It’s hard to say that living and working in a war zone has benefits, but in my case it has a wonderful benefit of liberation. I spoke to a lady yesterday who had, like me, worked as a lawyer sitting in an office for much of her career, who told me that she is in paradise compared to the stresses and pressures of a law firm, just peeling vegetables and undertaking some, apolitical, manual labour in a good cause. Every day you spend living in Lviv, you feel good about yourself. Ok, it can be uncomfortable and right now it’s really a bit too cold for comfort and everything can go wrong. It goes wrong because we’re in a war zone and there are hypersonic missiles slamming into buildings and soldiers who are losing their limbs or dying or freezing to death and all these other things that don’t happen in the normal world. But there is a collective sense of all being on the same side and all trying to achieve the same set of goals which is to keep our soldiers alive and to win the war in Ukraine against the Russian aggressors.
It’s all really a remarkable thing that people with such different backgrounds and attitudes to life have come together to achieve the same thing. There’s no snobbishness, nobody is anyone else’s boss, nobody has a higher opinion of themselves than someone else. Instead this is a war and we are all equal: we are one human being each, trying to struggle through each day and contribute in our own small ways something towards the war effort in everything we do. Everyone knows this is a just cause - resisting Russian military adventurism of the worst kind - and we feel exhilarated and liberated in everything we do. It’s thrilling to be part of the daily adventure and not to be stuck in an office with too many people doing too little work and creating layers of middle management in between in order to cause one another problems and all the rest of it. Instead we just get up each day and we each do what we can and we support one-another when that is needed. And this is morally uplifting. It makes us all feel good about ourselves. So many people go through life just feeling bad about what they do or feeling afraid of whether they’re getting something right or wrong or fearing a sense of being estranged or lonely. In wartime you just get used to what you’ve got and you get on with it.
I’m renting an apartment here that is very comfortable by any standards. I don’t have a girlfriend to live with me but she might have to put up with me snoring so maybe that’s all for the best. There are lots of single people in wartime, as wars sever and place strains upon relationships. I don’t feel bad about going out to a bar on my own and chatting with whoever I want and striking up relationships with Ukrainians and foreigners alike and living life my own way without the social constraints that cause so many of us to feel intimidated or afraid or stuck in ruts in the course of everyday life.
I can’t honestly tell you that I am materially uncomfortable and I certainly can’t tell you that I’m afraid or intimidated by anyone. I have freedom and liberty to do whatever I want: to go to the opera several nights a week; to open my own newspaper (who could ever dream of such a thing outside wartime Ukraine); to go to Mano’s Bar every night and to make friends with people of all different ages and personalities. If I want to drink a bit too much, I’m free to do that. There’s great food and a friendly environment at work and socially. I live a healthy lifestyle - my “step counter” on my mobile phone routinely exceeds 10,000 steps a day - and I feel fit and healthy. There isn’t much in the way of consumer culture in the middle of a war zone, but maybe that’s no bad thing: just collecting consumer items for no purpose. Why bother?
The relationship will come in time, I am sure. I stay in daily contact with my family, and I’m even trying to encourage some of them to visit although they’re a bit intimidated. It’s not all that bad, particularly once the weather gets better. You can get used to anything and that certainly includes living in a war zone. The laissez-faire attitude of the Ukrainians is also most refreshing: anything goes here; Ukraine has always been a bit of an anarchy, full of funny, carefree and rather chaotic, edgy people who find things that we in the West consider very serious a bit of a laugh. Ukrainians have great senses of humour and as a rule they don’t hold grudges. They can get drunk and shout and fight about politics one evening with one-another and then the next day it’s all forgotten and they don’t much care at all. Ukraine has always been different from Russia, in that there is genuine freedom of expression in Ukraine and you can say what you want and nobody really cares; it’s just words. There’s much less of all this crazy paranoia that is a typical hangover from the Soviet system than you find in Russia, in particular in the West.
You find your own routine in a war zone. I have taken to waking up very early, often about 5am, doing administrative work while things are quiet, going back to sleep for a bit, then undertaking manual labour in the afternoon, and then spending the evening socialising or meeting people. It’s a routine that might sound unusual but it works for me. It’s calming and relaxing and you just take it easy. The idea of a 9-5 standard hours office job is virtually unthinkable for me now; I can’t imagine why anyone would force themselves to do it. Oh yes I can: they do it for the money. The bloody money. There’s always that thing, twisting and corrupting everybody’s motives and making our lives in the West so bloody miserable. Perhaps one of the things that liberates you when living in a war zone is that money doesn’t become so important because there’s nothing to buy.
I know people outside Ukraine don’t get it. I know they don’t understand just how important this war is and I know they can barely imagine what it must be like to live and work in a war zone. But that’s why I write these diaries: to try to explain to people what it is really like, and what a breath of fresh air it is compared to life’s usual dreary routines. Come and join me; you might just find that it’s works for you too.