I’m siting here at my impromptu desk in this impromptu hotel room, having woken at 4am which is a pretty standard time to wake up on the front line. However I wasn’t the first; a soldier was leaving to commence his duties at just the time I was going to get my morning coffee. I’ve found a chair for my room, which is really a benefit because previously I was having to perch on the sharp wooden corner of a single bed while typing which was doing my back in. It is absolutely freezing outside my room but tolerably warm inside it, because there’s an electric oil heater blazing away inside. The entire environment is deathly silent. Not a single motor car can be heard outside, and the guns have died down too. There is simply nothing going on.
I’m going to try to rent a car and driver to go to Sviatohirsk today, whether there is a historical monastery that was used as a refugee reception centre at the beginning of the second Russian invasion of Ukraine and that was of course shelled by them, as is their habit with any cultural or artistic objects. Items related to the Orthodox Church, or other religious symbols, do not fall beneath their base standards; nevertheless it appears from such limited public source information as I have been able to research that the monastery remains open and possibly even functioning and that I might be able to obtain a tour of it. It might seem an unusual time to go on a tourist trip, but in my assessment it is more important than ever to go to such places in order to be able to report to the world either that the monastery continues to operate or that it has been completely ruined and is in urgent need of repair from an international funding body such as UNESCO. If I get there, then I would imagine that the Monks will be quite surprised to meet me, because I don’t suppose that many foreigners or many visitors at all make it there right now, being as it is just a few kilometres from the front line.
Normal taxi services associated with the internet don’t seem to be working right now. I’m talking about Bolt and Uklon. This is a point of concern, because when I was in this region in October they were functioning and it appears that they have withdrawn their coverage from the region. Whatever the reason for this, it potentially indicates a deterioration in civilian conditions. Hence I shall be resorting to asking my landlady in broken Russian (her Ukrainian does not seem too good) whether she can arrange this trip for me. The monastery, and Sviatohirsk itself, have been recommended to me by a good friend who is originally from this region and is now living out his life as an internally displaced person from Lviv, afraid to return. He would like me to take some photographs of the monastery for his own sake and for that of his family, and it would be churlish of me not at least to attempt to do this.
On the way back, I shall be making a stop in Sloviansk in order to try to talk to some of the troops in the International Legion who are under such relentless attack. I was going to try to approach Bakhmut today via the backroads; but on reflection I have decided that this would involve reckless disregard for my safety and for the safety of others. I think it’s probably hot enough in Sloviansk without asking members of the International Legion to take a civilian with them to Bakhmut, especially when I don’t have the relevant military authorising paperwork. I would like to see matters close up in Bakhmut and I certainly think there is enough worth reporting on in relation to Bakhmut for the Lviv Herald, www.lvivherald.com, the newspaper of which I am proprietor; but I have tried and I have not managed to obtain the requisite connections to travel to Bakhmut on this occasion. So that may have to wait until another visit to the region, perhaps once the weather is better. It is certainly very crisp overnight here, even if it’s rather warmer during the day.
Until my landlady awakes and embraces me effusively with emotional concerns for my wellbeing - she really is a delightful, kind and obviously distressed lady presumably with concerns for her own family and she might well view me as akin to her son - I suppose I am going to sit in this bare bones of a room and contemplate my naval. There are a few items of furniture to detain the idle mind: a television set from the 1950’s; and an enormous elderly iron safe from about the same period, one that takes one of those huge antiquated keys. What all this unusual furniture is doing in a room that looks like a perfect study in beige from a 1970’s North Dakota motel room, I am not entirely sure but at least it gives me something to think about until the sun comes up, the members of this most curious household awake, and I can start thinking about planning my day and going outside.
It would be something of a stretch to say that I am enjoying being here; but it is at least sufficiently interesting to keep me writing and to stretch my mind in a kind of way. I spent much of last night, amidst the breaks in my ability to sleep, wondering how on earth to get to Sviatohirsk by public transport. This was of course a ridiculous proposition; there is no inter-city public transport in free Donbas at the moment, apart from the train between Kramatorsk and the rest of Ukraine. I haven’t even had sight of the ghostly inter-city minibuses that I found to plough the front line before, although I suppose I haven’t really been looking that hard. They tend to leave exceptionally early in the morning, before the sun rises, because really they are troop carriers and therefore I suppose potential military targets by the Russian aggressors. The trip to Sviatohirsk is particularly vexed, because by all accounts the Russians have blown up the main bridge leading there and therefore you need to take some unspecified alternative route.
Anyway, I shall now find something to do, perhaps work on adding content to the website of the Ukraine Development Trust, www.development-foundation.org, and then I will write to you again of my adventures a little later on.