The train is rattling and hurtling in on the final leg of its mammoth cross-country journey from Kramatorsk to Lviv and we’re in the final fifteen minutes of the adventure and already I’m planning a trip to Kharkiv to have all my arms and legs blown off at the next convenient opportunity. The speed with which this train is shooting through the countryside reflects the excitement and exhilaration of living in wartime Ukraine, in which every moment captures a dozen thrills and around every corner there is a new adventure.
Now I’m back in Lviv, I’m wearing even more army patches and military clothes having just clambered off the Kramatorsk banger with dozens of stories of front line nonsense for whoever in Mano’s Bar or wherever I head off tonight want to hear it. I need to go back to some manual labour because aside from walking around quite a bit, contrary to popular misconception living and working on the front line doesn’t burn huge numbers of calories because you spend a lot of time sitting around being bored or driving around or eating. It is only the excruciatingly frightening 1% of the time that you are under attack that the adrenalin rushes and you are running around out of your wits.
So this afternoon I am going to walk to a military store out of town to buy some proper plate holders for my lead plates, because already I’m planning on a return visit to the front line, this time to return to Kharkiv, a city I love, in about ten days, to see what’s going on there and why there’s so many missile attacks and the Russians are devoting such resources to renewing an assault upon the city centre. I think the reason is because Kharkiv is now the command and control centre for Ukrainian Armed Forces in the East, and the Russians are busy trying to assassinate individual commanders; but the only way of finding out whether my suspicions are grounded is to go there and ask around and see what’s happening.
I’m already looking forward to that, but in the meantime it’s going to be a week of hard work in the Kitchen so I can obtain a sense of satisfaction that I am cooking and feeding and keeping people alive and that I’m doing some hard work and not just running newspapers and trust funds and all this sort of soft thing that uses my brains but instead something that uses my brawn because even at my middle aged years I’ve still got a bit of that. I can’t find anything at the Opera this coming week that I haven’t already seen and that sounds of interest; I keep rolling through the calendar hoping they’ll put something new and enticing on the schedule. Nevertheless after a couple of heavy weeks of front line reportage, investigation and intelligence gathering I’m just a bit exhausted and maybe a week of switching off my brain will do me some good. I don’t know whether these diary entries will decrease in intensity during that time; we’ll have to see. I’ll also have to put some work into fundraising and that is very time consuming, involving writing lots of letters and speaking to lots of people. In short, it seems there’ll be plenty to do and lots of people to meet in the next week or so while I stay in Lviv.
I’m really excited to be back. I want to see all the old faces. I want to tramp through the ice amongst all the hoary drunkards although the ice has now largely melted but the frosty crisp air still permeates the city. I want to wonder through the military shops and the bric-a-brac markets, I want to prop up the bars, I want to eat fine pizzas, I want to talk of my military adventures, I want to search for love and not find it, there are a thousand things I want to do.
Also I want to take stock of all the things I have learned from tramping round the front line to these various places and seeing some of them dangerous like Kherson and others of them with soldiers’ girlfriends wearing fur coats, and I want to start thinking about how all this might translate into policy recommendations amidst the next year which will be a grim and difficult year while we wait for the US elections to be over and done with because the essential step to bring this war to an end, namely NATO mobilisation on Ukrainian territory, won’t happen until the next US President is elected and probably even until he’s installed in office which will be early January 2025. So we have to formulate a strategy as the international community for how to get Ukraine through until then with a minimum of suffering and loss of life, and that will require some thinking and discussion with colleagues and consultations.
In the meantime, I’m excited to be back here in this ancient spired city I now ever increasingly call home. I’m going to drift from church to church, from bar to bar, walking through the ancient streets, with a stare like a military nutter from all those old Vietnam war films you watched as a kid. I’m the crazy guy from the front line who’s lost all sense of perspective and is now a partial social outcast, part minor hero, part celebrity, and 100 per cent crazed. I’ve lost the plot and I love Ukraine and I loved that 20-hour train ride which alone gave me a dozen silly stories. I look around at me, at everything I see here, and I find interest and fascination and the most bizarre and extraordinary, all lumped into one. I love it here, in this city that glows and buzzes all day with an insane mix of unusual and eccentric folk. It always has done and it always will. So I will spend the rest of the day gliding around, enjoying the juicy boozy, woozy cruisey, winky dinky, honky tonky, hinky plinky, humpy bumpy, hazy crazy, frozen Saigon!