Fragments from a War Diary, Part #25
I was wrong in my assumption that my new accommodation in Mykolaïv, overlooking the central market, is a distance from the air raid sirens that relentlessly torment this benighted city. In fact the sirens turn out to be extremely loud in this district, and they are wailing as I write this I do not yet know why they are wailing; often it is never entirely clear. I may simply have slept through them last night, because I was so tired.
Nonetheless, I took the opportunity to engage in an early morning perusal of Mykolaïv’s central market, as it now exists amidst wartime conditions. A great deal has changed since I last toured this market in pre-wartime years. This was once one of the largest green markets in Ukraine, stretching for many blocks in every direction as a collection of open air stalls and corrugated aluminium shacks. Now over 50% of the stalls are closed. Nevertheless the market remains vibrant in a way, and the range of items available for sale has expanded in somewhat unusual and alarming directions.
Because many of the new customers, replacing the population who fled the city in the face of the 2022 battle of Mykolaïv in which the Ukrainian Armed Forces successfully resisted a Russian attempt to occupy the city, are soldiers, the items for sale in the market have changed substantially. There are now a number of stalls selling patriotic items. I found a Ukrainian flag, to hang from my day bag as a symbol of support to Ukraine’s people and military. I bought a pair of military gloves, to help serve food and other items of humanitarian assistance more hygienically. Patriotic t-shirts, shoes appropriate for the front line, and a variety of other military-orientated items are likewise for sale.
Also there is an army shop, selling superior standard military uniforms to those provided for conscripts: to those who can afford them. It also sells the customary range of handguns, rifles, sniper rifles, suppressors (the correct term for silencers for firearms), compound crossbows, knives so huge it would be better to describe them as broadswords, and a range of other curious items. These things are all for sale without paperwork or a licence, although I imagine that they only accept cash. I did not try to buy a gun. I think travelling armed in frontline military zones in Ukraine is extremely ill-advised. If you are stopped and searched at a military checkpoint and you are found to be carrying a firearm, the attitude of the soldiers is likely to be very unpredictable. I do not know what they would do; but I cannot imagine that it would have a good outcome. They might arrest me for interrogation; they might conscript me into the army; or they might shoot me.
Moreover away from the front line, incoming ordnance from the Russians aside, civilian Ukraine is not a very dangerous place in terms of intentional physical violence. By reason of the curfews, there are far fewer drunkards on the streets than there once were, and this used to be the principal form of physical risk in pre-war Ukraine. The other thing that poses a danger to life is the driving; drive during the day and highly defensively. The net result is that for a civilian, there is no need to carry a firearm. Even soldiers do not carry their firearms when off duty. The purpose of the shops selling guns seems to be to permit soldiers who can afford it to upgrade their weapons from the standard issue to something more reliable and less likely to jam. At least that is how I understand the purpose of these shops.
Interestingly, it does not appear possible to buy assault weapons or carbines “over the counter”: at least, not in any shops I have studied so far. These weapons appear to be reserved to the military and the Police, although the greater majority of all soldiers on duty and most police officers, even at the occasional traffic stops, do carry assault weapons such as the AK-47 or the even more ubiquitous AK-74 with its capacity to fire different sorts of live rounds. Because Ukraine has been the recipient of so many different types of military aid and assistance, all sorts of weapons are found amongst the Police and armed forces at the various checkpoints you will pass through along your tour of the front line.
The market sells a number of other unusual things. There are different sorts of bookshop, some selling academic literature (although there are not obviously many students left at Mykolaïv’s myriad and once somewhat international universities) and some selling religious texts. History books and novels are for sale. Any role in wartime involves a lot of sitting and waiting, and a good book never goes amiss. Then there are a couple of pharmacies, that sell only rudimentary medicines. I am pleased that I brought so comprehensive a set of medications with me when I travelled, because it is far from easy to acquire more than the most basic set of medicines while in Ukraine. This is particularly so in the front line regions.
I hear Ukraine has a shortage of insulin. It is essential therefore that diabetics bring all their insulin with them when they travel, together with the necessary equipment for its administration. I have heard a number of stories of journeys by sick foreigners to Ukrainian hospitals, that did not turn out well. You may be turned away for imagined lack of the necessary paperwork. They may simply not have the time and resources to treat you. There is little expertise available other than for serious trauma: something every doctor working on the front line learns quickly how to treat. The medical insurance I purchased for a war zone before arriving in Ukraine turns out to be useless. Nobody will accept it, and you are far more likely to be treated properly upon arrival at a hospital if you pay in cash.
The market throngs from 8am, the usual opening time for many things in a city under a curfew from 10pm to 6am. As with everything one sees along the front line region, there is a noticeable absence of young men: they are all in the trenches, doing the fighting and the dying. There is a semblance of normality. The market has adapted to the times. The predominant language in the market remains Russian, the language everybody always spoke in Mykolaïv. My rudimentary Ukrainian language skills got me nowhere in trying to buy a pair of gloves and a flag. The market remains a centre for economic activity. People are trading: buying and selling, and goods and money are flowing. This in itself is a cause for optimism, because the economy is one of the first casualties of war. That is why countries under invasion need economic stimulus. They need outside donations, grants, loans and investments, to keep the money moving so that at the end of the war there is a thriving country for the refugees to return to.
Any views expressed herein are purely the private opinions of the author and should not be attributed to the Paladins Organisation or otherwise.