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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #275



Last night’s opera at the Lviv Opera House, L’Elixir d’Amour, was a remarkable and traditional rendition of a composition blending the themes of money and love. The new orchestral director is a remarkable conductor, and she regularly brings the orchestra to life, inspiring the musicians to be note-perfect in every way. The enormous cast for the opera sang and danced impeccably across the stage to joyous and uplifting music, with elements of comedy and sadness interwoven as couples fell in and out of love and banknotes were liberally thrown around the stage. At one point two leading members of the cast escaped the stage and ran straight past the audience on the front row of the stalls, right in front of me, waving banknotes and singing as they scrambled past our legs. It was a breathtaking performance in every way, and as is usual it received an unreserved standing ovation from the packed audience. These operas are held early in the day in the winter months, in light of the curfew, to allow customers to have a meal afterwards and to get home.


As I descended the steps from the Opera House and slipped and slid along the icy paths of Svobody Avenue, Lviv’s main street, I noticed a group of six heavily armed military police officers, holding assault rifles and with belts of ammunition clips strapped around their chests, strip-searching some guy in the snow amidst temperatures of -6 degrees. Three more grim-faced officers were heading towards the scene to join them. I wonder what he’d done wrong. You certainly don’t want to make any errors involving the Police in this city; they seem to take their jobs very seriously.


It was a typically boozy night in Mano’s Bar, with live music and lots of screeching of a live band that we all cheered. At one point I popped out with a friend to the Sacher-Masoch cafe, just round the corner on the cobbled streets. It’s an extraordinary experience indeed. We ordered the “whipping cocktails”, which were absolutely revolting and bright green. The place was packed, as volunteers to be tied up and whipped, and have candle wax dripped on them, emerged from the tables and this curious display takes place right in front of all the other customers who are drinking and dining. The food is exceptional and the drinks would probably have been good if we’d just stuck to a glass of wine. This must be one of the most extraordinary hospitality venues in the world: fine dining and whipping, all mixed up into one, amidst ancient narrow pedestrian cobbled Austro-Hungarian streets and slipped inside a historical building. I frequently think that Lviv is a madhouse.


Anyway, I’ve decided to get away for a few days. Today I’m taking the train to Kherson. It’s a long ride - a good twenty hours - but I’m running a newspaper now and I think it’s important to obtain some reportage about what’s really happening there. My friend and colleague has ultimately decided not to come, but I’m reasonably comfortable about the trip. We have to win the war in Ukraine, and one of the ways of doing that is to report from the front line about what is going on so that those in Ukraine and in the West and elsewhere understand the horrors of World War III and they understand that the Russian Armed Forces are right opposite us on the banks of the Dnieper River, shelling a once beautiful city and rapidly reducing it to ruins.


I won’t be there long; it’ll be a short trip and a pleasant break from Lviv. I need to be back by Friday in time for the opera! I’m absolutely exhausted if I’m honest and spending 20 hours in the “de luxe” cabin of a train sounds pretty appealing to me. I can be curled up with a book, eating well I hope, ignoring the outside world and having my thoughts to myself. It’ll no doubt be all a bit rough and difficult once I arrive; these things always are. I’ve no idea what I’m going to find there; I’ve nobody I am particularly arranging to see; but I know that once I arrive in Kherson with a warm smile and obviously very helpful hotel staff, I am going to be just fine. Things will work themselves out; they always do. I might come back with some harrowing stories; I’ll probably see some awful things. But these are the events and happenings that need to be told, if the world is to understand what is going on in Ukraine.


Southern Ukraine is often forgotten about; but it has been comprehensively destroyed and decimated in the course of this war and God bless its benighted people. We need people to go down there and see with their own eyes what is happening and to tell the world of the horrors going on and the hell on earth that the brave residents of Kherson are going through. This story has to be told and I have established a newspaper and I am going to go and tell that story. And now I must rest a little before my train, or I might not make it to the railway station at all.

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