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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #255

I feel like I’m in a whirlwind again. I’m returning to the theme of intensity, which is a recurrent experience of living in a war zone and it’s the sense that there are never enough hours in the day to do all the things that need to be done. When you live through war, it’s constantly uncomfortable, because you’re under pressure to do things. In whatever way you’re contributing, there’s always so much more to do because wars are monumental affairs. They’re not just some small things in which you have your cup of coffee in the morning and then you head off to work and sit at your desk. It’s endlessly chaotic. This morning I woke, as I usually do, to a rat-a-tat of pings and whistles from my mobile ‘phone that I unwisely keep by the side of my bed. This is a wartime habit because these phones emit air raid siren warnings and you think it’s best to have it with you. I read some study somewhere which says that we should all just learn to sleep without our mobile ‘phones but I think a lot of us secretly do it and so do I. So the war begins for me each day as soon as my ‘phone starts zapping and pinging at whatever time that may be.

Today I have some paperwork to do. There’s paperwork in war zones, lots of it - war machines are bureaucracies. So that will take time and I can barely bash these words out quickly enough to record my thoughts without thinking that really I ought to be somewhere else and talking to some other people and helping out in the military kitchen with manual labour which I love building into my day even though I realise I can be more effective sitting by my laptop and helping the war using my brain. But while brains are important in warfare so is brawn, and so also is keeping these records, these diaries, of just what is going on and all the crazy people I meet each day and the exciting things they are doing and what they are telling me. It’s important to keep a record of these nutty things and that’s what I write these diaries with such frequency. It’s so that people can understand what a war is really like and all the things that go through your head, a daily assault on your senses.

A colleague and a lovely person said something very wise to me yesterday evening and it stuck in my head and I want to share it with you. She has been invited to do an interview with a medium-sized European newspaper about her experiences of volunteering in wartime Ukraine. And of course the journalist is placing her under pressure to do it here and now because journalists always work to deadlines and they want the hot story of the moment. And she has said no: she’s not willing to do that, because she understands what I am trying to convey in these short and I hope succinct diary entries: that when you’re in the middle of it all you barely get a chance to gasp for breath and you can’t always think dispassionately about all of these things going on around you because you are an actor and a participant in an enormous, exhilarating and exhausting drama and there’s no time for reflection: you just plough on each day.

That’s why it’s important to exit theatre frequently and I think I’m going to try to do it once a month or so: just go to Poland for a couple of days, or somewhere close; just to breathe the fresh calm air of normality. I’ve only been back here a few days and already my dirty laundry pile is climbing high and the kitchens a mess and I find myself tearing around the town talking to people. I realised when I’d got back from my two-week break over Christmas that I’d got a bit chubbier and maybe that wasn’t a bad thing because the pace of life here is sufficiently fast that you do lose weight and you do stay fit. The adrenalin is pumping and you do need an occasional breather from the high-paced rhythm to eat well and drink well and relax and take stock. And then that colleague of mine might give her interview to the media, once she’s out of theatre and taken stock of everything that has been going on around her.

I spent the morning trying to look at the law as to whether I can fundraise for these drones. Obviously anything that helps the Ukrainian Armed Forces win the war in Ukraine is thoroughly commendable but legally, am I allowed to do it? Or are there legal tripwires that might cause me to fall over and fall foul of the law? Does anyone really care? Is there a law against it that is honoured in the breach? I can’t work out the answer and I’ve already wasted a few hours reading this and that text and commentary. I know people do these things; I’ve seen money raised for lethal drones on Twitter. It doesn’t however mean that they are legally allowed to do it; and I’m a lawyer so I have to obey the law. Also I don’t know what other prospective donors might think about this. So I think I’ll ask one who has a particularly clear and fine mind.

There are so many questions, so many things confusing and befuddling when you start to apply a western legal system with all its regulation and checks and balances and rules about collecting and spending money into the middle of a wartime situation in which everything is confusion and chaos and people wire money around using PayPal at best or even just in cash because that’s often the simplest way. Or an environment when people are smuggling in this and that in the back of aid trucks with sacks of potatoes on top and something else underneath. That’s how wars are fought. It’s how they’ve always been fought and how they no doubt always will be fought. War is a messy, confusing business. Do you remember when the US Government was dropping crates of US dollar bills out of the backs of aeroplanes after the invasion of Iraq? That’s the sort of thing that happens in wars, and here I am struggling with western legal rules trying to work out whether I can lawfully raise money to manufacture drones highly likely to be used for lethal military purposes. It’s a headache that needs more than an Ibuprofen tablet.


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