Today I didn’t go into my military kitchen to work, because I’d somehow managed to book the day out with near back-to-back performances at the Lviv Opera House. The recital I’ve just finished listening to, as I hammer out these words as quickly as possible before returning to an unpronounceable domestic Ukrainian opera, was Bach’s Goldberg Variations but played not on a piano but instead by a trio of violin, violoncello and cello: in other words, the Variations were played entirely on strings. It was an exhilarating and monumental performance in Lviv Opera House’s upper salon, although the room was only half-full; it deserved to be packed out given the quality of this extraordinary, riveting and haunting performance played in so unique and distinctive a fashion.
I was moved to tears, sitting on the front row, by the dreamy spires of the melody and a lady moved over to sit next to me, also in tears, to grip my arm as though to express an intense emotional anxiety with a new and unknown friend. After a nervous pause at the end of the final movement, the audience burst into rapturous applause and I was the first on my feet to give the trio a standing ovation. The rest of the audience followed me and it lasted for a good ten minutes as we were collectively overwhelmed with the passion, intensity, vision and skill of these remarkable performers. The lady sitting next to me walked up onto the stage to give the cellist an apple she had secreted in her pocket. I wasn’t quite sure what the relevance of this was, but I suppose it was an expression of appreciation and her emotional outpouring. Wartime creates the most unusual reactions in people; perhaps she was giving whatever she could just to show how much she cared. Perhaps she was lonely; perhaps nervous about a relative; perhaps grieving a death: some face in the icy winds of war and suffering of a kind that I see passes me by each day, often wrapped and huddled under heavy scarves: but misery and suffering nonetheless.
I tramped out of the Opera House in my trench boots to find that the temperature must have dropped by about 10 degrees in the course of an hour. I couldn’t work out what had happened to have this effect in so short a time; this is why it is important always to dress in layers in this fiendishly cold Ukrainian winter, although it is wretchedly inconvenient to do so, always putting on and taking off endless layers of clothing whenever you go inside somewhere. It was cold even in the Opera House today; I think they’re economising on heating due to wartime conditions and concerns over pressure on the country’s national grid. It’s an issue we need to look at in the Ukraine Development Trust, www.development-foundation.org, along with my friends and colleagues in the Institute for Strategy, Resilience and Security at University College, London, www.isrs.org.uk, but of course we can’t do the necessary work and investigations without the money and that isn’t forthcoming yet. I hope it will be. These are good people and we need a bit of government funding in this direction to help Ukraine in the right direction in her energy needs. Let’s hope someone reading this is listening.
As I left the Opera House, a military marching band was playing the National Anthem: a piece of music I have come to know well by now; I almost know the words (in Ukrainian) because it is sung at the beginning of each operatic performance at Lviv Opera House and at the current time I’m going an average of twice a week. All the pedestrians in the street, Sunday afternoon alcoholics and all, stopped and crossed their breasts with their arms, as is customary, while the military band played the Anthem, and I joined them in a show of courtesy and respect. Again I felt tears coming to my eyes; living through war is an intensely emotional experience. Then, my mind awash with my solitary thoughts, I proceeded on my way. Thankfully I live only a few minutes’ walk from the Opera House, so I didn’t have to stumble too far in the icy winds I hadn’t prepared myself for when stepping out of the front door merely an hour earlier.
I might be going to Kherson tomorrow. As the Editor-in-Chief of the Lviv Herald, www.lvivherald.com, I think it’s important to travel as far as you can to front line locations to see what’s really happening and to come back with honest and stark reportage so that people understand the course of the war and frankly the futility of it all as well as the outrageous aggression and casual disregard for civilian life on the part of the Russian Armed Forces. We’re in a stalemate, no matter what any Ukrainian politician may say to the contrary, and that’s a message that has to be heard. I am more credible if I’ve been to the front line recently and I’ve seen things for myself. It’s a long journey, and it’s not entirely safe to put matters mildly, so I’ve asked one of my rather more daring colleagues at the Lviv Herald to come with me. I even pre-emptively bought him some tickets, and I told him where we might go to buy our flak jackets tomorrow if we’re heading there. I think it all depends on whether he has a mandate to undertake some paid work. Alas, it’s my experience that in Ukraine offers of paid work often fall through at the last minute, and this seems to be what has happened to him. That means that he might well be coming, and we might find ourselves tramping through Kherson by Tuesday as the shells come raining down or whatever the situation is there right now. If we go, then we can take food, medical and domestic supplies and clothing for the soldiers and civilians alike and perform a genuine humanitarian function as well as just war reporting (which is equally important so that the world knows what is going on). Now it all depends on my friend’s work commitments, and we’ll just have to see.