Today the mercury was rising and frozen Saigon once again became slushy Saigon. I tramped my way up the hill to the military kitchen where I have taken to working on a daily basis through rivers of melting ice, and the streets of Lviv are starting to return to normal although it is peculiarly dark as dark, overcast and moody skies feel as though they are breathing down one’s neck. The day was short but hard work. I spent a lot of time carrying 60 kilogram bags of carrots between a dilapidated van, a dilapidated garage and a dilapidated kitchen, as I was the largest man on site today and one of my favourite colleagues has unfortunately done himself in with a frozen shoulder. I’m not quite sure what this means except lots of physiotherapists’ bills. I probably shouldn’t really be lifting 60 kilogram bags of anything right now, as I still have bruised kidneys from my sharp fall and injuries of a few weeks ago and the pains keep me awake at night. Nevertheless I came here to do some work for the Ukrainian Armed Forces and for Ukraine as a whole and I am going to keep slogging away at it no matter what.
The volunteer numbers are right down due to proximity to the festive season, and international volunteers are essential because we are essentially taking the place of agricultural labourers who are off at the front being slaughtered. So those of us who remain are undertaking Stakhanovite efforts (see an earlier diary entry to understand what this is a reference to) in order to chop and peel and chop and peel for as many of the hungry, malnourished members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces as we can. Today I carried my bags of carrots and boxes of peeled beetroots amidst the relentless inchoate wailing of air raid sirens, signalling who knows what and I don’t know whether it was all related to the water going off in the Old Town this morning. These things are never clear.
I woke up this morning to over 100 messages from the lady in Lviv who yesterday asked me for a job, some of which seemed to have an insidious or threatening quality to them. It seems that this was some sort of scam or extortion racket. I’ve come across this sort of thing before in Ukraine, sadly. It’s in the same category, I think, as the unknown lady who wrote to me with the message “Масаж еротичний?” (“Erotic massage?”), which all my friends in Mano’s Bar seemed to think was absolutely hilarious. I don’t think I want an erotic massage from this unknown lady, lest her husband follows her to my home and beats me to a pulp. It’s just one of those things that happens in war zones that we place in the category of “extremely bad idea”, and we file them and move on. I won’t be helping the lady who wants a job with applying for refugee status in the United Kingdom either. The United Kingdom doesn’t need serial scammers and this sort of stupid rot has to stop.
I decided not to travel to Vinnytsia today, to visit the blacksmith’s forge, given my bruised kidneys. The prospect of another five hours of rattling Ukrainian Railways somehow just didn’t appeal - and then sleeping, at best, on a sofa in a village house somewhere out of town. It was all just a lot of effort, and in this dark gruelling weather the temptation to go into semi-hibernation is overwhelming.
However there is one positive that has come out of the day. I have been moaning about how the international community isn’t paying their fair share of dues to stop the threatened Russian onslaught against Europe and our shared values, and my family today remonstrated with me with words to the effect that they didn’t know how to do this or weren’t sure who to donate to. After all, the major aid charities aren’t for the most part in Ukraine because as a massive war zone it’s too dangerous to operate here consistently with their compliance standards; and nobody knows who to donate to or how to do it. All this stuff on Twitter isn’t reliable; people have no idea where their money is going. So I am going to establish a new trust, through the Foundation for Development, www.development-foundation.org, and the purpose of the Trust, which will be called the Ukrainian Development Trust, will be to provide nonlethal assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces and emergency civilian and humanitarian aid to a variety of organisations that in my opinion are worthy of international donor funding. The idea is that you will be able to contribute to the Trust with a credit card or other methods online, and we will create flyers that my two young daughters and I can distribute in town centres or door-to-door when we are back in England this Christmas.
The Trust Deed will set out everything that is needed, and will place a maximum limit on overheads (most charities don’t do this) so that donors will know that a maximum of say 15% of their contributions will be spent “at source” and therefore they will be getting real value for money. They can be confident that the money will be spent wisely, and I have the experience to know who the donated funds are best distributed to. Everything will be documented properly, and all donors will have access to the management accounts upon request. The whole regime will be thoroughly transparent. This is an opportunity to use my skills as a lawyer to put into place a robust fundraising arrangement. I’m going to start writing the Trust Deed today, and I will see if I can persuade people to start funding Ukraine properly again from a variety of sources of money because my word it’s really important. I cannot emphasise to you, dear reader, how many worthy causes there are here in Ukraine and how great the stakes are.
We have a Russian imperial army at the gates of Europe, threatening to invade. If we do not resist them, then large chunks of central Europe are done for. This has happened before, and although everyone likes to forget about what happened in the past history has a nasty habit of repeating itself. Until the politicians are done arguing and squabbling and they pass their funding bills and they have their elections and NATO commits to placing troops on the ground in Ukraine, we will need to stop the gap somehow and this is the best way I can think of in trying to resist this existential threat to the European political and legal order while the politicians get their ducks in a row. I urge you to support me in any way you can. I will be model of financial propriety in everything I do, and you please spread the word and find the funds to help if you are able to do so. Thank you. Ukraine needs you, Europe needs you, and the whole world needs you, because otherwise the Russians threaten to overwhelm us. I don’t want to be on that last train out of frozen Saigon, and therefore I am struggling on.