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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #2 Volume #6

Yesterday was spent avoid lashings of pig fat as the main room in the military kitchen where I work was filled with a giant dead pig that a team of ad hoc butchers took to chopping into pieces with a selection of knives. I had never seen butchery done quite like this but it seems that the pig was a big one and it had been shot in the head and then chopped up with an axe and its pieces put in a giant freezer. It was then removed to our kitchen for more detailed work with a series of knives. It was obviously going to take hour to remove all the fat and gristle and muck all over this carcass, and its legs and trotters needed to be hacked off as did its head. The whole sight was rather gruesome and more than some of my vegetarian colleagues could bear. We sat outside focusing on vegetables, because vegetables don’t talk and the exercise of chopping them up doesn’t seem nearly so beastly. It was a beautiful day and an odd way to pass a Sunday afternoon but I enjoyed roasting in the sun, presumably much as pieces of the giant hog will end up roasting in an oven. The weather is now permanently pleasant, the sun shining and everything seems mysteriously normal in Lviv.

I haven’t written to you for a while because events have been quiet; summers in Ukraine at war feel far more normal than the winters, which are painful exercises in attempting to survive. Nevertheless I have been undergoing my daily routines. I am under something of a cloud because the apartment I have been in has not been to my liking at all: small and pokey, and I think that in my middle age I am getting more fussy about what I want in terms of daily luxuries. It’s strange to talk about daily luxuries in a war zone but tomorrow I am moving to a much larger apartment, right in the middle of Rynok Square, the main square in old Liv, above some tourist souvenir shops and overlooking the town hall. It’s also next door to a notorious strip club that is right opposite the town hall that serves as a centre and symbol of Ukrainian patriotism, culture and history. It’s also one of the few places consistently open after curfew, presumably by reason of a cosy relationship with the Police but it mystifies us all as to how they get away with this. The increase in quality of my accommodation I hope will lift my mood, because I haven’t been moving from Lviv or making plans to go East recently and that is perhaps why I am down.

In summer, Lviv is far from the frozen Saigon and everything seems to become much more normal. Although there have been strikes on the electricity and power generation infrastructure on the outskirts of the city, they haven’t so far managed to knock out the power supply and therefore life in Lviv carries on much as it would in any other Eastern European city although everything is more beautiful and sublime. I have learned to take one hour at a time here because anything can change; but the grim news about gradual Russian advances out East - including into some settlements I have travelled to - seems far away from here. People discuss it little and they are determined to get on with their lives as though nothing is really going on. The soldiers have started going into the bars and mixing more with the general population, and the rules on alcohol sales to soldiers seem to be even more relaxed than previously here. Everyone just wants to enjoy themselves in Lviv, and enjoy the summer.

I have been attending some unusual classical music events at Lviv Opera House. One ballet involved a complex story of a Ukrainian woman being abducted to Japanese-occupied Russia in 1905 and becoming part of a harem, before being released back to Ukraine where she met up with the childhood man of her dreams and had a child and lived the Ukrainian idyllic peasant life. These unusual themes pervade through Ukrainian culture and I don’t know where the ideas underlying this peculiar ballet came from save that they had some literary origin within Ukraine. It was a stupendous performance and gave rise to a standing ovation. Saturday’s clarinet quartet at the Opera House was more disappointing; the hour-long event sounded like the performers were keen on cleaning their instruments in front of the audience rather than playing anything surrounding like music. Nevertheless they too received a standing ovation for reasons hard for me to comprehend. Screeching pipes are not worthy of the ticket price I paid.

Lviv’s faintly reckless nightlife amidst a war continues abound. I have been to performances of live music and parties with heavy drinking: I have eaten in superlative Georgian and Ukrainian restaurants and the ladies in the kitchen where I work gave me a giant loaf of sweet bread that I have stuffed in my fridge. It is hard to retain a diet in a city so awash with fine delicacies but people can and do eat out here every day of the week. Alcohol flows in large quantities in all directions, in particular on the weekends but not only, and it seems there are almost as many bars as there are churches. In the summer months, the drinkers spill out still more onto the cobbled streets and fill the historical alleys with their alcoholic habits but I suppose none of this feels like a shock now I am habituated to being in one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

Things have become more normal for me in this most unusual of cultural gems, mixed up in war but so far away from it. I don’t know how long I am going to stay here but I know that Lviv in summer is an experience everyone should have. You don’t need to be a war tourist or interested in the war in the slightest in Lviv in the summer, because it barely exists. People don’t feel scared of being conscripted, even though the laws are about to change and toughen up to make conscription easier.  They just keep living their lives as normally as they can, although their families and friends may all be mixed up in the conflict out East. War is never too far from people’s minds.


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