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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #204

War is so incredibly intense. Here is the face of a new friend, showing the hate and the pain and the hate and the pain and the hate and the pain and the hate and the pain and the hate and the pain. In the creases of her face and the colour of her eyes, you can see her incandescence, her heartbreak, her tragedy, her sadness and her woe. She has innumerable traumas and sadness and I know not what they are but I see them writ large in her expression. I asked her for permission to take this photograph, looking down the lens of my camera and observing her quietly on a Saturday evening, and she was kind enough to agree. She summed up to me all the pain and tragedy and suffering and horror of this terrible war: a young lady, perhaps 18, perhaps slightly older, with all the miseries of the world on her shoulders. I do not even know her name. She is but a ghost to me, a ship passing silently in the night.

The barman and proprietor, or whatever he is, in Mano’s Bar, some ruffian youth, tried to overcharge me tonight: a common problem in this place where foreigners frequent. I noticed he was overcharging me when the lady I was talking to as I went to pay looked askance at the bill I was paying and her eyes told me everything. This young foolish man, with eyes like the Devil, tried to coax and push me into buying still more silly limoncello drinks for his friends and for him, as though I am some foreign fool. My friend, with whom I was sitting, told me not to trust him. She told me he is not a good man. She is right. He is a common criminal, who thinks the foreigners serving here as foreigners with the best of intentions are just people to be ripped off. This is immensely sad.

The people of Ukraine have a simple choice. They can assimilate themselves to western European values, in which the people of Europe celebrate common principles of liberty, democracy, mutual respect and equality between nations and peoples; or they can go back to Russia. Now I am prepared to accept that my interlocutor this evening, when he decided to be offensive to me and he tried to rip me off, was just having a bad moment. But he doesn’t look like a very honest person to me. And he is a youngster. He is less than half my age. I have come here, with experience and conscience, to try to help the Ukrainians finally achieve nationhood and respect and European equality and here is a pipsqueak of a man somewhere around the age of 20 thinking that westerners are idiots and fools and people to be taken advantage of. I wonder where he got this from. From his parents? Is he still thinking like a Russian? Are westerners just idiots, fools floating in the wind, to be taken advantage of whenever that turns out to be convenient or propitious?

That would be sad indeed. In fact the vast majority of Ukrainians do not think like this, and they are truly thankful for all the efforts that the West, and the army of foreign volunteers that have tramped into Ukrainian territory to protect and defend Euro-Atlantic principles and values, represent. But there are still a few bad eggs; and the Ukrainians who think that we westerners who are here to defend the territorial integrity of their country and to defend the values of Ukrainian identity and nationhood that they so cherish are people who should be abused and mistreated and cheated - those people are unsatisfactory and unacceptable and we must be firm that this sort of attitude towards the foreigners who are coming here and giving away their time and their money and risking their lives and their welfare for the benefit of Ukrainian patriotic values and everything else - we ought to be treated with respect, courtesy and gratitude.

It is not much to ask. We are not begging. We are here because we are committed by reason of ideology. We are not cheap beggars, nor colonialists in the style of the Russian Empire seeking to insert ourselves into Ukrainian culture and to suppress Ukrainian political instincts: quite the opposite. Rather we are seeking to transform Ukraine towards membership of the European community of nations, and to treat and embrace Ukrainians as fellow and equal members of a united European polity. We understand that Ukrainians are paying a tremendous price in blood for their resistance of Russian aggression, and we admire and respect that. But we also ask Ukrainians to trust and respect us, as foreign volunteers, in our efforts to assist them in their struggles.

There is another option open to us. We can walk away from Ukraine. We can leave Ukraine to the Russians. I do not expect Ukrainian people to be rude or aggressive to me in my efforts to support them. I do not expect them to rip me off. I expect them to be the epitome of honesty, courtesy and decency towards me and my fellow western volunteers in appreciation of the efforts we are making. Otherwise I will leave. And the Russians can have this place.

Tomorrow I will not be visiting Mano’s Bar. I am sick of the bad attitude of the young fool who imagines himself King of some imaginary hill. He can understand that in a modern liberal capitalist democracy, the principles upon which western society is founded, I can elect to change my choices and go to some other place. I do not need to give him money and I do not need to sing the praises of his bar, if he is rude to me or if he tries to overcharge me. We call this market economics, and in a western democracy we expect all people, local or foreigners, to be treated equally. If Ukrainians cannot embrace these values and principles, then we as the West have no interest in supporting them and the boundaries of the new Iron Curtain can be drawn somewhere to the west of Lviv, on the border with Poland.

Ukraine may be paying with blood, but the West is paying with treasure. If they want our continued support, then the Ukrainian people, each and every one of them, need to align themselves with the western project and they need to show honesty, propriety and decency towards those of us who are here to save their national project. I know that the vast majority of Ukrainians agree with me and that they appreciate the efforts that I and my fellow volunteers are making. But, as with everything in life, there are some bad eggs, and they can ruin everything. I call upon all Ukrainians to call those bad eggs out, and to discipline them, in the interests of a democratic, free and liberal future Ukraine. Only this way can Ukraine be embraced into a modern European future. There are voices now calling for compromise with the Russians. These bad eggs, if their voices are not quenched, will only fortify that grizzly message.


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