I’m leaving Ukraine this morning and heading to Kraków, a city in southern Poland of similar beauty and history to Lviv. I haven’t been there for well over a decade and I don’t like long bus journeys or waits and borders but these are inevitable when you enter and leave military theatre so I’ll just have to get on with it. To be honest, long bus journeys make me anxious and grumpy so if you’re on that bus with me I’m not going to be much fun. It seems somehow just the wrong time to leave Lviv; there’s a thaw; it looks almost autumnal out there; but I have my family and loved ones to go and see and they’re wondering where on earth I’ve been and I have lots of crazy stories to recant - yes, the stories I haven’t been telling you about in these diaries. The things that were so appalling or crazy or weird or bleak that I don’t feel I wanted to record them.
People in war zones can be very uncivilised. I was having a long conversation last night with a Ukrainian friend who I am proposing to do some work with and we discussed that some of the foreigners who come to Ukraine really don’t have the best of intentions although many do. Ukrainians of course notice these sorts of bad behaviour and the foreigners of malign intentions who come to a war zone to exploit the situation or to evade justice in some other country or to take advantage of people and to try to make some money. These sorts of people are in a minority but unfortunately they exist in every war and we traditionally call them profiteers. They are here to try to take advantage of the suffering of others. Because war is at its heart about suffering and misery and death, and there are no profits properly to be made in war. The people who exploit wartime for their own benefit are not people that either I nor my friend appreciate and we know who they are and they pass us by each day but like ships in the night. We just ignore them.
Then, yesterday evening, after I had been invited to a new electronic “chat group” of people some of whom I know to be my friends, I extended everyone my best wishes and sent my regrets that I could not attend a Christmas dinner because I’ve just been too busy rushing around. And I receive messages from two unknown numbers telling me I am an “asshole”. All I know about these people, I suppose, is that they are likely Americans (in Britain one spells that expletive differently) but it really doesn’t matter where they’re from. Writing to a stranger who is doing nothing more harmful than conveying the good wishes of the Christmas season with offensive expletives is pretty revolting, and I couldn’t really work out why they would do such a thing. Perhaps the Christmas spirit isn’t with them this year. Perhaps they’re just obnoxious people. I found it rather sad and disappointing, in a way. Even amidst a war, we try as hard as we can to keep the Christmas spirit up and I personally try to maintain good will in my heart towards all people. I thought to myself that these are the sorts of foreigners Ukraine doesn’t need in its midst, here for their own personal agendas and who think nothing of being wantonly offensive to people who have come here spending their own time and money to help the war effort.
We all owe one-another decency, humanity and understanding amidst a war. In a community of volunteers, here to help the Ukrainian people, we should maintain the highest standards of behaviour, and that includes honour, integrity, honesty and generosity of spirit. I know it can be difficult to work in a war zone; I’ve been here for some three and a half months and I’m planning, after a much-needed break, on coming back because the war’s not over yet and I don’t want to give up on the Ukrainian people or the nation. And that’s not just because Ukrainians are good and gracious and warm-hearted people but because I see the whole European and international legal order at stake if we lose this war in Ukraine. So I will continue with my own miniature propaganda machine, in the form of these diaries, trying to explain to people in the West just how important their continued support is for the Ukrainian cause, and trying to persuade them to devote ever greater resources because I’m sorry to say that a lot more money and military commitment is needed if we are decisively to prevail against Russia and that is what we must do or our European values and way of life may be lost.
I went to the opera last night, and watched some truly depressing modern horror in which various men staggered around the stage, half sweaty-drunk, bearing giant crosses as though scrabbling up Golgotha. The opera was sung in Ukrainian with English surtitles, so I could actually understand what was being sung about. A lady was shrieking that her icy grave would be the Dnipro River; one of the protagonists explained to another in baritone booms that he would be cutting him up with a sword into pieces small enough to make a meaty porridge. I’m not quite sure what it was all about but it was certainly heavy stuff. I couldn’t help thinking that in the midst of war the Ukrainian audience needed something a little lighter-hearted; but then the Ukrainians are a gloomy lot at times. I always try to encourage them to smile! But they tend to like to do that only over the vodka bottle or while drinking some incomprehensibly coloured revolting cocktail. Maybe it’s the cold weather, I tell myself; whatever the reason, the Ukrainian people have their own characteristic grim moodiness as part of their national personality and I have to concede that I like it because there’s quite a lot of that in me. So I’ll be coming back soon not just to fight the war but also because deep in my heart, I rather like the Ukrainian people, and perhaps there’s even a fair dose of their national mood buried somewhere deep inside me.