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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #312

I’ve been back in theatre less than a month and already it might be time for one of those customary rest and relaxation breaks away from the mayhem. When you find yourself doing things that are a bit out of the ordinary, the sorts of things that you would only do in a war zone, it’s a good indicator that you need a break. Last night was one of those examples.

I was sitting in my favourite bar, and I got chatting to a lady named K—— sitting next to me - in Ukrainian. This is my first casual conversation in Ukrainian, so I was quite proud of myself. Anyway it turned out that she also spoke Russian and English, both at much better levels than my Ukrainian, so we switched to English. She was an educated lady and extremely sweet and she explained to me that she is a refugee from Luhansk. So we had one of those typical Lviv conversations in which I explained to her how to cross the front line without showing any papers, so she could go back to visit her family in Russian-occupied Luhansk if she wanted my assistance. She seemed surprised that any of this was possible and was grateful for my advice. Then of course I asked her whether she liked opera, and it turned out that we did and I bought her two tickets for tonight’s ballet on the front row of the Stalls, on the spot. She seemed very impressed with this.

Then another girl joined us, who was from Enerhodar, but I don’t remember her name. They’d never met before - none of us knew one another - so it was a party of three fresh friends. That’s one of the nice things about Lviv - you can make friends just like that and it’s one of the nicest places in the world to be single because you can just meet people and have a great time. We talked about my imminent plans to visit Nikopol, which is right opposite Enerhodar on the River Dnipro. Enerhodar is the notorious site where there are six light water nuclear reactors in a row and it’s deep in Russian-occupied territory. The Russians use it as an artillery launch site, knowing the Ukrainians can’t fire back because it could cause a huge nuclear explosion.

The three of us joked about sitting on the beach in Nikopol, sunning ourselves from the radioactive blasts. It was a slightly complicated conversation because the girl from Enerhodar doesn’t speak English but does speak German and the lady from Luhansk doesn’t speak German but does speak English so I ended up as an interpreter between two Ukrainians both from the Russian occupied territories. Nevertheless we got by somehow in this curious mélange of four languages all spoken mixed up together: another ver Lviv-like experience.

The evening war on, and as we were in Mano’s Bar it was inevitable that we started ordering their infamous limoncellos. To recap for those who do not read these diaries with frequencies, limoncello as served at Lviv’s Mano’s Bar is samohon - moonshine - washed through bits of chopped up lemon and sugar, and it tastes sweet and vile and is extremely strong. I have no idea how many of these I had or how many I ordered for the bar staff, who by now have come to realise that I am far more generous when I am in the company of women. Maybe the whole thing was a set-up by them but I doubt it. These were excellent, cultured, decent ladies - until we reached a certain point in the evening. Then they both drank these devilishly black cocktails and we somehow coalesced around the idea that we needed to go to meet my friend L——- in another bar five minutes away. That turned out to be absolutely heaving and I realised by this point that I was quite drunk. K—— started making all sorts of detailed enquiries about the size of certain parts of my body, and a proposal emerged that we all decamp to my apartment with lots of bottles of vodka.

Now as the frequent reader of my diaries will be aware, it is a cardinal error to go anywhere after curfew with or in the pursuit of lots of bottles of vodka, because you will end up unable to move both physically and legally and all sorts of other people you didn’t know about will show up so you never do this. However I said “yes”, and I agreed to my friend L——- and these two ladies coming to my apartment which would be an even graver error - I wouldn’t be able to get them out and they might smash it all up because by this time they were completely hammered. The body dimension enquiries became ever more graphic and I tried to sober up by ordering a giant pizza. Then, the Lord in his divine wisdom had mercy on my terrible situation. It turned out that both these ladies had husbands serving in Bakhmut and they were in the same battalion. Therefore, said the lady from Enerhodar, K——, the lady from Luhansk, must desist with her body dimension enquiries and go home quietly. And thankfully they did. I finished my beer, apologised to my friend for the inconvenience which he took remarkably well (he had no advance notice of this party of young ladies coming with me), and I got myself home to bed well in time for curfew.

God has blessed me with an innate trigger in my head that serves as a homing instinct whenever a situation is getting out of control - and this one was. Ukrainian anarchy is a wonderful thing, but sometimes it gets too intense and you find yourself in the most curious of circumstances. And all this leaves the question of whether K——- will in fact come to the opera this evening. I’ve bought her and given her the ticket; we agreed to meet outside the opera house at the relevant time; I think I would recognise her again; I don’t think she’s ever been the opera before and I’m not sure she remembers my name. But - except for when she was screamingly drunk - she was manifestly an educated and sophisticated lady. So we shall see. I might be at the opera tonight with an empty seat next to me, or you might find me there with a beautiful lady from Luhansk. Either way, I think I’ll wear my James Bond white suit, because the whole episode has a theatre of the absurd to it.


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