It’s a freezing cold morning and I’ve taken to sleeping fully dressed because no level of heating can keep you warm at night when it’s -20 degrees outside. I’ve determined I’m finally going to take a day off today - or at least confine myself to desk work. I’m always promising myself I’m entitled to one day off a week because it keeps you sane and normal in what’s a crazy world out there. Every day is more and more nutty stuff and sometimes you just want to stay indoors with a hot cup of coffee and watch a bad movie or something like that. I’m not really this sort of person and I’m very active but I woke up this morning early - because it was so cold - to find my limbs aching from a lot of physical exercise and the step counter on my mobile ‘phone is soaring so maybe I deserve it. Or at least I’m just going to use my brain not my body today. Probably. Maybe. I keep changing my mind. Right now I’m focused on staying warm and I’m looking for extra blankets. This is what Januaries in Ukraine are like. You focus on the need to stay warm and otherwise not a huge amount gets done.
I could watch the news but in the middle of a war zone you don’t really care much about what’s going on in the outside world. What’s happening here is a living news story and I’m right in the middle of it. I’ve been added to a Telegram channel that pings whenever there is any explosion anywhere in Ukraine. It has about 10,000 unread messages. I’m too stupid to work out how to uninstall this from my telephone but if I read a message every time there was an explosion in Ukraine I don’t think I’d ever do anything else. The fridge is still empty but there are some mouldy old sandwiches I picked up from Lviv Croissant, the coffee shop chain, last night and they might look tasty with a cup of tea for breakfast. Anyway there’s some more opera tonight - Don Giovanni - which is one my favourites and I’m looking forward to that.
Aside from staying warm, which is the number one priority at this time of year, I feel like I’d enjoy having an empty head today. I hope there’s nothing rude that comes to intrude in my life during the course of an easy day. I’ve bought some books and maybe I’ll read them or I’ll try to improve my Ukrainian. I’m not sure I want tramp-tramp-tramp through the snow and the sludge today in my trench boots. Maybe just a day off from that is something I deserve after being back here almost a week already.
Many of the volunteers where I work feel the compulsion to get up early and pack their days with volunteering activities, trying everything out and working hard from dawn ’til dusk but that isn’t really my routine because I’m here for the longer term so I have to pace myself. Nobody will miss me if I take a day off, and the kitchen where I work is jam packed with volunteers right now anyway, I think because it’s warm in there and not always so warm in people’s houses. I’m actually just one more pair of hands and I shouldn’t feel irrationally guilty if I don’t go in one day. Maybe I’ll just go for a walk, or pop in to brighten up everybody’s lives with my jocular humour and silly stories. Or maybe I’ll start thinking about writing to the world’s richest philanthropists, a project I have in mind to support all the unsung heroes in the NGO world here in Ukraine who are doing so many good things.
I’m sitting here on my own, in a fairly dark and cold room, half wondering what I’m doing here at all but that’s a common feeling when you’re working in a war zone. The uncertainty of it all - we just don’t know how long it’s going to go on and we actually don’t know whether we’re going to win - lingers on the mind a lot. If we did know who’s going to win this war, then we wouldn’t be having it - the parties would reach an agreement. So in that sense, I always think, war is like litigation. Litigation settles once the outcome becomes obvious and inevitable, but it can go on for years in the interim because it often takes a very long time to work out who really is going to win and the level of resources the parties are willing to throw at litigation varies depending on all sorts of factors over time, just as does war.
I’ll repeat an observation I’ve made before, which is that nothing is going to happen until the November 2024 general election in the United States is decided, because there remains this perception - no matter how misconceived (and I have said before that I think it is misconceived) - that the outcome (Biden versus Trump) will affect the level of American support for the war in Ukraine. I don’t think that’s right; I think American support will continue to grow irrespective of the outcome of that election as the American bureaucracy girds its loins for all-out NATO expansion and intervention in Europe and the full might of the US Armed Forces is deployed to defeat the Russian threat. I don’t think that’s a party-political issue in the United States although of course everyone is trying to make it one because the argument “the other side don’t support Ukraine enough” is imagined to be a vote-winner in the run-up to the US General Election.
Therefore American politics and the federal bureaucracy will be paralysed until that election is over, whatever the result may be. Nothing can be decided about Ukraine because there can’t be bipartisan cooperation in the febrile environment leading up to an electoral contest in which the parties are mud-slinging and Ukraine is one of the pieces of mud they sling. So we’ve got a tough year ahead of us, in my estimation, before the really fundamental decisions are made in 2025. The most fundamental decision - and I’ve said it before - is to send NATO troops into Ukrainian territory and then the Russians will back down because they won’t dare fire on American / NATO troops and they will silence their guns. Every Ukrainian knows this in their hearts; the Ukrainians understand the Russian psychology. And we in the West, fearing escalation, don’t. We’ve got it wrong. We should listen to the experts, who are the Ukrainians. If we did that, we might even get NATO troops into Ukraine in the course of 2024, and then we could stop this war and I could go home.