At the time of writing my apartment building is guarded by two men in military uniform brandishing AK-74 assault rifles with extended magazines with 5.45mm rounds suitable for anti-personnel use. It’s several degrees below freezing and I can’t help thinking that these men must be having a miserable day. Actually my building is guarded by such people 24 hours a day, and the reason why I am informed is because it is next to the National Bank. This is odd, because it’s not next door to the National Bank which anyway is in Kyiv and not here in Lviv. Welcome to another strange day in wartime Ukraine. Actually I do know why they’re there and it’s not to guard me; it’s to guard someone else but we’re not going to talk about that. Everything in the middle of war is typically rather odd. Indeed as I think about my life and times approaching the Christmas season, I reflect that every day here is pretty strange.
The lease of my apartment opposite Mano’s Bar has just been terminated by the landlady. I don’t really know why, but I suspect the reason is that the person who runs Mano’s Bar is basically a member of the local criminal fraternity. He’s always extremely drunk and aggressive, particularly towards the girls who work behind the bar, and everyone is complaining about him. He may have muscled my landlady after I resisted his attempts to overcharge him last night. He looks like a criminal, I observe blithely; and he acts like one. That’s why heavily armed Police periodically appear at the front door of the bar, blocking the doors in their entirety, at precisely 11pm, and why on one occasion a private paramilitary policing unit arrived for some strange reason to break up a fight between two people who looked like criminals. Last night, after I had disputed my bill, he said to me “maybe you don’t want to come back here again”, which is the sort of things criminals say in my experience, as opposed to “please don’t come back here again” which is what you say when you are evicting a rowdy customer (which on any account I am not, at my elevated age and with my calm nerves and my bad back). “Maybe you don’t want to come back here again” is a bit like “maybe you don’t want to have your kneecaps broken” and anyway it reinforces my concerns about the ongoing existence of Ukrainian organised crime even in the middle of war, that I have referred to in earlier diary entries.
Conscription breaks up a lot of criminal gangs that have historically existed in Ukraine because all the criminals get recruited into the army. However it isn’t 100% effective in this regard: criminals under the age of 25 (like these criminals) get to still operate and so do successful criminals, who have the money to buy corrupt papers to escape the draft such as dubious psychiatric diagnoses and things like this. The Police and law enforcement system in Ukraine undoubtedly is improving in the course of the war as some of the finest young people enrol in the Police, in part because doing so is an alternative to conscription. Therefore the security and policing schools and universities are suddenly awash with high-quality cadets, and this is something we can look forward to improving standards of rule of law in the years to come as an incidental by-product of the revolution in Ukrainian public administration reform that accompanies the push towards EU integration.
I’ve found a new apartment to replace the old one - it took about 30 seconds, as there is a lot of availability for relatively expensive apartments (I am talking 20 Euros+ per night) in central Lviv and my new landlady is an older woman who I don’t think has much to do with criminal gangs. It is slap bang in the centre of town and I am looking forward to moving into this new environment in the next few days. It is very hit-and-miss to find an apartment with everything you want in it and in precisely the right location, and with an easy-going landlord who is comfortable with foreigners. We have our own unusual requirements, I suppose. We are less likely to use an apartment we rent for collective Zapoi but much more likely to be fussy about the quality of the internet connection and the availability of hot water. We may also care more whether there is a functioning elevator. And so on and so forth.
I’ve also found a new bar for the international community to hang out in - I’ve christened it “Mano’s 2” - this one has absolutely nothing to do with Mano but I thought I would stick to tradition and use his pseudonym as a good index. It’s an altogether more legitimate place than Mano’s 1, with friendly English-speaking staff, a functional kitchen, a proper toilet, and they don’t have a strange aversion in there to your wearing a military jacket in case you might be a conscription officer. I won’t yet tell you where it is, just in case there turns out to be something dramatically wrong with it! But they have live music and happy people and I think it’s the right sort of place for international community volunteers to meet friendly English-speaking locals who want to talk, and that’s what we are all looking for: something easy-going and fun and hopefully also clean and pleasant where they don’t rip you off selling you things you don’t want or adding drinks onto your bill that you never consumed. Perhaps we’re introducing a little bit of the concept of consumer choice into Ukraine. After decades of Soviet command economy miserabilism and decades more of post-independence corruptionism (I hope you are enjoying my neologisms), Ukrainians deserve to see the benefits of a free market economy that gives consumers freedom to choose the best commodity that they want to buy. That is the premise of western market democracies, and that is the philosophy Ukraine must embrace if she is to shake off the Soviet-Russian yoke.