Where is everyone in spooky Saigon? The streets today were empty for everything but snow, and even that was melting. Well, one answer is that they’re all in mobile telephone shops, just like me, trying to find SIM cards for mobile networks that aren’t Kyivstar. It’s still down, and the majority of the population relies upon it, so of course all the SIM cards on sale for other networks have already been bought up. The city’s various mobile ‘phone shops - and I went round quite a few - are full of forlorn folk playing around with their helpless devices and trying to recharge old and disused SIM cards from other networks that they found down the sofa or wherever it was. The temporary demise of the mobile ‘phone has left everyone in shock and nobody quite knows what to do. So they’re sitting at home, or in friends’ houses, using old fashioned internet connections. The network outage has had the remarkable effect of driving everyone indoors. It has been suggested to me that the network might be restored by tomorrow morning, but I don’t know. Nobody can know for sure.
Still Lviv looks beautiful at this time of year, but my building has had a power failure in the common areas. I now have to wonder through the dungeon-like ground floor area of my cavernous old building in the pitch black, and then up some rickety wooden stairs that creek like a house of horrors in an old-fashioned Dracula movie. Once up two flights of these stairs, I emerge onto a likewise pitch black sheer hanging balcony, that always makes me slightly nervous. At the far end of the balcony often waits an elderly lady, her face half-friendly, half-suspicious: what is this foreigner doing here in my building. Oh yes, he’s here to help us resist the Russian invasion of our homeland. I suppose that’s okay then.
Last night my American (female) friend told me that I was dressed life a “wife beater”. I almost fell off my chair with laughter. Is there a specific way that perpetrators of domestic violence clothe themselves? Apparently it is something to do with the fact that I was wearing a white t-shirt with a plunging neckline. This, I was told today, is associated with “white trash”, which are American males who live in a “trailer” and presumptively beat their wives in between watching the football on the television. I responded “aah, so this is the equivalent of a string vest”. This made the Americans in the room erupt into hysterics; they found the phrase extremely funny and it took some prodding for me to establish why. Americans think we Brits use “posh” words to describe common or garden things; and for Americans, a “vest” is a suit jacket whereas of course in England a “vest” is - well - a “wife beater”. By the way, I don’t want to trivialise domestic violence, particularly in Ukraine where the issue is regrettably common and under-reported. But apparently - or at least so I was told - in the United States you can go into Walmart and buy a packet of “wife beaters”, which is a packet of string vests. Anyway according to my American friends and colleagues it was worth their winning the American War of Independence just so they don’t have to refer to “wife beaters” as “string vests”. I’ll be sure not to wear a string vest in Moss Eisley Space Port tonight.
Because the days are short and gloomy, and there isn’t much to do except wait for the crucial Congressional vote tomorrow on continued US financial support for the war in Ukraine, there aren’t many people around. When I’m not almost falling off dark crooked balconies, there doesn’t feel much to do. I’ve been having a chat with my family about whether anyone in the wider world really cares. I received the opinion that others are full of advice but not necessarily full of active help and support. As we discovered yesterday, the local government doesn’t want to make it easy for people to collect funds to support good Ukrainian causes, even when we put in place a decent legal structure. Maybe people think they’ve done enough already, and I can’t fault the generosity of the West so far. But my point is that we need more. There is an endless need, and our way of life is at stake. If Ukraine falls, Finland and the Baltic States will be at risk and NATO will need to be deployed in vastly greater numbers and at exponentially higher costs to NATO member states’ public purses in order to deter Russia that will then be right on the doorstep of the European Union and a direct threat to NATO.
The problem, I think, is that there aren’t enough people of my parents’ age anymore who remember what happened in World War II and that aggressive hyper-militaristic totalitarian powers competing on the European land continent dragged the entire world into a ghastly and lengthy world war that killed perhaps 50 million people and transformed global political geography forever. It was supposed to be the last ever war, and a new European legal and political order would be fashioned to prevent such things from ever happening again. But now it is happening again, and if Ukraine falls then Russian aggression will be fortified and encouraged across the globe. I read of the activities of the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary operation partially integrated into the Russian Armed Forces, in French-speaking Africa on a daily basis. Russian manipulation of social media and open source websites continues unabated. If the West shows hesitancy in dealing with the Russian threat, then China may decide that the West lacks resolve she may extend her own muscles still further in the South China Sea, plunging the globe into an ever more severe crisis.
I wonder what it will take for the West to decide that a massively increased and continuous extended effort in terms of both manpower and financial resources is required to counter the Russian danger on the doorsteps of Europe. Do we need to go so far as global mobilisation of all NATO armies, and conscription of young men across all NATO member states to face down the Russian Armed Forces over the coming years? The cost to the taxpayer in resisting Russian aggression will only go up from the comparatively paltry donations being sought now from public and private sources to keep Ukrainian soldiers on the front line alive. If in a year or two we have to mobilise the whole of NATO to fight the Russians, then the West’s financial prosperity will be permanently ruined and our young men will have to do battle with Russian soldiers and they will have to die, just as Ukrainian soldiers are dying now. Do the politicians in Washington really understand what is going on and the danger we are facing as the civilised world? I hope so; but I fear too many of them are listening to people wearing “wife beaters”. I hope to be proven wrong tomorrow.