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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Volume #2, Part #3

The spring is lazy in frozen Saigon. After a number of messages from the military recruitment office yesterday and this morning, demanding paperwork and meetings and doing everything in a terrible hurry, I decided to postpone today’s appointment with a Sergeant until next week. I was exhausted after several days of travelling, and you don’t rush into a decision like joining the military and signing pieces of paper too quickly or anything like that. Most critically, a number of friends and colleagues are suggesting that this really isn’t for me. It’s not that I have a problem with danger or with the work the army does, but that at my age these aren’t going to be my sorts of people that I am surrounded by and that they will be of a different age category and think differently from me.

So I have decided to spend the day resting and recuperating and giving things some greater thought. In the meantime everyone seems focused on Orthodox Easter in Lviv, which is traditionally a time spent with family, and of course it’s a difficult time of year for everyone because wars don’t stop for easter and that means a lot of people are separated at a time of year when families want to be together. Anyway the atmosphere is drowsy, and not much seems to be going on, so I am relaxing in my own way and after sleeping in very heavily this morning I am watching the world go by in one of my favourite cafes and that is how I will spend my Wednesday. Difficult decisions are to be made tomorrow, or another day. People are drifting the streets and enjoying the early sunny weather and that is the mood I have decided to adopt.

I watch the war from afar. I see that Chasiv Yar, the settlement west of Bakhmut that serves as higher ground for a potential Russian assault on the cities of Kostyantynivka and Druzhkivka, and a more general attempt to seize free Ukrainian Donbas, is under tremendous damage and destruction and there is little left in the way of in tact buildings or of residents. Superior Russian artillery is enabling a slow wearing down of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in Chasiv Yar and it might come to street-to-street fighting from one building to the next if an equivalent rain of artillery cannot be brought down upon Russian positions so as to slow their gradual advance to a halt. Therefore the Ukrainian Armed Forces are begging for ammunition from the West, pursuant to the Ukrainian aid package supported by Congress, before Chasiv Yar falls which will probably be a matter of weeks. It’s only a few kilometres from Bakhmut but at the rate this war is fought, movements of troops on the front line, even where the Russians are perceived as having a tactical advantage, are exceptionally slow. Each kilometre, even of unmanned ground, can take weeks to advance through as the parties have thrown up huge mine fields and networks of trenches.

I think the Russian advance towards Chasiv Yar will be stopped although it is a tragedy to see another Ukrainian settlement so completely decimated. Interestingly the Russians are not proceeding towards Kostyantynivka directly from Bakhmut down the principal road in that direction, as it is too exposed and open use of exposed roads results in decimation of both infantry and armour in an era of drone warfare in which targeted kamikaze drones flown from afar can be expected to slam into any piece of armour on an open road. Therefore the parties have resorted to fighting across land covered by forests, woodland, and doing so on foot rather than in vehicles. The pursuit by reconnaissance drones of individuals on foot is far more difficult than the identification and elimination of major armour, and therefore we are returning to an era in which fighting is literally undertaken by infantry progressing through tunnels and trenches in the woods and the fields.

The main road between Kostyantynivka and Bakhmut is deserted, by reason of the ease of targeting vehicles; you drive down it if you have to with great speed and knowing that you may easily be targeted by drones, artillery and mortar depending upon the opposing side’s assessment of the nature of the threat you represent. Instead you are fighting through the woods and the trees. This is the reality of modern warfare: disburse your soldiers across as wide an area of territory as possible to prevent concentration of ammunition fire. It’s all rather remarkable to think that this is how war is being fought in the twenty-first century.

In any event it seems that no major or minor settlement can be taken without being comprehensively destroyed such that there are no residents left, no infrastructure, and virtually no buildings. All that is left is shelled out ruins and it now seems inevitable that the entirety of the front line is going to end up looking like this as the parties again shortly fight themselves to a halt once substantial ammunition supplies to the Ukrainian side resumes.

All this begs the question as to what a peace is going to look like amidst a devastated front line with total destruction across a wide range. It cannot seriously be expected that civilians will return to settlements such as Chasiv Yar or Avdiivka which will end up in a Zone of Separation between the parties upon an armistice being imposed by NATO, the only likely conclusion of this colossal territorial conflict. Then these whole areas will just be left, depopulated, decomposing and forgotten about as the parties face off each against the other some 20 or 30 kilometres or so apart. Perhaps Russia is now fighting for the location of the Zone of Separation - in other words she anticipates some sort of armistice concluding hostilities in the foreseeable future - and she wants to push the Zone of Separation as far west as possible from Bakhmut so that Bakhmut can be properly occupied and rebuilt (now it is just an epitome of destruction, with nothing there at all except for military positions).

Sitting so far away in the frozen Saigon, which could be on the other side of Europe, it is hard to contemplate these possibilities but these are the ways I see this war working out. Right now the hails of shelling and drones are a precursor to an uneasy peace, a way of ensuring that the distance finally occupied between the parties is so comprehensively destroyed that there is no way back to the status quo ante. This would suggest to me that we are entering the third and final part of this civil conflict, in which the parties are anticipating a de facto end to hostilities and their preparations involve laying waste to as broad a spectrum of territory as possible so that they can never be reunited one way or the other.

Chewing on these gritty realities, I sup my skinny latte in the warm evening sun and prepare myself for a meal and evening out with friends.


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