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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #316


I struggled to get myself moving and out to the military kitchen where I work today. We’re all moaning and complaining. We don’t have enough foreign volunteers; there’s just been an outflow and those who are leaving aren’t being replaced. A number of foreign NGO’s are closing down. They just can’t get the funding. Donations are scarce and we’re all rumbling along the bottom. The morale amongst the NGO community in Lviv, and in the rest of Ukraine, I think, is low, and we’re not getting the help and support we need whether from governments or private donors. The whole thing seems a terrible toil and I am starting to wonder about my own commitment to Ukraine. This is a shocking thing to admit; I was starting to imagine that I would stay until the end, which will be when NATO (as it surely will) inserts troops into Ukrainian theatre but now with all these international political messages of negativity and idleness, particularly from the United States, my morale is down in the dumps and I think that of other volunteers is the same. We don’t feel we’re being appreciated for the efforts we’re making. It’s not that the Ukrainians don’t appreciate what they do; it’s that the international community as a whole doesn’t. Those of us remaining - and there are increasingly few - feel isolated and thoroughly downcast.


The Ukrainians toil on because they have no choice; they fight and work and die or they get overrun by the Russians. But I have a choice which is to leave and it is the luckiest choice to have in the world. I am horrified that I am thinking about the idea, but I just don’t see foreign support for what I and many other well-intentioned people in the international community here in Ukraine are trying to achieve. So we feel alone. We’re keeping the flag flying, but it’s an increasingly isolated business. I am sad to see each face I know leave town, knowing that many of them will simply never come back. They’ve had their fill and that’s it. Increasingly concerning is that those in the NGO community who have been here the longest are now walking away from it all, and that means we are losing valuable expertise in the Ukrainian conflict with no obvious method of replacing it. True, the NGO community tends to argue and bicker a great deal because it has no centralised command structure. But it is also a repository of knowledge which is now being lost because there simply is no funding. You can’t win a war with an empty wallet; it’s as simple as that.


Tomorrow I am planning on going to look at an apartment to buy. My Ukrainian friends think this is crazy; why would I want to buy an apartment in a city that might end up being occupied by the Russians if NATO mucks it all up? That is how little confidence Ukrainians have in NATO. The other observation of course is that a newly built block of apartments might be struck by a Russian missile; but speaking personally I don’t think that’s very likely. Long-range cruise missiles cost a lot of money to strike a civilian residential block which has no military value. But the bigger issue in my mind is just whether I can be bothered to stay here given the lackadaisical attitude on the part of the international community towards this war which could so easily be stopped tomorrow (Donald Trump is right about that bit) if only NATO troops were to enter Ukraine immediately.


So I feel like I‘m waiting around, waiting for Godot, for some imaginary event in the future that may or may not happen and in the meantime we’re all in stasis. I’m genuinely starting to question whether the West is committed to seeing this project through because if it’s not, then Russia will win and I’d might as well stop wasting my time straight away. Fighting this war is a thankless task. I’m not asking for medals or heroic plaques, but just some sense of appreciation that my spending my time and funds is something others consider valuable and useful.


Some Dutch journalists came today. I gave them the habitual interview. I can do these things with my eyes closed. You might find a new item tonight on Dutch TV about my chopping carrots. The journalists provided a temporary lifting of the mood during today, but otherwise it was sombre where I worked. It seems there’s no coherent strategy in sight that the politicians are actually going to grasp and act upon. I’m aware of the British contingency plans to enter Ukraine from their bases in Estonia and all the rest, but none of that will happen without US support and inseams that the Americans are dawdling. Europe can’t do it without them and we in Europe all know that.


I walked home from work. The sky is overcast and grey, like the mood, but the frozen Saigon has thawed out with an unusually mild winter and the weather is getting ever better. A battered old lady in her battered old fur coat, proudly worn as though a Soviet artefact, stepped down from the battered old bus in the battered old square. Another battered young man lay on the street with crutches at his side, one leg blown off no doubt amidst the misery of the trenches. His distant, vacant and mangled eyes made me wonder once again what I am doing amidst all this hell and this horror, with such insuperable obstacles to what ought to be so simple a victory. I am increasingly of the view that the West is sleepwalking into a catastrophic loss in Ukraine, that will scar the European continent for decades or longer to come as still more millions of refugees flood over Europe’s borders; Poland, Lithuania and Finland have to defend themselves against yet further Russian aggression; and nobody in power or influence is listening to the experts. It’s all so miserably frustrating.

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