Tramping in my trench boots bought in a grungy market in Kharkiv, up a long lonely windswept lane in a prosperous town in the northern part of this beautiful and free island, I found myself contemplating what I had been doing over the last four months and where I fit into British society now. I’d gone out to some bar full of people we would basically describe as “yuppies” from the 1980’s - people with money but without education or culture, And these people are actually very nice to me, this unusual loner straight from a war zone and they understand that I’m doing something important but they don’t really understand what I’m doing or just how important it is. Some boring kind of a guy came up to me this evening and said “why are you so intense?”. And I answered, “that’s because I’ve been living in a war zone for the last four months.” And he asked me for my opinions about the war in Ukraine. And I told him what I think: that unless NATO and British troops and all the rest mobilise, the Russians are going to overrun Ukraine and then they are going to decimate the European legal and political order and we are all going to be back to 1913, with the whole of Europe as an armed camp and just waiting for a fuse to ignite the whole lot and up we go with a massive bang and then there will be the deaths of many million men and the waste of many trillions of Dollars and all the rest.
And my temporary companion - he didn’t like this at all. He found me rather intense. I suppose he would, with his yuppie job and his yuppie salary and his designer something or other that he was wearing and why was I wearing a combat jacket covered in military flag patches. Well, why not? I am here to make a statement, as well as to visit my family: Europe is at war, and you need to do something about it and you need to act and you need to get ready for National Service and higher taxes and all your fancy designer denims they are worth nothing if this war kicks off which is what everyone in the know thinks. I didn’t make any friends there but I hope I gave this chump and his friends something to think about.
Ok I’m moody and probably quite sociopathic after having spent time in an intense war zone. But I think there is some kernel of truth shining out from within my grumpy personality as I am re-immersed into normality in a quaint provincial town in northern England. I am trying to convey to the West what the war in Ukraine is really like. And it is no good at all and all these people with their lager shandies and their Jäegermeister cocktails and all of this stupid stuff: it doesn’t matter at all. I overheard some ridiculous conversation tonight. “I make lots of money just talking rubbish to people. I’m actually no good at my job at all.” I believe this fool. He should come work in a military kitchen in Ukraine, not talking his garbage pretentious nonsense to his snooty friends but instead peeling spuds and carrots and washing plastic buckets and getting his hands dirty - both literally and figuratively - to help Ukraine and to help our allies and to defend our values and to defend our way of life. Because we are in Ukraine fighting for our values and our principles and for the essence of freedom and I realise that the greater majority of these snooty people in this town I have come back to for a couple of weeks at Christmas: they don’t get any of this at all.
Nevertheless there are some really kind hearts, in this town and across my country, that care and that are doing their best. Every day as I tramp down this leaf-sodden trail into the town centre I walk past a house with two Ukrainian flags flying valiantly outside, and I shout vaguely at the inhabitants: “Slava Ukraini!”. Some slightly dozy lady keeps meeting me in what has now become my habitual bar in this town - my elderly parents who I have come to visit over Christmas go to bed early, so I need a good old-fashioned English pub to make some friends after hours - seeing that I have been serving in Ukraine, keeps inviting me to go to bed with her. Unfortunately the idea does not seem entirely appealing. She asked me today whether she’d seen me working in Marks and Spencer, in the menswear department. I answered, “yes”. She was impressed with that. This is a provincial kind of a place.
Another man I met took one of my flyers - and you can find them to download at www.development-foundation.org - and he is interested in travelling with me to Ukraine when I return in early January and devoting his time and his labour to the Ukrainian cause. He’s not a complex guy but he understands causes and determination and principles and he’s not someone who just wants to count his bank account but who is prepared, like so many members of the volunteer community in Ukraine, to devote his resources and his time as a matter of principle. This is a war between those who have principle and those who don’t. Now all these lazy bums with their pretences and their class judgments of one-another and all their silly and snide remarks about each other in their more or less classy pubs: they don’t get this and they don’t understand that their whole way of living is at stake. But there is a proportion of western society that fully understands this and we must engage with them and we must persuade them and encourage them to volunteer both their time and their money and to lobby our politicians because these people have the potential to make the difference and they are the heroes of our time.
And as for me? My heart is still in Kherson, whose railway station, that I have visited so many times, was brutally shelled just the other day, killing a railway official and injuring a whole bunch of other people. It was random and pointless and arbitrary and cruel and this is how war is. And I am going back to Ukraine, in slightly more than a week, to stop this war and to help galvanise public opinion to fight the Russians and to prevent the destruction of the contemporary European polity. I am a true believer. These drunks in bars in northern England with their timid opinions are all very well, but they don’t matter. Those of us who are truly committed to the cause of a free Ukraine are decision-makers and I ask each and every such person who is genuinely devoted to Ukraine to stand with me and we will achieve what we have set out to do: to keep Ukraine independent and free. All the rest will follow behind us in due course.