The mercury’s fallen sharply in frozen Saigon. As I was dumped by the railway station in sub-zero temperatures in the pitch black just after 5pm, with a massive military rucksack and a bag of plastic cement destined for a mysterious drone factory in some classified location in Lviv, I really wondered why I was coming back. But I was excited. I was enthralled and enthused and I remain so and I put on a three-piece suit and I went to Mano’s Bar to show off in Lviv with my silly blue-and-yellow striped tie and my stupid blue-and-yellow pocket handkerchief and all these other silly things that I thought it might be a good idea to stuff in my camouflage military rucksack and tramp across town in this delirious old tram with its old steel doors and its rude staff and its strange schedule whereby it didn’t stop at the station I wanted but just drove me down some ill-lit side street full of shifty people reeking of vodka tramping and mashing over the piles of snow piled up on the pavement.
But I didn’t care. I was back in the city I love and I have a wonderful new place to stay and although there’s a bit of a draft because it’s so damned cold outside I dug out an old Air Taiwan blanket that the wonderful staff were kind enough to give me some four or five months ago when I first arrived here and now it acts as a sort of door stop to prevent the arctic air from the Siberian tundra flooding in above the doormat in this wonderful new apartment that is just two minutes from Lviv Opera House and round the corner from all the things I live in the Old Town in Lviv. I live and breathe and smell and imbibe the anarchy and the chaos of this wonderful city and I realise that once again I am in Elysium. I can wonder round the city centre in my three-piece suit and my silly Ukrainian national colours tie and cufflinks and my military jacket with a patch that says “SAS” and squish and squash around the snow and the sludge in my Russian-purchased trench boots from some daft duff old market in Kharkiv and I look like a nutter but so does everybody else and what do I care and what do they care and really what’s it all about. It’s an inhumane and cruel war and we all just have to make the best out of it that we possibly can.
I chat to my friend in Mano’s Bar. He shows me on his ‘phone a photo of him with a gun somewhere in Russia. That’s all fine; this is Ukraine; there are no rules; we all have these stupid things. He is a good and solid guy and as he tells me if you live and are brought up in Ukraine you live in the land of the free and you go a bit crazy and it would be remarkable if you didn’t. This is just how it is round here; people are the victims of the extraordinary confluence of circumstances entailed by relentless Russian aggression and totalitarianism over the last thirty years or so. We are going to move them into a new way of thinking which doesn’t involve all this Russian bullshit and I genuinely think the Ukrainians are getting there.
I had some sad stories tonight. It’s -20 degrees outside and a man from Dnipro was looking for somewhere to stay or he might freeze to death. I have a spare sofa he could sleep on and I wanted to make him a bed and give him a couple of nights for free. But I asked for references. We made a call here and a call there and the feedback was negative: someone I trust told me not to let this man into my house. So he drifted off into the icy arctic winds and maybe he will live or maybe he will die but this is how it is in war but I am not going to let a potentially dangerous or crazy person into my apartment when I have only just arrived here. It’s sad but I must be realistic and I must preserve myself and I mustn’t go weak and pathetic just because I am so very recently re-immersed in this wartime environment. War is cruel and tough but you must put yourself first, because if you let yourself be abused then you can’t do any good to all the other needy cases out there.
My by-now good friends and colleagues shared some depressing experiences. One or more people who have been here for a while and pretending to do good things have been working with the Russians. At least that’s what we think. I have no time for treachery. I have no time for double-crossing. I loathe things like this. I have no time for Ukrainians who harbour sympathy for and share information with the Russians. They can go to hell and they can die in the trenches. Because this is an ideological war, and we are fighting for our western values and those Ukrainians who would prevaricate between us and the Russians: they have no place in my scheme of things. I find them disappointing and if they want to go and live in Russia under all its neo-communist, neo-totalitarian nonsense then they are welcome to do that but they do not deserve and they will not get an ounce of my sympathy.
People on the front line are dying in droves in these horrific wartime conditions. We in the West don’t understand just how appalling the conditions are and we are not doing enough for these Ukrainian heroes who are stoically defending the borders of civilised free Europe. Massive amounts more need to be done. I hope with my three-piece suits and my silly business cards and my fundraising activities and my web sites and flyers and political connections and all of this other funny stuff I have brought back from England: I hope I can do something to make a difference, even as soldiers on the front line are huddling together in their -20 degrees temperatures just trying to keep alive through their mutual body warmth. Think about at as you lie comfortably and happily next to your husband or wife in your fancy Chelsea apartment tonight with you nice heating and your radiators and your clean flowing water and all the rest. Just think. And ask what you are doing for the Free World. And then ask yourself what more you can do.