Fragments from a War Diary, Part #182
The war grinds on relentlessly. The principle that the hot conflict on the front line dampens down a little with the onset of the winter season does not seem to be applying this year. Substantial infrastructure attacks upon Ukrainian cities have not yet commenced in earnest although there have been a few on Lviv and Kyiv but not in nearly the same quantity as last year - so far. Instead the Russian Armed Forces are apparently focusing their attentions on the front line, both seeking to expel a pocket of Ukrainian special forces that have managed to obtain a foothold on the east / south / left bank of the Dnipro / Dnieper River some 20 kilometres west of Nova Kakhovka in Kherson Oblast; and seeking to push back Ukrainian Armed Forces positions in the vicinity of Bakhmut. The Ukrainian political leadership is keen to avoid the narrative that there is a “stalemate”, fearing that this could result in reduced US Congressional funding for Ukraine’s military and for her economy as a whole. Therefore there is a desire to create the impression of a lot of active battle, and Kyiv is pumping out a number of press releases about action on the front although it is virtually impossibly to verify a lot of this material independently.
I do have some information about what is going on in Kherson. By all accounts conditions there are atrocious. Russian shells are landing indiscriminately in the centre of the city. Vehicles are breaking down. People are sleeping and spending much of their days in cellars. Nowhere is really safe but a cellar is safer than most places. There is a constant movement of troops but their focus is really on maintaining supply lines to the pocket of territory on the south / east / left bank of the Dnieper and hence those supply lines are coming under constant attack principally by way of Russian shelling. Because the weather has been turning bad and the days are getting ever shorter, conditions running the supply lines are increasingly grim. The cost in money, lives and injuries in the ongoing situation in Kherson is uncountable but undoubtedly very high, and this will continue indefinitely throughout the winter season as the Russian Armed Forces cannot afford to permit that bridgehead to persist near Nova Kakhovka and the Ukrainian Armed Forces cannot afford to lose it. So that in itself is a form of stalemate.
My injuries continue to inflict suffering on me in their own small way but I must not complain because I am not in Kherson. At least I am somewhere warm and safe and with access to food; my only real complaint is boredom. An attempt to go to work yesterday was not really very successful and I found myself tramping back home after a couple of hours in order to take rest. The textbooks say my conditions need two weeks to heel and no doubt the textbooks are right and any attempt on my part to wish my body into better health more quickly than that is just fantasy. So I must take bed rest and sit down and not do much except take a walk once a day into the cobbled centre which isn’t too far.
A friend of mine from Kharkiv sent me messages of support and good will last night and she has sent me some photographs from the Russian bombardment of Saltivka, the northern suburb of Kharkiv that was so relentlessly destroyed in the early part of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022. I have used one of them to accompany this essay. It displays the shock of waking up one morning to find an enormous unexploded Russian ordnance having landed in the shed next to your apartment building. My friend soon abandoned living in Saltivka and she has not gone back. Her photography is both artful and harrowing and she has given me permission to use it so I shall do so in some of my forthcoming diary entries.
I may meet a friend later for dinner. I may read a book. Apparently at the kitchen where I work there is a lot of “heavy lifting” to be done today which for me is absolutely out. So when I read that message this morning I realised that going to work today definitely isn’t for me. Recovering from injury can be an exercise in solitude, but you rest assured knowing that you are slowly getting better and doing nothing is the best thing for you. I don’t like doing nothing and I find it very frustrating. Some people like the isolation and the sense of being free but I like activity. There are things I can be getting on and doing now, I know, but somehow my mood just isn’t quite there.
I have developed a half-hearted interest in the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, an unusual state that existed as a democracy of noblemen between 1569 and 1795. I realise that the history of Poland is even more complicated than the history of Ukraine, with aspirations for statehood being realised and then vanquished throughout Poland’s tortured history. With Poland’s emancipation from communism in the late 1980’s the country had an opportunity to set herself on a new course as a European democracy and she has been remarkably successful since then. The new impetus within Brussels for EU expansion, put on hold for over a decade after Croatia’s accession to the European Union in 2013, is gratifying. Not only Ukraine and Moldova will now be pushed towards EU membership with comprehensive institutional reforms, but also the remaining countries of the Western Balkans will, it seems, be placed on the same course. NATO will expand its presence as buffer troops between Serbia and Kosovo, to prevent conflagrations of that long-running historical dispute that holds the region back from EU membership progress. Then there is the question of what to do with Bosnia and Herzegovina, which remains a black hole of despair in the heart of Europe. Fresh ideas are needed.
Nevertheless all this progress and political and financial support for a renewed round of EU expansion is very welcome and it is something the Russians have brought upon themselves by their aggressive policies of militarism and political interference in both Ukraine and Moldova and in the Western Balkan region. It is good to see the European architecture finally lurching into action to take concrete steps to defeat the Russian menace; and if this means that Europe can be increasingly united as a quasi-federal network of peace loving states committed to the rule of law and ever increasing prosperity, then that is a fine outcome for Europe.