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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #207

This evening I went to Church. I thought I might see some friends or cousins there, or perhaps they might see me. I don’t know; who’s to say; everything is jumbled up these days and really what can we family members do with all our fads and our fancies in the face of what is actually a land war. We are just bit players, learning pieces here and pieces there; the real work is being done by soldiers and troop movements and all this military sort of thing and the people with the big brains and the smooth personalities are all very well but our influence is actually minimal in this sort of hot war scenario. War proceeds according to its own grim, inevitable, deterministic course.

Anyway I am very pleased I have departed the reckless and absurd institution called “Mano’s Bar”, which seems to be a decadent hide-away of some ropey types of local people preying upon short-term foreign volunteers who don’t know much better and the domestic staff are ripping off the foreigners at every touch and turn with their homemade moonshine (called Samohon) flogged off at high prices and manufactured in dangerous conditions by home-made distillation in copper pots. I don’t know why all these foreign volunteers continue to frequent such an utter dump, but I have resolved that I will not be doing this anymore. I don’t much care for scams and stings when I am here in Ukraine to help the country and her people, and I don’t find this sort of ridiculous thing anywhere else much either in Lviv or in Ukraine as a whole.

It’s been an unusual day. I managed to shake off a rather unusual, nerdy, difficult fellow who had all these secret plans for the Ministry of Defence of this and that country about how he could dramatically change the course of the war in this and that way and if I didn’t get these plans to President Zelenskiy immediately then the war would be lost and the Russians would prevail and China would invade Taiwan and America would be enfeebled and the Japanese are useless and all the rest of it. And yes he’d placed his plans in front of Rishi Sunak and all sorts of other British Ministers and various types of people and now he needed me to promise him that I could get his ingenious ideas in front of President Zelenskiy. I had endured a few evenings of this - I think I must have the patience of a saint - but I said that the first thing he needed to do was to send me the bloody things. I’m a lawyer, I explained, and we lawyers like to read things. So send them to me and I will read them and then I will think about what I might be able to do with them. But oh no. He needed my guarantee that I would place them in front of President Zelenskiy because then everything would change and the war would have a different outcome and otherwise western civilisation as we know it would be drawn to a short and perfunctory conclusion.

Don’t get me wrong; this man was well-intentioned in his own sort of curious way and he certainly knew a lot about something. He was telling be about Abrams tanks and how to adapt western aircraft to fit certain sorts of missile to achieve certain sorts of air superiority and therefore how to win the battle in theatre in Kherson and all of this sort of thing, and he seemed pretty plausible to me. But as a lawyer - and I really am a lawyer of some decades of experience, that is how I think - I like details and I am not persuaded by a quick gallop through a set of incoherently connected ideas in a bar over the course of a beer or two and instead I like people to set out their ideas with care and consideration and with whatever level of details is most appropriate to persuade and then I like to take time to consider what they have written and I like to decide whether they have persuaded me. And then, if, and only if, they have persuaded me, then I might choose to do something with all these ideas and take them somewhere else. It’s like the liturgy in a Church. It’s the product of reflective contemplation, not some hasty and ill-conceived mishmash of ideas rapidly bolted together.

Governments don’t make decisions quickly, save in the most extreme of crises; they are engaged in processes and procedures and while there are pressure points you can use to try to accelerate what they are doing they are very few lightning rods that will cause a government to engage in a volte-face. Those of us who try to bring civil conflicts to an end are all too painfully aware of this fact: wars and conflicts proceed often apparently interminably because the warring parties get stuck in grooves of behaviour that they cannot easily escape from even though reason suggests that what they are both doing in continuing to fight relentlessly is totally irrational for them both. The key in bringing peace to conflict and in pursuing and maintaining peacekeeping objectives is to snap the parties by shock or by force out of these mutually destructive cycles and encourage them to cooperate notwithstanding the animosities generated by war. We are a long way from this sort of synergy at the current stage of the war in Ukraine.

The weather is getting increasingly brutal and walking outside for any distance is now becoming positively painful. The risk of slipping and injuring yourself in an environment with no effective medical facilities save for those most gravely injured amidst the incidents of war is high; ice is compacted upon ice on both the footpaths and the roadways; the days are short, with dusk barely at 4pm. Even my beloved Lviv Opera House is starting its performances earlier, as the long nights and the short days ever further constrict the hours in which we are not confined indoors as frosty weather hermits.

I barely have two weeks left before I must go to see my long-suffering family for Christmas. My plans for the next days are all mumbled and jumbled but I do plan one final trip outside Lviv, for a day or two or three, a micro-adventure of a kind, to see an interesting project just outside a city not so far from here and this man might - just might - be doing something interesting and useful. I like to make new connections, study new ideas, I like to sniff the ground and see what is going on in all the nooks and crannies of this crazy war. Because although wartime creates plenty of idiots like the rapacious staff at Mano’s Bar, trying to steal all the money from naïve short-term foreign volunteers that they can, it also generates some quiet, industrious, decent-hearted and admirable individuals who are quietly working away on their own little projects that may be doing some good. Whatever inspires them, the only way of assessing these sorts of project, and deciding whether they are worth placing my name behind them, is to go and take a look myself. So, in between my busy forthcoming closing schedule of appointments at the Lviv Opera House, that is what I intend to do.


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