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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #163



The performance of the notoriously difficult ballet Giselle at the Lviv Opera House last night was a dream. The plot involves a nobleman who conceals his identity courting a beautiful peasant girl. The nobleman’s rival exposes him and Giselle, the peasant girl, dies of a heart attack. The remainder of the ballet is a haunting ghostly scene in which Giselle, in the afterlife, joins a troupe of women who have died after being spurned by their menfolk and they capture evil men and dance them to death in the forests of the night. The two guilty men in the opera are duly danced to death. The quantity of highly skilled dancing involved in the ballet means that only the very fittest and most skilled ballet dancers can undertake roles in this gruelling performance. By the end of the ballet the cast are visibly shattered and drenched with sweat. The performance is nothing short of extraordinary and the vast getting a roaring standing ovation.


I haven’t been able to sleep so well, perhaps by reason of some of my own experiences recently helping civilians and military personnel alike going through their traumas and sadness and listening to their stories and trying to support all people, young and old, combatants and non-combatants, in getting through the daily grind of this depressing and ongoing war, and I am thinking ever more about measures the West can take immediately, or very promptly, to bring this conflict to a peremptory conclusion so as to alleviate the ongoing suffering of the Ukrainian people. Exposure to all this negativity takes a toll upon me inevitably; I am not super-human; I do my best for the Ukrainian people on a daily basis, as I believe do 99% of the civilian volunteers here; but I have been here for a while now and dealing with the constant misery of war inevitably has consequences for the mental state of the person dealing with sadness and terror and anger and fear and anxiety each day.


At least I have the luxuries of a relatively comfortable place to stay at the current time, and knowledge that I can leave military theatre at any time I want: something the vast majority of Ukrainian men do not have, for example. They are banned from leaving the country for the period of the war, and there is talk even of the ban continuing for a period of up to three years after the end of the war, to prevent still further depopulation. Women can leave, but those with the means to do so have already done so. Sadly Ukraine is a huge prison for its current population, and a particularly dangerous one for the menfolk here who are liable to conscription as the death and injury toll within the Ukrainian Armed Forces continues to mount on the front line on a daily basis.


I’ve started receiving hate mail over my diaries. I’ve asked my young Ukrainian friends and apparently this is called “trolling” and it is a good thing, It indicates that your publications on the internet are “trending” - that is to say, being read by all sorts of people you never intended to alert them to. It’s certainly true that this website is now receiving thousands of hits a day whereas it never used to. It is not my policy to defame living persons, and I won’t identify the person who has started sending my loathing rants about me apparently because he doesn’t like my diaries. However he is a very unusual man I’ve only met once, a fellow citizen of my country who works with a controversial Evangelical Church in Kharkiv.


Yesterday evening this man wrote to me on Telegram from yet another unknown number. Telegram is essentially a Russian intelligence product, and I don’t know why Ukrainians are so keen on it. Even the President of Ukraine has an account. Nevertheless the fact is that Telegram is owned by a media conglomerate controlled by Alisher Usmanov, one of the most powerful Russian Oligarchs who served a prison sentence in his native Uzbekistan for rape in the 1980’s and is personal friends with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Telegram’s offices are in Moscow and it is reputed that FSB agents are installed in that office to intercept and read Telegram communications of interest to them. Telegram is not automatically encrypted and I have no doubt that the FSB have access to a backdoor even where encryption is enabled.


Telegram seeks to collect and assimilate all a person’s past and present telephone numbers, email addresses, usernames and contacts data from one’s telephone and other Apps and may share that information with third parties. Now it is moving into the field of collecting personal financial data, which is one of the reasons I retain no financial information on my mobile telephone. I don’t think Ukrainians understand the dangers of their overuse of Telegram, when there are far safer free products, such as WhatsApp and Viber, with greater functionality. Telegram is also an excellent medium for defamation, trolling and Spam because it allows the user to delete the entirety of a conversation, including even to delete the messages another user has sent from that other user’s mobile telephone. With this functionality it is impossible to keep proper records. Telegram is a menace, and I strongly encourage all Ukrainians to stop using it. I used to keep it only to watch President Zelenskiy’s daily addresses to the nation. In future I will watch those on YouTube.


Where the author of my hate mail finds the time to write me long venomous text of hatred from different telephone numbers by different means, I have no idea. If he works in an NGO, as he says he does, then shouldn’t he be spending his time helping the poor and dispossessed of Kharkiv rather than penning mindless bile against me? When I briefly met him, it struck me that he had all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, himself having served in the military and the experience seemed to have scarred him. He was self-treating with alcohol, a regrettably frequent course of action for those with undiagnosed PTSD. It’s all terribly sad.

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