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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #162

There’s driving rain and it’s icy cold but still the cobbled streets of the Old Town in Lviv are jam packed with people. I am wearing my heaviest military overcoat under the overcast skies as I walk home from work, and outside the window of my new apartment right in the heart of the Old Town is a girl in a miniskirt precariously perched on a bar stool itself precariously purchased on the cobbles, having her photograph taken as part of a glamour shoot. The crowds of shoppers, alcoholics and miscellaneous others out in this cruel weather pass by without batting an eye lid. I can’t help wondering whether this unusual photo shoot might have been more profitably undertaken on a day when the weather was slightly better, but nobody seems to mind, in particular the girl herself who appears in danger of tottering off the stool with her high heels down onto the historical cobbles with the slightest gust of wind. It’s just another unusual Saturday afternoon in Lviv, where all sorts of weird and wonderful things come to pass irrespective of the weather.

Work today, peeling potatoes and chopping pumpkins, was particularly miserable in light of the relentless cold rain and overcast skies, and not many volunteers were working - perhaps because of the weather. Nevertheless I dutifully tramped up the hill, as is my wont, and got stuck in. My hands and fingers were freezing and I have resolved to purchase a better pair of gloves. I had a cold shower this morning and I couldn’t wash my clothes because the washing machine in my otherwise wonderful new apartment is broken. Nevertheless I am getting there. I slept well last night and the apartment is beautiful and has a perfect location right opposite my favourite bar; next to a bookshop, where I can lose myself for hours if ever I have any spare time; and there is a sense of calm and serenity in this space even though my days tend to be so long that I barely have time to enjoy it. I have solved all my problems relating to accommodation in Kramatorsk (see diary entry #159) but there is surely something else that is likely to go wrong soon. There always is.

The summer fighting season is finally drawing to a close with the onset of harsh weather that turns the front line trenches to bogs and debilitates the efficient operation of military equipment. Soon the frost will begin and temperatures may not rise above freezing until the end of February. In the winter season weather, and particularly in high winds and rain, the Russian reconnaissance drones and Iranian Shaheed attack drones with high explosive warheads are less effective as they can be blown off course and the weather interferes with their navigation systems. Nevertheless an air raid siren was sounding this afternoon as we all worked in the outdoor conditions in the military kitchen, so there was some threat or other to Lviv notwithstanding the weather. In the winter season the Russians need to rely more upon long-range missiles than on drones to terrorise the civilian populations away from the front lines and these are more expensive. Therefore the winter season sees more precision strikes on infrastructure than general and widespread drone attacks, because in the winter weather the drones never make it to Lviv.

A friend and colleague has just returned from Kherson and recounts tales that things are far from satisfactory there. On the day this person visited - and they went in and out in the same day - there was relatively little artillery from the Russian side of the River Dnieper hitting the centre of Kherson but by all accounts that is unusual. The next day the shelling of Kherson city resumed in earnest. That will probably die down as the weather becomes still worse and then a visit to Kherson might be on the cards - but I am not holding my breath. Travelling to Kramatorsk is quite adventurous enough but as I often say, in war you need to be both prepared (“proper planning prevents piss poor performance”, to mangle an adage captured by White House Chief of Staff James Baker under US President Ronald Reagan) and flexible because everything can change last minute and it is perfectly common for trivial frustrations to block what ought to be a simple route to achieve a goal. War is intensely frustrating.

Tonight I am going to the ballet at Lviv Opera House - again; I try to go at least once a week whenever I am in Lviv because the performances, although occasionally patchy, are generally of extremely high quality and the ballet in particular is exceptional and extraordinary. I sit there entranced and enraptured, sitting on my own at the front row of the Stalls, so as always if you’d like to meet a handsome English gentleman wearing combat fatigues then don’t hesitate to come over and say hello. I did find a charming and adventurous young lady last night who approached me for a conversation and she said she liked opera and I invited her and I think she agreed. Then she told me she’s 21. I’m old enough to be her father. I can still take her to the opera but I don’t think this could work as a date. One thing I’m realising in Ukraine is that all my friends are either under 25 or over 60. This is because those are the mandatory conscription ages, and men within this age bracket in particular do not dare go out of their houses in case they are press-ganged into the army. My favourite bar is staffed exclusively by youngsters; all the staff are between 21 and 24. In wartime, it is only the youth and the retired who stand any prospect of living relatively normal, carefree lives - and even then a substantial proportion of the youth I have met are living as internally displaced persons, particularly in Lviv.

In war you get used to making friends with everybody, young and old, rich and poor, of high education and none, and you form relationships that in peacetime would never occur to you. In that sense at least, the common spirit of living through war is uplifting and gives you access to new experiences you would never normally have. And, when your war experience is over, you will inevitably come crashing down to reality.


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