assist in the Zaporizhzhia region were delighted to see us, grateful for our support and patient for our arrival in the overbearing autumn sun. We passed field after field of bleached sunflowers, bumping over old cobblestoned roads and avoiding cracks and fissures in the concrete. Nevertheless it was worth it.

Clearance to leave Zaporizhzhia finally came through yesterday evening. We will be leaving very shortly, as I write these words, in two convoys travelling in different directions and with different destinations. The details of our departure time and date and our precise movements will not be revealed publicly for now, until we reach our respective destinations. It is an appropriate moment for heightened security measures.

All communications will be disabled on the routes because they may run close to the Russian front line. We will communicate between ourselves using walkie-talkies; there is little mobile phone signal in much of rural Ukraine in any event. One possible route, down the north coast of the Kakhovka reservoir, is effectively closed to us due to the proximity of Russian artillery. Driving in a recognisable international civilian aid convoy, we would be sitting ducks were we to take this route.

I am sad to leave Zaporizhzhia without having had a proper tour of the city. The metropolis is not entirely without tourist attractions, including a beautiful nature reserve and a number of historical buildings and cultural sights. Nevertheless I attempted to find a guide for the tourist sites of Zaporizhzhia but it proved quite impossible. Even the team’s local agent could not find one. The truth is that there are no such guides in Ukraine anymore, outside the cities of Lviv and Kyiv; they have all fled the fighting and there are no tourists anymore exploring corners of Ukraine in proximity to the Russian front line. Tourism is one of the first casualties of war.

There is some bickering in the team. People are feeling the stress of operating on the front line, and it is obvious that several people are relieved to be moving on. However we all feel disconcerted that the team is effectively being split in two, and we are wondering what will come next. Will our new destinations be any safer? How will the forthcoming journeys go? At our destinations, will be able to achieve the same amount of good as we have been able to procure in Zaporizhzhia? Will I still be sleeping on the sofa in an office, or will the accommodation improve? Or will it be worse? Will the curfews in our new homes be more onerous? Will the constant warnings of overflying ordnance recede? We do not know the answers to any of these questions.

Nor do we know how we will be able to operate in the smaller teams. A number of people are now seeking to depart theatre, having been working on the front line for an extended period; all are promising to come back as soon as they can. Such is the level of commitment and team spirit forged when working on the front line in the field of humanitarian assistance. You do not want to abandon your colleagues or feel you are letting them or the people of Ukraine down. What we really do not know is how effectively, in our smaller teams, we will be able to continue delivering humanitarian aid with diminished numbers. It is ever more difficult to encourage volunteers to come to Ukraine at all, as the war grinds on. It is still more difficult to persuade them to work in the areas where the aid is needed most, namely close to the front line and the zones of unlawful Russian occupation.

I pause to take stock of myself, and I realise that I feel nauseous and exhausted. I have not been sleeping well over the past days, and the constant regime of waking up early, planning and discussing the day’s activities, driving over bumpy and difficult roads, working with deprived and impoverished civilians, hoping to bring sparkle to their eyes in the midst of an insufferably grim situation, and then driving back, washing, finding something to eat, and slumping into bed: this regime has taken its toll upon me much as it does upon every member of the team. Although I am one of the paramedics on the team, I realise that I must take care of my own health as much as I should watch over the welfare of others.

Tomorrow is another day, presenting new adventures and challenges, I hope positive ones. My time in Zaporizhzhia, for now, is coming to a close, as the city and the region enter a grim new military chapter of events. I hope to return to Zaporizhzhia soon, when it is safer and when the aerial attack warnings, a seemingly endless feature of life in Zaporizhzhia at the current time, have subsided. God help the people of Zaporizhzhia in their struggle against tyranny.


Any views expressed herein are purely the private opinions of the author and should not be attributed to the Paladins Organisation or otherwise.


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