As I write these words, I’m feeling a little reflective. My 90 days in Ukraine is almost up and I never thought I would stay past 90 days. That, I figured, would be sufficient commitment on my part. So I must leave the country, and today I am heading to Poland to collect some paperwork from the Consulate. It’a a short trip; I’ll be heading straight back and normal service will resume with my diaries from Tuesday with a bit of luck. But I refuse to overstay my immigration permission - something a number of members of the international community in wartime Ukraine have done in the past without serious consequences; and the reason I won’t do it is because we are trying to uphold rule of law here in Ukraine and prepare the country for membership in the European Union. So I must drag myself across the often problematic Ukrainian border with Poland - there’s a blockade underway by Polish truck drivers, upset with Ukraine’s access to the EU’s free markets for her agricultural products, that undercut Polish farmers’ prices. I must present myself to the Ukrainian Consulate in Lublin, a city in eastern Poland I have never been to, and with a bit of luck they will give me a visa the same day that allows me to stay on in Poland for a while longer. We shall see if it all works that smoothly; but on any theory most of today will be spent on an international bus.
Why am I coming back? I’m not quite sure. I think the short answer is that I feel that my work here is not yet quite done. Another opportunity has come my way, and that will definitely involve my being unable to stay on in Ukraine with anything like the commitment I have given the country recently. It will take me internationally, and I will need to use office facilities of the sort that aren’t available anywhere in Ukraine. But just before I go, I feel that I want to give a little bit more. Also I want to learn a little bit more, as there is a wealth of different subjects I am still exploring about Ukraine, a country so frequently in the news and yet about which so little is known in depth. I am still exploring strains of her history and culture, and I have yet to get to grips with the Ukrainian language although I freely concede that I may never do. We will just have to see. At the current rate, the whole of Ukraine will be speaking English by this time next year. That seems to be what the government in Kyiv has in mind.
There’s another more selfish reason to stay here a little bit longer - there always is. I really like it. It’s not just the sense of satisfaction that envelops me in doing my bit for the Ukrainian people and their war effort and that makes me feel rather smug. It’s not just the ideological passion with which I feel that we are fighting renewed attempts at Russian imperialism and renewed Russian barbarism - themes that dominated my study of twentieth century history (yes, the Soviet Union really was that bad). It’s that I have a daily routine here in Lviv which I really enjoy. It is just the right mixture of intellectual engagement, manual labour and hedonism that suits me down to the ground. I am a single man in my middle age, and I feel like I am 25. I am having the time of my life.
I engage my mind in helping the international community organise its efforts more efficiently and effectively to support the Ukrainian war effort - both civilian and military, right down to giving casual legal advice to people in bars who want to set up businesses and invest in Ukraine. (What a wonderful thing to do to help Ukraine: to find business investors and to guide them in how to invest in the country, in a time of war.) I also engage my mind in writing these diaries, which I thoroughly enjoy writing even if you do not thoroughly enjoy reading them. I’m not sure I care about that second bit, although I once did. Working in a military kitchen is both immensely sociable and thoroughly rewarding, and I work with people of every background and it keeps me fit and healthy - except when I injure myself. And in the evenings there is a wealth of social options but, like a tired old cog, I keep returning to the same bar right opposite the apartment I have rented, and that is just how I like it. So in short, I am happy here.
I have seen life to the East and the South and around the front line - I spent the first two months doing that. I know how life is there and it is difficult. It is much more a matter of going to bed when it gets dark, waking up at dawn, and living your life to a strict military routine of security checks, planning your time, driving around in vehicles and spending your life generally exhausted. Outside Lviv, there is nightlife but it is far more muted and you will typically find yourself the only customer in a coffee shop, restaurant or bar - even in Kyiv, I found. The polyglot multinational atmosphere of Lviv, in which foreigners and Ukrainians mix alike and English is widely spoken, is quite unique and it befits the distinctive character and history of Lviv, which is truly an extraordinary city about which very little is really known outside Ukraine. Lviv has seen so many empires come and go, and the city has been on the edge of all of them, that the people are quite used to all these various foreigners drift in and out.
I found a copy yesterday in a flea market of the Lemburger Zeitung, a German language Lviv newspaper issued during the Nazi occupation of Lviv in 1943. I suppose then that the people of Lviv learned German, just as they are now learning English, and in the past they have learned Polish and Russian. Empires come and go, but we are here to put a stop to that mentality and to settle permanently the borders of European liberal democracy. That is what the West was fighting for in World War II. It is why we set up the European Union, and it was the premise of NATO. These are all things worth fighting for, in my case for a little bit longer, and continuing my own quite paradise. Nothing is really paradise, but given my long-standing interest and scholarship in international conflict, this environment, for now, is as much of a paradise as I can hope to reach.